So far we’ve discussed how the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. We talked about how the “food system” is everything required to produce, process, move, sell and consume food. The things used to grow food include land, fertilizers, pesticides, seeds and water – and our current industrial food growing system has resulted in pollution and animal waste. In addition, excessive amounts of energy and fossil fuels are used to process, package, advertise and transport this food.
We also took into consideration how in 2008 Americans spent, on average, less than 10% of their disposable income on food – that’s only half of what we spent on food in the early 1960s. That’s a direct effect of our continuing quest to spend less for more. Our demand for, out-of-season foods come with a huge cost – both nutritional and environmental – because of our insatiable demand for cheap food. Our insistence for cut-rate food is so huge that it has betrayed us.
You may be left wondering…well, then what do I eat? When I began eating locally nearly five years ago, I could barely locate grass-fed beef in the State of Maryland. Now my butcher – less than a mile away – carries grass-fed beef from a local (as in less than 50 miles away) sustainable producer.
Cheap foods come with hidden costs; thankfully locally grown foods come with hidden benefits. There are many farmers who farm without fertilizers and pesticides and the numbers are growing. Like old timers they utilize crop rotation and other good soil management practices. Buying your food from local producers reduces the need for unnecessary food packaging. As a result less fossil fuel is used resulting in a lower carbon footprint.
Critics of the local food movement argue that the higher cost of organic and/or locally grown food is unattainable to the average consumer. But we’ve already discussed why better costs more. The food industry talks a great game, but it’s hard to deny the health issues their fake foods have created. Further, if organic farming were subsidized as much as corn and soy, the cost would decrease significantly.
It all comes down to a personal decision about what kind of world we want and what kind of food we are going to put into our bodies. It should never be okay to eat meat or drink milk from a cow whose biology has been manipulated for profits. For me, personally, I would rather have a little bit more of my money go to a local farmer – and my local economy. My personal experience has been that the more I spend on good food, the less I pay for prescriptions and doctors. It’s that simple. The father of medicine, Hippocrates, said let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. I wish doctors would start by asking: “What are you eating?”
The other big argument one hears about a local food system is you cannot possibly feed the world – thus laying the foundation for the use of genetically modified foods. So can we feed people? The answer is a big Yes! A wonderful example is Havana, Cuba. When the Soviet Bloc collapsed in 1989, Cuba lost its food and agricultural support, compounded with the US Embargo led to a serious food shortage affecting the entire country, but most of all Havana. “Havana residents responded en masse, planting food crops on porches, balconies, backyards and empty city lots.” By 1995 there were approximately 26,000 state owned gardens ranging from a few square yards up to three acres growing food on vacant or abandoned properties. These gardens continue to flourish even today and provide food security and nourishment to the citizens of Havana. To read more click here.
However, Havana is not a new idea or a communist idea. In 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt began the Victory Garden movement which helped to feed a lot of families during WWII. By the way, she did this over the objections of the USDA who feared that home gardening would hurt the American food industry – sound familiar? It’s hard to believe that if our system of food fails, we are all going to Havana for lunch.
In conclusion to this three part series, eating local “real” food has immeasurable benefits. I urge all of you to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and buy your food directly from a local farmer and enjoy an increased sense of community at the same time. You can find a CSA in your area by going to http://www.localharvest.org/ and Eat Grown Local. It is very satisfying to have a relationship with the person who is growing the food you use to feed your family. It is very personal. So this Saturday morning head down to your farmers market and get to know the farmers who labor to grow your food. Reduce your ecological footprint and at the same time cultivate a healthy, sustainable way of life.
This blog was originally written for Solar and Wind Living.
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