Friday, August 05, 2005

more on eating local

I can't resist UNplanner's post analyzing his "food miles." (I've posted on this topic here.) Its a fascinating tale of Panamanian bananas, Chilean apples, and Chinese tilapia. Even his peanut butter was processed in Canada. He discovers:

So all in all, I ate food from eight countries that traveled a whopping 35,675 collective miles to my plate via truck, train, boat and plane before being picked up and driven home by me in a personal vehicle.
As shocking as this may be, its really par for the course. And economically, it makes sense. Furthermore:

Our distribution network ensures that a demand in one part of the world is always supplied from somewhere else. It also ensures that no one starves. A drought in the Midwest one year or a freeze in the San Joaquin Valley the next year does not result in mass starvation in those areas. Food from elsewhere will fill the gap. Even areas experiencing catastrophic droughts, such as Niger, still can receive food aid that will ultimately save the population from a greater famine.
He concludes:

Once the supply of cheap energy dries up, the global supermarket will become a thing of the past. The implication of this change is very disturbing and extends far beyond whether or not a shopper in Topeka will still be able get fresh strawberries in January. The problem is unfortunately much more fundamental than that. In an energy-deprived future the more fundamental question has to be asked: will we have any reliable form of food distribution at all? With large tracts of the world engaged in one form of monoculture or another, what will we all end up having for dinner, absent a coherent transition to localized cultivation of produce and grains?
One family trying to live an "eat locally" lifestyle is chronicling their adventure here:

...on March 21, the first day of spring, we took a vow to live with the rhythms of the land as our ancestors did. For one year we would only buy food and drink for home consumption that was produced within 100 miles of our home, a circle that takes in all the fertile Fraser Valley, the southern Gulf Islands and some of Vancouver Island, and the ocean between these zones. This terrain well served the European settlers of a hundred years ago, and the First Nations population for thousands of years before.

This may sound like a lunatic Luddite scheme, but we had our reasons. The short form would be: fossil fuels bad. For the average American meal (and we assume the average Canadian meal is similar), World Watch reports that the ingredients typically travel between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometers, a 25 percent increase from 1980 alone. This average meal uses up to 17 times more petroleum products, and increases carbon dioxide emissions by the same amount, compared to an entirely local meal.
But "immediately, there were problems. First was the expense... Then, we wasted away...Then there was the lack of variety."

In part two they contend with the question of vegitarianism vs. omnivorism. They discovered "When it comes to eating locally, we've had to abandon strict vegetarianism."
The strange fact is that vegetarianism as commonly practiced is, like the rest of the industrial food system, propped up by the globalization of food and everything that it entails, including a total disconnection between food consumers and producers, and the cataclysmic ecological costs of shipping food around the world. At its worst, global vegetarianism is still cleaner and greener than global meat-eating, and is certainly more humane. On a local level, though, the questions are more complicated.
But they are still concerned with these questions:

Where did the product come from? Where did the feed for the animal come from? Was the feed genetically modified? Was it organic? Was the animal "improved" with a biomedical soup of hormones, stimulants, antibiotics? Were its living conditions acceptable? Can we live with the conditions of its slaughter?

In part three, they explain the benefits of the diet--in a word, yummy! They wax rhapsodous about kale, potatoes, yogurt, salmon, Brie, hazelnuts, wine and cider. And it just goes on from there.

It's worth pausing to note that many of these foods that turn up in the markets-or in our community garden plot-can never be found in the local Safeway. All of them, almost without fail, will be more flavourful than anything you'll find shipped in from California or from Ecuador.
Beyond the politics they have discovered:
Eating locally is a grand adventure. It has taken us to 40-year-old family fish shops and introduced us to people who have grown their own soy beans for homemade tofu. It has left us calling our mothers to find out how to wash and cook whole-grain wheat. Best of all, every time I open the refrigerator to come up with something for dinner, I feel like a pioneer.

...Why not try your hand? Alisa and I are eating locally for a year, but the same experiment can work for a night, a dinner party, a potluck. This we can guarantee: you will begin to change the way you think about your food. And maybe that dinner will turn into breakfast, lunch and beyond.
Bon Appetit!

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