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Why I’m Committed to the Locavore Movement

December 6, 2010

I follow the blogger Leda Meredith, and recently heard about her book, The Locavore’s Handbook. I’ve just downloaded it on my Kindle and am voraciously making my way through it.  I was really interested in her journey because she lives relatively near me, in a place that gets 4 seasons and is no where near California or the South.  She lives in a 1-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, far away from a farm and does not urban homestead or have a chest freezer.  Despite all that, in 2007-2008 she set out to buy all her food from within 250 miles for one year.

I’ve read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (but believe it or not have NOT read The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and having been immersed in this culture for a few years, have felt myself generally knowledgeable on the issues of local buying.  But as I page through this book (electronically) I find my jaw dropping with each fact that she unfurls before me.

K and I only started on this journey of localness in spring 2008.  This means it hasn’t even been a full three years yet.  But those three years have totally changed our lives.  We barely touch a grocery store anymore (and when we do, it’s only for nonperishables). We eat with the seasons, by growing most of our veggies in a community garden, and that which we don’t grow from the farmer’s market, which we are lucky enough to have year ’round here. We preserve much of what we grow, either through canning, drying or freezing. We save seeds for the next year. We go “u-pick”ing for almost every berry out there, along with other staples like apples and  and peaches.

I know that we didn’t start out to do all this way back then. We originally started to go to the farmers market because we became interested in eating local meat.  We were sickened by what happens in CAFOs (factory farms), by the fact that boy chicks are routinely put through shredders (live) because they are of no use to the commercial food industry (as they grow they will kill each other in the close proximity factory farms make them live in, plus they are tougher meat), and that factory farm pigs don’t even have enough room to turn around in.

Would you like to live this way? These pigs never leave the stall their entire life.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to subject you to (even more) disturbing images. I’m just trying to explain why we eat the way we do.  A few years ago, I had someone ask me how much I spent on a certain piece of beef from the farmer’s market that week. When I told them, they seemed aghast. I was informed that it was ridiculous amount of money.

For awhile after that I was really hesitant to tell people that we bought meat locally.  I felt judged and looked down upon as “elitist”, even though for practically all of humanity’s existence people ate locally.  Yet, I’m not elitist. I’m not rich, and I don’t look down on others who don’t do as I do. I just have different priorities.

As I wrote in another blog post back at the beginning of this year:

In 2005, Americans spent less than 10% of their disposable income on food.  Disposable income isn’t extra income like you might infer from the name, but what you take in after taxes are paid.  Only 6.1% out of that 10% is spent on groceries, the other 3.9% is spent eating out.

That’s the lowest percentage compared to any other country in this world.  Even the U.K., which is also really low, is 2% higher than the U.S. at 8.3%.  Germany is at 10.9%; Japan and France are pretty much tied at 13.4% and 13.6%, respectively.

“Second-world” countries are much higher – Mexico at 21.7%, China at 28.3%, India at 39.4 % and Indonesia at 49.9%.

Far from elitism, K and I are eating more the way our ancestors did. No, not our ancestors from millions of years ago, but our grandparents and greatgrandparents, when they were growing up.  Agribusiness has caused the disappearance of small family farms and upset local economies, also destroying the nutritional value of the food we do eat.

According to Meredith, the vitamin and mineral content of many crops has dropped 15-38 percent since 1940.  As Michael Pollan wrote (I really do have to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma):

Clearly the achievements of industrial agriculture have come at a cost. It can produce a great many more calories per acre (one of the arguments of why we need factory farming – me), but each of those calories may supply less nutrition that it formerly did. . . you now have to eat three apples to get the same amount of iron as you would have gotten from a single 1940 apple.

Well, that’s not good.

I’m trying to become more open and unabashed about the amount of money I spend on our food.  I still shop around, I still have choices. I don’t just plunk down any moolah without research of the place I’m buying from.  There are farms I like and farms I don’t, farmers I trust, and some I’ve heard bad things about.  I love being able to have a connection to my food, to know that Cindy, the lady in front of me weighing the acorn squash I just chose from her market stall was literally picking that squash just yesterday, that Phil gathered, washed and put those eggs in a carton I’m buying just this morning. John, who sold us our quarter cow, and K (both life-long Jets fans) have long discussions about the team every week, while I stand there rolling my eyes. :)

These are the people who help me to feel even more a part of where I live, who make me feel really proud to call the Capital District my home. Their land feeds me, and I support them.  It’s win-win, for everyone.

Seth of Battenkill Creamery

John, the Jets Fan, from Sweet Tree Farm

Phil, from Coopers Ark Farm

From this book, I’m learning so much more about the local food movement than I already knew.  I especially am enjoying it because it’s from someone in my neck of the woods, someone who doesn’t live in the south, someone who deals with Northeast winters like I do.  While many of us have learned that food here in the U.S. travels an average of 1500 miles from farm to plate, where I live its often closer to 3000 miles due to the amount of food shipped here from California.  Do you know how many fossil fuels are used to bring that food to us?

Speaking of fossil fuels, I was also really surprised to learn that one in every five gallons of fuel in the U.S. is used for industrial agriculture. That industrial agriculture is destroying fertile topsoil at thirty times the natural rate. Do you know that topsoil in the Midwest’s farm belt is so polluted that within a generation we may no longer be able to produce safe food there?

Did you also know that the first pesticides used at the beginning of mass-commercial farming were made out of the surplus of chemicals left over after WWII? According to Meredith, it included one of the chemicals used in Nazi gas chambers.  They found out those chemicals also killed insects and weeds and suddenly they were the “miracle” the chemical revolution was waiting for.  Today the majority of farmland here is heavily sprayed with pesticides that are not only not necessarily killing the bugs they want (as the bugs are increasingly becoming resistant to them), but polluting our waterways and killing the bugs we don’t want killed. In a few generations, fireflies may be extinct due to those pesticides.  Can you imagine your children or grandchildren never having the joy of seeing or catching fireflies on a summer night?

Image from catchyfireflies.typepad.com

This is why K and I do this. Because it’s something we can do. Something we care about. Because we’d rather buy a grassfed 1/4 cow than a Coach purse.

And we’re not strange.  The number of farmers markets nationwide nearly tripled from 1994-2008. Local Harvest’s website reports that the number of farms participating in CSA programs has increased by a factor of 54 over the last 20 years: from just 50 in 1990 to over 2700 today.  Clearly, there are many of us interested in taking back our food system.

K and I are not purists. We go out to eat regularly. We occasionally buy prepackaged foods (especially curry sauce!).  We would never turn down something non-local made by friends of ours.  But in our little way, we’re doing what we can and getting something back for it, those personal relationships, that tasty food. All of us can do something.  And doing something isn’t abnormal.

Meredith shared a fable that hit home to me, and maybe it will to you too:

The King and the Well

There was a town that had two wells.  One supplied the castle at the top of the hill; the other serviced the villagers below. The village well became contaminated with something that made the villagers go mad.  They didn’t realize they’d gone crazy, because everyone around them had too. It seemed normal, since everyone was in the same condition. Meanwhile, the king in the castle on the top of the hill was drinking water from his well, which was not contaminated.  One day he went down into the village to see his people and to accompany his chef on a shopping trip.

The villagers were insane because of  the contaminated water they’d been drinking. The king and his chef were sane because they’d been drinking from an uncontaminated well.  The villagers immediately noted, with alarm and concern, that their king was not acting like them.  There was something different about his behavior, something not right. They considered whether it was possible to oust the king from his throne.

The king and his chef got thirsty on their shopping expedition. They took a moment to stop at the village well for a refreshing drink. Of course that well was contaminated and they immediately went crazy.  Seeing this, the villagers rejoiced and gave thanks that their king was once again “normal.”

I hope to never drink from that well.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2010 10:25 am

    “Because we’d rather buy a grassfed 1/4 cow than a Coach purse” This quote is the best! I agree 200%. My priorities are focused on eating good, local food and incorporating that into my life in as many ways possible. I’m not perfect but I try to make good choices.

  2. December 17, 2010 4:05 pm

    I just love this post! I’ve made an effort to live more sustainably but not locally. My next read is going to be The Locavore’s Handbook. I highly recommend “The Omnivore’s Dilema”- it’s made a huge impact on my life. Do you happen to know anything about backyard chickens in the Capital District? I really want to get them & I’m asking a few local bloggers if they have any info before I “ruffle the feathers” of the town.

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