Friday, September 23, 2011
Why Eat Local?
I think the biggest issue with local food is people’s understanding and attitude.
We live in an international food world where super large quantities of food are produced cheaply and many people will tell you, efficiently, then it’s shipped around the world. This so called efficient system presumes food is a commodity where numbers and business plans make more sense than the quality of food. Here is where the system begins to break down.
Food is not a commodity. Yes, we need to eat to live but high quality food that is living and vibrant gives our bodies vibrancy, health and energy – dead food does not and therefore compromises the quality of our lives on many levels.
Think about it, food produced and consumed locally can stay on the plant, vine or tree for a longer period of time because it doesn’t have to be shipped or warehoused. When it stays longer, it ripens further developing nutrients and flavour along with colour and texture. It’s the difference between a dry, tasteless cantaloupe and one that is ultra sweet, juicy, soft and exciting in clean, clear flavour. Therefore, local food not only nourishes better but it pleases and excites as well.
Food is far from a commodity, it’s a personal experience. With food produced locally we can meet the people who produce it. These are people who live in our community and chances are you have something in common. Either a passion for food, perhaps you discover your children go to the same school, many times you have common acquaintances, but always you live in the same community and have opinions on community issues that can be discussed and shared. You discover you both pay taxes and thanks to the both of you, your town or city has services that enhance your lives. You’re linked to a farmer more than you know.
Local food is not only personal, it’s seasonal. We live in Ontario where the winters prevent us from growing fresh produce year round. Our ancestors would preserve and fill their root cellars to keep themselves fed throughout the long winter months. The root cellar was stocked with winter vegetables, sausages, flour, wine, preserves and more. The root cellar held foods that were both seasonal and year round.
Today we no longer fill our root cellars because grocery stores fill their shelves with all foods at all times of the year. This modern, convenient, access to food successfully strips the seasonality out of our food cycle and we forget what seasonality is all about. But seasonality comes natural to all of us. Take for example the way we crave lighter salads in the hot summer weather. This is when the growing season is prime for tender, delicious salad greens. Then in the frosty winter days we crave a slow roast in the oven with savoury root vegetables to fill not only our stomachs but our soul as well. Isn’t it amazing how Mother Nature is right there to feed our cravings at just the right time? The reality is that as humans, we’re much more connected to our environment than we remember.
Grocery stores are definitely convenient places to buy food but remember that they’re called grocery ‘stores’ because they were meant to ‘store’ food. To store fresh produce, special varieties have been bred to withstand rigorous transportation and to extend shelf life. This benefit of designing food for international markets compromises it’s integrity, quality and most certainly flavour. That’s why a tomato purchased in a grocery store in January can’t hold a candle to a tomato picked from your own back yard in September. The flavours are as different as black is to white.
People who love local food, love it because of the mouthfuls of bursting flavour and the joy and excitement it offers; artisan sausage with savoury herbs; rich and beefy butcher steaks; free roaming chickens with robust flavour; candy sweet and finger staining strawberries; tender just picked sweet corn, crunchy, snow white apples and soft, juice dripping peaches. People who love local food shop at their farmers’ market for fresh garlic that oozes with juices or crunchy peppers that spit back when you slice into them. The world of local food offers all this and more.
So how do you begin buying and eating local? First, remember it’s about doing the best you can. Eating local is not about only eating local food at the expense of any other foods. Eating local is about supporting your community, about finding a safe source of food, about discovering healthy, flavourful food and it’s about preparing and sharing the local harvests.
Start out on your eating local journey by doing the best you can and deal with the challenges as they arise. Start by taking an inventory of the local foods you have in your kitchen right now. Eggs, cheese, milk, chicken, butter and more; these are most likely locally produced. Pat yourself on the back for a great start. Now plan to shop at the farmers’ market or an on-farm market regularly, buy what you can there and discover new things. Remember, local food is personal so ask the farmer about foods and how to cook them. You have now grown your local food purchases.
Check the grocery store for local foods such as meats, dairy products, tinned tomatoes and bags of beans. Once you can identify locally produced foods, you’ll find a grocery store to offer more selection than you thought. The Ontario Table can help identify more grocery store foods in the chapter called, The Ontario Pantry.
As you grow your inventory of local foods, remember the seasons change and so will the amount of local foods you buy each season. But as you become more and more confident about buying local, the dance will be one of anticipation and hedonistic pleasures.