One of the reasons I started this blog was to educate myself about what buying local really means. And, being the eclectic schooling proponent that I am, I’m all about self-education. I just can’t resist finding out more about something interesting… especially when it comes to food. Simple fresh food. I think it started way back when I was a kid and we’d make trips to our local farm to stock up on freshly picked Stayman Winesap apples that burst with tang and sweetness with each bite. Crunching on those apples while reading stories is one of my favorite memories. Pure bliss!
So it’s prophetic in a way, that my love of fresh foods and reading coalesced to bring me to writing this blog. Along the way, I began to think more about food, not just purely as sustenance for my body, but what it means to our communities and to our planet. As the main cook in our family, I became—as I told my sister once– very comfortable in food stores. And of course, that’s a bit of a joke because I much prefer meandering through a farmers’ market than navigating an unruly shopping cart through rows of aisles in a big store. And am I ever lucky to live in the Portland area. It’s teeming with small farms that are growing produce and meats and wool and nuts and so many other wonderful foods.
So what does buying local mean to me? There is the obvious delight of how good freshly picked foods taste and smell. And to be able to find produce that isn’t sprayed with pesticides and meats pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones is really important to me. But I wanted to look beyond what this fresh food means to me and my family; what does it mean for all of us?
Whenever I think about this, I come to two ideas that really are so entwined that I find it hard to separate them. Community and our planet. How we treat our communities–the people, the animals, and the land that sustains them–determines how we treat the planet. And in that way, we are all connected. Each community has the opportunity to invest in itself.
But right now, the majority of us shop in big stores for most of our food that is produced by a tightly controlled, highly subsidized, corporate food industry that has little concern for the environment or people’s health. These foods come from a long way off, are packaged in plastic, picked green and have little flavor, and because they’re not sustainably grown, the soil becomes depleted, and the foods have lost their original full nutrition.
In an article I recently read on takepart.com, it stated that the EPA says that more than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the U.S. One billion! It’s hard to fathom. Where do all these oil-based toxins go? We can’t just wash it off our fruits and vegetables and be done with it. Despite washing or peeling, we ingest some every time we eat sprayed foods. The workers who work in the fields are unreasonably exposed to these toxins. Pesticides and fertilizers find their way into the water system and we again are exposed to the toxins through our drinking water. And bees and other animals are exposed and suffering with abnormal behavior and health.
And then there’s the meat business. One of the saddest things here in this country is the way huge factory farms force animals to live in horrific conditions before they are slaughtered. There is little compassion and humanity in the way these animals are treated from birth to death. If you haven’t already, I suggest reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and seeing the movie, Food, Inc., for a realistic look into the meat business. In this overcrowded and unnatural setting there is no way the farms can be sustainable. The runoff from these gigantic farms pollute not only the land around them, but seeps into the water supply and creates a toxic mess. But most of us aren’t aware of this. We chomp down on a hamburger that tastes good and fills our stomachs, and we’re satisfied. But if we are aware of the choices, I think most of us would prefer to eat a pasture raised animal who had a decent life and who enriched the soil by their natural cycle of eating and eliminating.
So what to do? First, we can educate ourselves. And then, we can take one step and another and another– baby steps if needed– to start the change. Every time we buy (or grow) local foods, we invest in our own health, in our communities, and our planet. Sometimes it’s not especially easy or convenient. I know that well. But every small step helps, and I hope you jump in with your own stories and tips of how you’re making that change. Every time I talk with another local farmer, I’m so inspired by their passion to make these sustainably grown foods available to us. Let’s support them!