Celebrating Local

A Personal Journey
I have to confess that I am a late bloomer in the local food scene. I used to listen to Deconstructing Dinner while preparing prawns in lemon grass and coconut milk over jasmine rice (the 7000 mile diet), never thinking that this had anything to do with me and my choices. When it comes to local food awareness, I’m living in one of the strongholds in North America, but it was a book written on the American east coast that finally opened my eyes.

The book is called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, in which she documents a year spent with her family on their farm in Vermont eating nothing but local foods. It finally dawned on me that all these years I have been riding my bike for transport, diligently recycling and reducing packaging in an effort to reduce my ecological impact, but my food has been coming from thousands of kilometers away. I’ve been creating a massive carbon footprint and allowing our local food systems to deteriorate and our local food growers to go out of business. But the most surprising thing is that rather than feel daunted by these realizations, I mostly just felt inspired to change.

By the end of the book I had made a decision to be eating 80% local within a year. My summer became focused on preparations for this transitions and exploring the barriers to sustaining myself on mainly local foods. Would I slowly waste away as others ate avocados in front of me, or would my life become full of canning bees and 100 mile diet potlucks?

As it became increasingly obvious that eating local is more than a part time job and requires planning and sacrifices that most of us are not accustomed to, I became more interested in looking at how I could get involved with what is already being done in my community. Encouraging the return of local food systems is something that concerns all of us and will take a realistic community-based approach with input and efforts from many sources, and seems like the most positive way to address my concerns for the global challenges that we all face today.

In researching what is being done towards this goal I have been overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude towards those who have kept our local food systems active to the degree that they are, giving the late-arrivers something to work with. Many people, businesses and organizations have been working tirelessly and with little recognition on these issues before they were hip and sexy.  This includes health food stores, writers, environmental groups, radio show hosts, organizers, lobbyists, seed savers and most of all the farmers and gardeners.

So it seems that there are several options for courses of action for individuals concerned about the future of our food. We can:

– grow more food ourselves, on our own land or on land belonging to others. Next month’s article will include a write-up on who around town is spearheading efforts towards community and school gardens, backyard-sharing and mentoring.

– clearly indicate with our voice and our food dollars that we want to support others in their efforts to grow more food. While it is pretty much impossible to decide in March to eat local, it is possible to let vendors, even conventional grocery stores, know that it is important to you where your food is coming from and that you are willing to base your food decisions on distance traveled and not just price. Lately I have made an effort to buy what could be local (sunflower seeds instead of almonds, quinoa instead of rice) to show businesses that they can support local growers. If we are choosing a menu item because it has the most local ingredients, we can let the restaurant staff know why we picked it. We can join groups like Community Food Matters so as to get more connected with what is happening in our community and to put our voice behind local food initiatives. And we can talk to people – friends, family, coworkers, neighbours – about the celebration of life that we experience when we eat local.

Stay tuned for an update next month on some of the projects to get involved with that will be going on this year.

Valerie for Community Food Matters