Local food has started to really gain the attention not only of alternative media sources such as bloggers, internet publications and niche print publications, but has been picked up by mainstream print publications like Time Magazine, and has become a topic of conversation in the halls of government around the world.
Readers with long memories may remember that last June, Time Magazine did a small story on local foods called “The Lure of the 100-Mile Diet,” which included quotes from myself and other folks who strive to eat as locally as possible.
Well, this week, the practice of eating locally is not only featured in Time, it is the cover story. John Cloud’s “My Search For The Perfect Apple,”(in the online edition, it is entitled, “Eating Better Than Organic”) leans heavily on the idea that local, fresh food tastes better. This was a concept I pushed in my interview for Time Magazine–that while we may not be able to prove the health benefits of local food, and people may not care enough about the environment to eat locally, I can say without a doubt that once folks get a taste of truly fresh local food, they will not want to eat the pallid imitations at the grocery store again if they can help it.
The author gets stuck on the debate of organic vs. local, which is fine; the conundrum has given many a blogger pause for thought, and he is bringing these thoughts and ideas into the consciousness of the average American grocery shopper,. He notes that because of the climate of New York, it is nearly impossible to grow chemical-free apples, and he is quite correct. Farmers in California can do it because it is fairly dry, but the humidity of the midwest and northeastern US makes it all but impossible to do without some chemical sprays.
And he notes mistrust of these chemicals, which is fine, yet at the end of his article, he adds that he does trust food scientists and processors to make organic versions of processed foods. This sort of ambivalence I think is natural to someone who has really just begin to think about where his food comes from and what that means, and I think that a lot of Time’s readers will be able to relate to his opinions.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, in the UK, Conservative Party Leader David Cameron writes an op-ed piece for the Yorkshire Post Today advocating for British farmers and their products. In “We Trust Our Farmers, So Let’s Buy Their Local Food,” Cameron lists economic growth, consumer health, environmental sustainability, animal welfare and food security among shis reason for his strong support of the ideals of local food in the UK.
In order to help consumers who have shown growing interest in native UK products, Cameron calls for stronger “point of origin” label laws in order to ensure that consumers can be certain that they are buying British products. Current laws make informed consumer choices in extremely difficult:
“Take “smoked” bacon, purchased in packaging that states “produced in the UK”. Most people would think that it came from a British pig farm. But, under current legislation, it is possible that the bacon was imported from abroad, and only “smoked” in the UK. This is clearly misleading and unfair to both consumers and our pig farmers.”
Citing the ways in which food strengthens families, communities and culture, he ends his essay with an eloquent statement:
“In the 21st century, people are interested in general well-being. The food they eat and feed their families, the strength of their relationships and local communities and the environment they share and the beauty of their surroundings, are all a vital part of that. In more ways than one, buying local food can be the great sustainer.”
While I believe that eating locally is still only possible for a few (mostly middle to upper class) people in the US and the UK, it is still a viable alternative to the current model of mass agriculture. As the demand for local food grows, more small farmers will find ways to satisfy that opening market and prices will begin to lower, making locally produced food more affordable to everyone. State and federal programs such as WIC can issue coupons that are accepted at local farmer’s markets (we have a program for that in Ohio, and it is commonly used here in Athens), allowing people on lower incomes to benefit from the freshness of local foods while supporting the local economy.
We can probably never feed everyone in the entire world locally, but what we can do is feed -more- people locally than we do now. By doing this we are not only sustaining the livelihoods of small farmers around the world, but also providing fresher, tastier and environmentally sound food for more of the citizens of the world.
That is a goal that I look forward to seeing achieved.
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