Local Food IS About More Than Just Flavor
Careful... I'm about to get my nerd on...
Supporting local food is something that I think everyone within a community can agree is good in theory. Ideally, the food is fresh, more nutritious. Members can trace the origin and understand how it was grown. Farmers within the community can connect with those that are going to be enjoying their harvest and understand their preferences. Local food creates a gathering of the community and becomes a key element to any local economy. While all of this is important and truly a benefit of supporting local food, I believe it can also be over-used as a tagline, a talking point for those that want to remain on the surface of this very complex and necessary food system. I want to add depth to this conversation because I believe there should be a much more real reason as to why you should support local food that goes beyond the sales pitch that it simply tastes better.
Wendell Berry has been famously quoted as saying, "Eating is an agricultural act." He explains that eating is the end drama of our food economy that begins with planting and cultivating. We are active participants in this system, engaged with the food that we eat at every bite. It is easy to overlook this relationship and consider ourselves as passive consumers and the food we eat as a packaged product separate from this economy. Passive consumption is the goal of an industrial production, which is based on manufacturing cheap calories into processed foods, because it is more profitable. Berry warns that we will begin to depend on this type of industrialized system if we continue to purchase food without even asking how it was produced. Supporting local food offers a way for us to break from this dependence by making conscience decisions about the food that we eat and taking responsibility for our role in the food economy. In his book the Agricultural Testament, Sir Albert Howard illustrates the key principle that "the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal, and man as one great subject." By choosing to purchase from local farms within our community, we are determining how our food is grown, how the land is being cultivated and how health is being provided to members of our communities.
In his book of essays, Becoming Native to this Place, Wes Jackson brilliantly argues that, "The dialectical or ecological approach asserts that creating the world is involved in our every act. It is impossible for us to operate in our daily lives and not create the world that everyone must live in. What we desire arranges the genetic code in all of our major crops and livestock. We cannot avoid participating in the creation, and it is in agriculture, far and away our largest and most basic artifact, that human culture and the creation totally interpenetrate.” Just as we are not separate from our food economy, we are not separate from our environment. When farmers within our communities decide to become proper stewards of the land, cultivating healthy plants and building the soil, they are helping redefine that community's role in both culture and creation. If we chose to desecrate the land with pesticides and biochemicals, we actively create a culture based on degradation and poverty, lacking ethics and responsibility.
Local farmers, producers and artisans that provide products to their surrounding communities protect our freedom of choice. This may seem like a simple statement but it bears a weight of responsibility. If you attend a farmer's market, you will see booths displaying seasonal varieties grown within your region stacked high and on proud display. Spread across the fold-up tables is a diverse collection of produce, harvested from the fields of local farms. For each of these farmers, this alternative food economy is a act of revolt in the face of an industrialized food system that is working against them. This global system is based on operations similar to an industrial plant. Large monocultures of a single variety are planted on large-scale farming operations and then managed by a saturation of science and chemicals. Once harvested by towering machinery, this single product is then shipped and transported all over the world . Biodiversity is bred out of industrial agriculture and if we remain passive consumers, we are dependent on the limited varieties supplied by this broken food system. Local food is vital to our food economy because it frees us from that dependence and allows us the ability to support and value the different varieties of food grown within our communities.
It is easy to say that you do not have the time or the concern to support local food if you are simply hearing a shallow argument that it tastes better. As active members in a food economy and forced participants in creation, we are defining the world we want to live in. Local food helps us positively change how the land surrounding our communities is used and maintains the biodiversity that is found in creation. Although the argument that local food provides a fresh product that has both flavor and texture is true and important, I think the real reasons you should support local food is because it has a profound impact on the health, culture and environment of our communities, a community we are a part of whether we are actively engaged or ignorantly passive.