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Local + Food = Good: Why I Eat What I Eat and Do What I Do

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My daily life is all about local food. When I’m not making dinner or digging around my garden, I have the pleasure of working with farmers, community members, organizations, chefs, the media, distributors, and retailers to engage people in a more sane agricultural system for the state. There has never been a more exciting time for this work! I eat what I eat—local and organic (lorganic) whenever possible—because it is the easiest (and most delicious) way to support the kind of environment I want to live in: one that regionally provides for my food needs, increases small business vitality, and values community and a more healthful environment. I’m not alone in my love for lorganically grown food—demand has reached a new peak in eater awareness in the past year.


 


Local food hasn’t been this hot since the Victory Garden days (World War II era) when nearly 20 million Americans were growing their own. In 2007 “Locavore” was deemed word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary, and Michael Pollen tipped the issue over the edge with the release of his book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” This pivotal book exposed many of the underlying disparities and externalities of the food we eat—much to our discontent. Food can be easier to eat if you aren’t aware of the chains that brought it from food to fork (check out the book if you don’t believe me). The reinvigorated interest in locally grown foods are coming from our inherent desire to be more connected with our food, to trust the food that we eat will be safe, to eat a healthier and more delicious diet, to ensure that good food will be available for future generations, and to minimize our dependency on foreign foods and oil. At least that’s the way that I see it.

With the price of oil increasing (over $120 a barrel!), local, state, and federal governments are starting to nibble around the topic of local food security and access. Contra Costa County, California, just passed a progressive resolution linking the Public Health Department with local farming organizations like the Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust. This year October is Local Food Month; we will be encouraging everyone to eat as close to home as possible, and for other counties to pass the same sort of resolutions. Through work in creating the Bay Area Local Food Guide and online searchable database for all things local, I’m finding that by involving everyone in the food chain—from farmer to eater—we are able to improve the economic viability of our farming community. This is an important element in making local food work for everyone. As with improved viability, young people like myself will be more inclined to go and give a try at turning dirt into dollars. After all, our system currently works on the value of a dollar bill and has yet to reincorporate social and environmental well-being in our indexes of progress.

In the Bay, we just happen to be surrounded by some of the most fertile agricultural fields in the world. You might not know it—but that salad you’re eating is likely from Salinas. Those strawberries are from under hundred miles away, and those snap peas and asparagus, just under seventy-five. Even in winter we benefit from diverse food availabilities, especially when compared to folks living in colder climes. Despite our huge production capacity to feed our own state, California has become a net importer of food due to a focus on export-based markets that feed the rest of our country and the world. In the entire state, we only have 78,000 farms left and have lost around six million acres since 1974 (2002 U.S. Ag Census Bureau). The trend toward purchasing more locally grown food will aid in preserving access to one of our most important state industries: agriculture. For myself, choosing local over imported foods is more than just a “consumer” act. It is an act that votes for the type of food system that I personally want to see more of in the world. I want to witness the day when communities are buffered by farms for secure food access, organic and sustainable production techniques are fully utilized and celebrated, and orchards and fields provide open space and biodiversity that we unknowingly need for a healthy constitution. After all, I’m talking about our roots here and reconnecting to them. In the Bay Area, we’re not far off from realizing this.

I’m well aware that bananas are not going to disappear from the supermarket overnight or that unripe, tasteless produce, corn syrup processed foods, or hormone-injected dairy and meat that dominate our store shelves today will disappear next month—the corporations that are running the food show would simply not allow it. It’s going to take time and continuous eater support of the kind of agriculture that makes sense for people, our communities, and the environment—that of lorganic food. The great news is that it is already working! Each of us is making the choice daily and is increasing the viability of local farms. Some things that you can do to support local food are to join a CSA, ask for local wherever you eat or shop, shop at a farmers’ market, plant a garden, sign up for our monthly newsletter, volunteer for an organization working on the issue, etc. Local food resources and more are available at our Web site. The choice is ours.


 


Definitions:
1. Local Food (noun): Food that is produced as close to home as possible for a particular product (i.e. meat, cheese, fish, vegetables, dairy, etc.). When purchasing food, seek out sources closest to you for maximum freshness and to support your local food economy. For example, in the Bay Area buy table grapes from Sonoma or Yolo County, not from Chile, available in August. Buy lettuces from the Central Coast/Watsonville area, not from Southern California. Look for foods with origin on them. If it is not listed, ask.

2. Foodie (noun): A person that loves food, has an ardent or refined interest in food, is devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment (especially good food and drink).

3. Food insecurity (noun): The state, or risk, of being unable to provide food (to oneself, a family, a nation, etc.).

4. Lorganic (noun): Food that is both local and organic.

By Temra Costa, Director, Buy Fresh Buy Local Community Alliance with Family Farmers

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