Friday, August 8, 2008


Another thing I gave more thought to while at Iowa Yearly Meeting was the idea of local food. Jeremy and I have been working toward this since moving here - thus all the gardening, canning, making jam, the CSA, and shopping at the farmer's market.

I was pleased that the Peace & Social Concerns committee included a bit about local food in their minute:
"Our eating habits also should be considered. It is estimated that the food for an average American meal travels 1500 miles from the farm to the consumer. Studies have shown that the livestock industry contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than transportation does. We need to eat locally grown food whenever possible. Community garden plots, community supported agriculture, and re-learning how to preserve foods will help, as will reducing meat consumption."

A day or so later I was reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (a book I've been hearing about forever!) and read some disturbing things about the nature of our food. Kingsolver talks about how we as a nation have moved away from being agricultural (lots of us anyway) and our food is produced in massive amounts by massive farms. This means some pretty oily food:
"We're consuming about 400 gallons of oil a year per citizen...for agriculture... Tractors, combines, harvesters, irrigation, sprayers, tillers, balers, and other equipment all use petroleum. Even bigger gas guzzlers on the farm are ...the inputs: synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides use oil and natural gas as their starting materials and in their manufacturing. ...
Getting the crop from seed to harvest takes only one-fifth of the total oil used for our food. The lion's share is consumed during the trip from the farm to your plate. Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles."
Add to that CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations - which you can read about in Omnivore's Dilemma) where animals are treated pretty badly and have to have lots of drugs to keep them "healthy" because of the conditions they're in; and enormous farms growing only one crop: monocultures of corn and soybeans. (The monocultures, by the way, are bad for bees, who also need a balanced diet. But they're not just disappearing because of monocultures, it's also all the chemicals the seeds and plants are bathed in.)

Interestingly, because of all these fertilizers and pesticides and whatnot, "U.S. farmers now produce 3,900 calories per U.S. citizen, per day. That is twice what we need..." How do you get Americans to eat all this extra food? Super size me. Packaging is bigger, portions are bigger, everything is bigger (including us!). Some people in the food industry (or somewhere) thought that with this great advancement in technology we could solve the problem of starvation in the world. We could grow enough food for everyone! And so it appears that we are (or are part of a worldwide system that can). But people are still starving around the world. I suppose the reasons are complicated and don't have to do at all with lack of food, but people not being able to afford to buy food. Things are going to get more difficult with rising oil prices. A recent New York Times article notes that the cost of shipping things is "crimping" globalization. It costs a lot more to ship food from other parts of the world here, or to send our food to other countries to be processed before coming back here to be sold.

I did find out recently what happens to some extra food. It goes to the landfills.
There is a great new article from Grist that gives some history about how we got to where we are.

But enough about why we're here and how we got here. We're here. So what now? So now: back to being local. Back to growing gardens, joining a community garden if you don't have yard space, joining a CSA. Back to canning and preserving, freezing and drying, making jam, and storing things away. Back to knowing where your food came from, even the name of the farmer that grew it.

It's an incredible learning curve I have to say. As Kingsolver puts it, people used to know (to just know) when the first and last frost dates were, what they could grow in their area, when to harvest things, how to preserve, how long things kept, and on, and on! They didn't have to rely on half a dozen books, the internet, and late-night/early-morning phone calls to mom like we do.

So we're learning these things again and honestly, it's really exciting! It's also a lot of work and can be tiring and stressful. But, as I've said before, it's wonderful to run out to the back yard and pick tomatoes or lettuce or beans for dinner. And fresh tomatoes just smell so wonderful! And there is such a sense of accomplishment looking at our growing stockpile of canned and frozen things (pictures on that soon!).

This trend of eating locally, gardening, etc is growing around the nation (just keep an eye on your local paper) and I have a feeling it will soon be a necessity, not just an interesting hobby. Don't worry if you've never planted a seed, never done u-pick, or never canned a thing in your life. Jeremy & I (and scores of others) will be there to help.

p.s. wondering what "locavore" means?
- from wikipedia
- how to become a locavore

1 comment:

richelle said...

I wholeheartedly agree, Aimee! And I applaud all your hard work this year. If we just keep doing as much as we can, I have faith that it will get easier, we will be encouraged do even more, and those around us will see how rewarding it can be!