Monday, June 21, 2010

Two Aspiring Locavores: A Conversation on Local Food

Happy Summer Solstice-Litha, the longest day of the year! In the spirit of connection, Yancy of A Green Spell and I have a 'foodie' discussion for you. Please check out her space to see her lovely picture of her local farmer's market. It would be great if you could join in on the discussion with a comment!

Yancy= Blue
Lisa= Green

Although most of the stuff in this video wasn't a surprise, I really felt that it was extremely well done. I like graphs, statistics and charts, especially when they're entertaining. Nova Scotia may not have a huge amount of farmlands, but it's being threatened pretty significantly. I always find it so frustrating when I see that local grocery stores import foods we grow right here such as potatoes (ahem- Prince Edward Island anyone??), broccoli, lettuce and carrots from the USA. Unless I head over to the farmer's market, currently there is virtually 'no' Canadian produce in regular grocery stores. It sucks.

I loved the video, too, and it seems to have come to my attention at the same time as other sources talking about food miles. I totally understand what you mean about seeing all the non-local foods when we are both close to some very luscious farmlands. Like your area, Central Oregon is not farmland friendly due to its extreme temperatures, short growing season and sandy, volcanic soil. I'm only about 150 miles from the Willamette Valley, though, one of the most fertile areas in the Western U.S., and yet, I consistently see food from Mexico and Canada in our grocery stores. Even the farmer's market closest to me regularly sells Canadian produce!

I am currently reading a book called Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100 Mile Diet, and even though I'm on the second chapter, it is enlightening, a little discouraging and completely upsetting. For instance, the average distance that food travels to our plates is 2,500 miles. Why should that be?! Further, it mentions a 2001 study that found that food shipped nationally (not even internationally which is just as common these days) "uses seventeen times more fuel than a regional food system." I find that kind of waste shocking and completely unnecessary.

just how far our food would travel from me to Yancy

What truly give me pause, is that you find there are more Canadian produce in grocery stores in Central Oregon than local produce. How does that even make sense? I spent so many months assuming from the amount of California, Washington (USA) produce at our local Sobey's that Canadians must *need* this extra produce... or we'd just keep it here in Canada! Similarly, why wouldn't your local grocery stores at least source their produce from California as opposed to Canada?

I agree with you, though. Shopping nationally also doesn't really make sense. Which is where I feel the Hellman's ad falls short. Sure I could buy Canadian apples... but then I might be buying apples shipped all the way from British Colombia, 6000km away. I'd much rather buy apples grown two hours away.

When Andrew worked at Safeway in the Okanagan Valley BC, he informed me that apples grown in Kelowna were shipped 6 hours away to Vancouver, processed in the plant there and THEN shipped BACK six hours to Vernon. Basically, instead of shipping apples from the farm to the store an hour away, they spent 12 hours (or more) in a truck and labeled 'local'.

I am also surprised by the amount of produce we get from Canada. Dare I hope that it is at least from British Columbia (closer to me)? And I think you're right about buying nationally. It is one thing when you're talking about Europe, for instance, but when you are talking about the 2nd and 3rd largest countries in the world, buying nationally isn't necessarily green. Buying regionally is really the only thing that makes sense.

So here's my question: Why are we doing business this way? I assume it's either cheaper and/or more profitable for agribusinesses to export food, or ship out to processing plants and then BACK to their original regions (as you mentioned with Andrew's experience), but how is that even possible? Why are our governments and business models built around these illogical and wasteful practices? Why aren't we supporting and creating a system that makes more sense - keeping crops as local as possible, saving fuel, cutting out the middle men?

Imagine a world in which we had farms in every region, growing crops sustainable for that landscape and climate, and no under-paid migrant workers - instead, the locals could come and pick their own food. Summer programs for kids could include having the kids do volunteer work at the farms, as well as other interested citizens. And college students could intern there....imagine!

Exactly! Imagine such a world. After discussing the 'why' with Andrew briefly, we both came to the conclusion that it must be politics. Some weird trade agreement between the US and Canada regarding how much we export and import. Lame, but probable. The Hellman's commercial is right- in order to make change we need to start asking and demanding for local foods. Sighing inwardly and wishing the store had more local stuff just won't cut it (they aren't psychic!). Writing local grocers and organizations, asking to speak with the manager of the particular store, informing the neighbourhood store why you're shopping at the farmer's market and not at their business... etc.

Of course, if we could grow our own stuff... now that would be a beautiful world. :)

I was just reading about trade agreements. I found something on the USDA website that says: "In 2007, Canada and Mexico were, respectively, the first and second largest export markets for U.S. agricultural products. Exports to the two markets combined were greater than exports to the next six largest markets combined." It goes on to describe trade agreements and is very enlightening - and frustrating.

I totally agree that we need to make ourselves heard within our own communities by making our preferences known to grocers. I have some hope, as last fall, during apple season, there were signs all over the grocery store that said, "Oregon apples." We have a lot of apple orchards in this state, so it was really awesome to see that most of the apples in our store were from Oregon. They may have traveled back and forth, like what Andrew described, but at least they were from our own state!

Here's my question to you: How are you working this "locavore" stuff into your own life? For me, I have had a lot of trouble with it. It is easy in some respects - we're doing a CSA this year, and the farm is only about 8 miles away from us. And I'm trying to buy things from Oregon companies, like Tillamook Diary (though more on that in another post!). But, there are some things I have a hard time with. I love having banana-cacao smoothies in the morning. Love it. I don't really like bananas that much, but in smoothies, yum! And chocolate....oh chocolate. There are all kinds of foods out there that are being marketed as "superfoods" that mostly all come from below the equator. And I indulge in them from time to time. How are you dealing with your non-local food/beverage cravings?
Halifax (crowded!) market

Oh, that is a DIFFICULT dilemma. Honestly, I am feeling very guilty about not going to the market more often (which this conversation and your recent food traceability post has reminded and reaffirmed my motivation). Honestly, we stopped buying most 'tropical' fruits... which included bananas. Sad, I know. I have been eating a LOT of apples over the past few months.

I'll be upfront though, since we don't can or preserve fruits (but may be looking into a preserving-pickling CSA!!) I have caved and bought frozen berries, pears and plums from... well... not Canada. However, recently my parents (who are crazy) have informed me that they've picked 22 quarts of strawberries locally and will be picking MORE for us (although not organic... ick!). Also, they pick wild, low bush blueberries every Fall. This year I'm going to try to freeze more fruit and berries to eat later in the season.

About the chocolate and coffee... I try to buy fair trade organic on these two because of what I know regarding the slave and child labour practices. After watching the Café Femineno documentary, I wince at buying non fair trade organic coffee, sugar or chocolate. I feel pretty decent about this, I'm supporting the farmer's directly and 'voting' with my money for better labour and trade practices. I try to let-go of too much perfection, small indulgences are minor if your overall staples are local. :)

I am totally jealous about the strawberries. We've had no luck with them in the cold weather, and bought a pound at the supermarket last week (from California - organic, too, as I'm worried about pesticides) - which went fast. Yum!

I'm honestly having a bit of a hard time localizing my purchases. Like the monthly banana binges I mentioned, lol. And it is just hard to find Oregonian foods - so much of our market supply is imported. And don't even get me started on things like flour and noodles.

But I'm trying and I'm learning. That book I mentioned is opening my mind to all kinds of possibilities. And of course, my CSA provider is teaching me so much. I'm hopeful about all that. And with my purposeful indulgences (as opposed to the lazy indulgences), like chocolate, almost all the chocolate I eat is fair trade and organic cacao powder, butter, and nibs from Oregonian supplier (though not producer, of course) Mountain Rose Herbs - just like what you mentioned with coffee/chocolate. There again, I'm trying to do the best I can with things I'm not ready to give up.

I think it's a slow progression, though, but I also think that that's okay. It is all such a learning process!

Thoughts, comments?

article copyright of Yancy, and EcoYogini,


  1. i just finished reading "Just Food" by James McWilliams. it's helped me with my "local food" guilt. or rather, it's made me realize that just local isn't enough.

    it describes that the energy required to transport food is only 11% of the total energy from planting to eating. a whole bunch is in the production phase (moreso for factory farms, and for very small operations who can't do things as efficiently); and 25% is in how we prepare/cook it.

    he introduces the idea of Life Cycle Assessments for our food - where we'd have tags on our food telling us the energy required to put it into the grocery store/farmer's market for us to purchase. these would take into consideration all the energy at the production phase (machinery, gas, water, greenhouse, etc) as well as the transportation.

    eating locally is such a small (but, i still feel it's important) part of the process. it's made me feel sort of helpless beyond shopping at the farmer's market.

    McWilliams describes that the media has jumped onto "locavore-ism" because it's quick and easy to describe and understand. it makes us feel like we're making a difference, right away.

    after reading the book though, i'm on the same page with the author - are we neglecting to look at all the other factors and demand change there too?!

    the book also talks about reducing dependence on land mammals, safe use of aquaculture, judicious use of GMOs (in the hands of NGOs rather than Monsanto).

    all in all, i found it pretty enlightening. and, if it's all true (he does have some good references), also kinda scary. it definitely made me think i should be doing more...

    i thought i'd share it with some like-minded people, and this blog post was appropriately timed for me to do so.

  2. Great post ladies! Now that it's the first day of summer, I think it will become easier to find more local fruits and veggies now that the temps are starting to rise and the gardens are starting to grow. We bought some local strawberries at the market on Saturday. They were so yummy! (Prob not organic though.) They had so much more flavour than the California franken-strawberries. The downfall? They cost $5.50 for a box! I am planning to go berry picking though, I want to make lots of jam! I have never made jam before, but I'm willing to give it a try. We also bought some local blueberry wine. I'm not much of a wine drinker, but it was really good! It had a sweetness to it that I never expected.

    Cheers to finding more local food in the coming months and making scouring the market a weekend tradition!

  3. @JenP: Yes, I was wondering how that book was going for you. I agree 100%; GMO's and food processing (like the whole shipping apples 12hours to be "processed"-whatever that means) are a huge aspect.

    Honestly, I really don't feel comfortable supporting local agriculture or farming if their practices use GMO's, inefficiant farming or pesticides (within reason of course). Which makes it SO MUCH HARDER.

    While living in BC I got to see how all the LOCAL apples and fruit used SO.MUCH.WATER and pesticides to grow. Not exactly the best solution.

    @T: YAY strawberry picking! My parents said it cost them 2.50$ a quart- which is WAY cheaper. I was looking around Halifax... um yeah- not a lot of local U-Picks (ok, none as far as I can tell). So I'll be depending on my parents hard work... lol. :)

    Strawberry jam is EASY to make- SO EASY. and yummy! :)

  4. It can be difficult. Even if you grow your own food you're left asking but where did these seeds come from? the bags of potting mix, the compost. One of these days I'm going to have my own cow or sheep or something to help close the loop. A couple of friends have chickens now, so I'm thinking next year I'll get some, too. Got to fit in with the gang, you know:) (and they are the best tasting eggs ever)

  5. All the reasons you ladies discussed are why we're doing a CSA share this year. It's a little nerve-wracking: for 6 months, nearly all our produce (all organic, btw) will be a surprise! We're still going to our hippie grocery for extra ingredients (can't live without garlic or apples), but we're only 2 weeks in and already it has been consciousness-raising. I suppose all bets are off once winter hits and the CSA ends, but all the produce at our store is organic and much of it is fair-trade as well. I definitely take comfort in that.

  6. I'll have to get my hands on that book Jen mentioned. Sounds interesting!

    As for what Grace said, there does come a point when the questions become ridiculous. That's EXACTLY what Mackinnon and Smith (in the book Plenty: The 100-mile Diet) said. Something about how they couldn't go too far into the questions because it became ridiculous and impossible to wonder if it was okay to eat a cow within 100 miles, but what about what HE ate? What about the fertilizer used at our local farm? Is that local, too?

    It's good to start asking, but not good to get obsessed or locked into the questions. Wherever we can "close the loop" as Grace said, we should do so, and do our best with the rest.

  7. Haha, that video sure looks familiar! :-P
    I definitely agree it's a slow progression, the best thing we can do is educate ourselves and hope others are open to listening. As I discovered when I posted this video on my FB wall, some people are NOT open to these kind of suggestions... I guess you just have to take those opinions (i.e., suggesting your beliefs are outright wrong!) with a grain of salt, and know you are making a difference.

    I am so excited for my CSA boxes for the season (although I'm canceling them the month I'm at training), and I've been spreading the word about the organic farm that's providing it to my friends- I am lucky to have a few like-minded girl friends that I know appreciate me sharing my newfound CSA box knowledge :)

  8. Was thinking, while chopping up fresh avacados and papayas down in Costa Rica, if I lived here, I'd be a locavore easily...though, I'm sure, even there, things'd be more complicated than it seems.

    Up here in the oft-frozen north, of course, it's a more difficult question. Ultimately, as in anything, getting too hung up on perfection only leads to frustration. One step at a time's always the best way to go...

  9. - if i can do it, you can do it!

    if it's not grown on this continent, don't eat it on a regular basis. bananas are now a delicacy for me - and i gotta say, after having fresh papaya in mexico, everything here at the stores taste like doo doo.

  10. @EcoGrrl: WOW!! I especially love your rain barrel- it's so beautiful!

    also- seriously though. that is some serious urban gardening. i am le jealous!!

    you're right though, if I can grow lettuce on our balcony (and well, the radishes, broccoli and strawberries didn't really do so great but there ya go), everyone should be able to garden. :)

  11. I found this discussion so interesting, because I see the same thing happening here in NZ.

    Go into the supermarket, and we're seeing grapes and citrus from the USA - and other fruit from south America. In New Zealand! That's crazy. People just seem to want any fruit any time of the year, whereas seasonality is what makes foods like grapes so special for me.

    At least everything is usually clearly labelled, so you can see where the food is from. But I guess it is also an incentive to us to grow more and more of our own food.

    And sure, we have no shortage of space on our property, but I'm starting to realise just how little space you need to even grow a reasonable %age of your own food.

    My view: save the imports for the luxury, non-everyday items - the sauces, and special foods that you add zing to a dish or a salad. But we shouldn't be importing oranges!

    In the end, I think the problem will take care of itself. Oil is getting more expensive, and these foods that travel around the world will just outprice themselves, which will encourage the return of locally produced food. We're seeing that already here - students who find food expensive growing food on balconies in their flats, for example.

    But in the meanwhile, you won't catch me buying US food. Not least because it's all that yucky GM stuff. Ugh. No way!

    Thanks for such a great post.

    Leanne at Cluttercut - who was out buying more strawberry plants today :-)


I love hearing from you! So I don't miss a comment, I like "pre-approving" them :)
I ask only that we stay respectful.
Also, please note that this is a personal blog and not a space for advertising your company. I reserve the right to delete "advertising" comments.

**NB: The ANONYMOUS option is the BEST way to comment if you don't have a blogger or established google/gmail account.