July 9, 2010

Eating locally

I finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver last week, and it is a great read on an interesting topic. Even if you only read the first chapter, it would be worth your time.

Barbara Kingsolver and her family move from Tucson to Virginia and decide to get their food as locally as possible. As one synopsis puts it, the book is "their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it." The book chronicles their first year of being locavores, and includes not only their own experiences, but lots of information on the environmental damage and resource waste behind our normal eating habits.

One of the major points is that we have lost most all our connection to how our food is grown. It all just shows up shrink-wrapped in our grocery store. Most of us have little clue about how far the food has traveled, what chemicals were introduced, or even what the plants look like in the wild. Another point she makes, which is something I have thought about in the past, is that most people (including me) no longer know when fruits or vegetables are in season.

Growing up, I remember that some fruits and vegetables were only in the store at certain times during the year. Now you can get asparagus almost any time of the year. But to make this happen, the vegetable often crosses half the world before it makes it to your table. According to the book, "Each item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles." Another odd statistic that shows how little sense it all makes - we export 1.1 million tons of potatoes while we also import 1.4 million tons. When all the transport of food across the world is considered, there are far more calories of energy used to produce food than are actually contained in the food itself.

The organic food movement has also taken a good foothold in the market. People are concerned with what kind of pesticides and other chemicals are used in growing their food, and what kind of health risk they pose. The chemicals not only pose some risk to us, but also can sterilize the soil so that it no longer will produce. Just this morning I saw an article, Coming Soon to Your Strawberries: Newly Approved Carcinogenic Pesticide. Methyl Iodide is used to "induce cancer in cell-culture experiments" and has been shown to "bind to DNA and cause mutations", yet it has been approved to be used as a pesticide in 47 states. California has its own approval process, and they are deciding whether it can be used here.

There are many reasons to try to eat more locally, more organically, and getting to know the farmer that grew your food. People do it to reduce pollution and oil consumption, to eliminate chemical pesticides in their diets, to support their local community of farmers instead of shipping their money overseas, and for the simple fact that fresh produce tastes so much better than the well-traveled, shrink-wrapped version.

Not many of us have an acre of free land to grow our own vegetables, but even people living in cities are carving out small areas to grow some food. An article in yesterday's Seattle Times details how much a woman living 15 minutes from downtown Seattle has been able to do. At our own home, Matt is currently making pasta sauce from tomatoes and basil grown in the backyard. The pasta will probably be served with a salad using lettuce from the garden as well.

This is only a small portion of their harvest. They have enough tomatoes that they can give them away or even trade them to a neighbor for firewood.

There are varying degrees that people participate in this local food movement. Some of the above mentioned authors are even grinding their own grain and making their own cheese. Whether you grow some of your own food or just change your habits slightly, the impact can be pretty staggering. From the book,
"If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That's not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast."
I've enjoyed several books by Barbara Kingsolver, and I found this book to be a great mix of interesting stories and enlightening information.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)


matt said...

The pasta sauce turned out AWESOME by the way.

Check this out for a laugh: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydJ1hJ31UWY

Holly Linden said...

YAY! Now I can borrow the book from you I've been eyeing...