A Note About This Feature: Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about. Currently, the focus is on food, cooking, and eating.
The concept of eating, shopping, and consuming all things local has been all the rage over the last couple of years. I’m glad that it’s catching on and I’m glad to be a part of it. My only concern is . . ., well, actually I have TWO concerns about this.
The first concern is that sometimes when things get a lot of buzz, they also get a lot of push back. Becoming popular also means becoming a target. Once popular, it’s easy to be written off as a passing fad, overrated, or just passé. My second concern is that once something becomes a big trend, (in this case even getting its own term – localvoire. Side note, while I love the concept, I loathe that word), it can sometimes lose its meaning. When something is trendy, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and the group mentality of it, without actually understanding what it is your doing and why it’s important.
I worry about both of these things when it comes to the concept of consuming locally and so I will spend my time today discussing why this needs to be more than just a passing trend and is, in fact, a practice that has massive implications for our communities.
My personal story and passion for living a lifestyle focused on buying local really starts with my move to Portland. Sadly, I didn’t always live here. I spent many years (too many years, really) in Phoenix. When I moved to Portland in 2009, my whole sense of community changed. It might even be more apt to say that I finally found a sense of community that I never knew existed.
Portland is a haven for small business owners, craftspeople, artisans, entrepreneurial types, urban farmers, and foodies. I consider myself really fortunate in this regard, as I know not all cities have this particular type of abundance. When I made the migration from the strip-mall filled desert to Portland, three things immediately stood out to me:
1) Trees and other green things (I seriously didn’t think trees really were so plentiful outside of full-on forests. I was SHOCKED to see parks full of trees. Who knew??)
2) Proper neighborhoods – With neighborhood-y names (Woodstock, Hawthorne, Mt. Tabor, Nob Hill, et cetera) and with their own distinct personalities, friendly neighbors, and corner shops
3) The incredible lack of mega-retailer establishments in the city (sure they exist, but not nearly to the extent of what I was used to, and many actually live mostly in the suburbs, rather than the heart of the city)
While I still marvel at the first one, it’s the latter two that are most relevant to this discussion. The thing about these is that I now feel truly connected to a community – my community. I feel connected to the farmers and retailers and craftspeople and roadside markets and I want to foster that connection. It has become vitally important to me to support my neighbors in order to have lasting impacts on us locally, as well as on our world at large.
I keep my food choices as local as possible in a few ways. First, I buy a great deal of my food from local markets, both from farmer’s markets and local shops/grocery stores (I am eternally grateful for New Season’s Market and get excited for trips to Food Fight). Second, I am a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, so for several months out of the year, I get much of my produce delivered directly from a farm just a couple hundred miles away from my home. I’ve never met Sophie and Gabe from my CSA farm, but I read their newsletters and take their expert guidance on how to store and prepare the wonderful fruits and vegetables they grow. Third, I buy many locally made food products (even when I do shop at larger stores). These may be items like jam, bread and snack bars (Oregon has loads of companies that produce great products – Bob’s Red Mill, Dave’s Killer Bread, Turtle Island Foods, for instance). Finally, when I do eat out at restaurants, it’s pretty much always at an independently owned, non-chain establishment. Not only is the food generally better, but the service and atmosphere usually are, too.
By making these food choices, I know that I am:
- Strengthening my local economy
- Supporting entrepreneurship, as well as the realization of dreams and successes of individuals working to offer something to their community
- Contributing to the availability of a diversity of food choices (rather than contributing to an environment where a mega-retailer dictates what I have access to)
- Reducing environmental impacts by choosing not to buy products made in big factories and transported hundreds (or thousands) of miles in order to reach me, as well as buying products that often require less wasteful packaging
- Generally getting better quality products, as well as useful consumer information regarding said products, made and sold by knowledgeable purveyors of their goods.
- Using my dollar to support (or not support, as the case may be) businesses and companies that act ethically and consciously, with values that align with my own
Spending my dollars at local businesses makes my community richer in dozens of ways and, selfishly, makes my own life better, too. The amount of incredible food options that I have access to is in no small part due to the fact that we have lots of small business owners here in Portland who fill various niches, resulting in a wide variety of goods. If they were pushed out by one, or even two, large retailers, that diversity of options would shrink dramatically. The quality of food is undeniable, as well. When I get a tomato from my CSA, it tastes like a tomato. It’s not perfectly round and red and that’s great – because it’s not supposed to be, despite what mass-production tomato growers have tricked most of us into believing. And, if the tomato crop isn’t fantastic, I don’t get sad, tasteless objects – my local farmers just tell me they’re no good and send another item that is tasty and ripe instead!
Plus, I am a HUGE fan of supporting creativity, joy, and personal passion. I get pleasure out of knowing that my money is helping my neighbors live their dreams. I was struck by this very profoundly last week during a trip to my local spice and herb shop, Stone Cottage. I stopped in for a very small purchase. I needed ancho chile powder and decided on a whim to try some chlorella, too. That’s all. I scooped up a couple of tablespoons of each and was ready to make my incredibly small purchase of about $2. I decided to also pick up a cup of coffee (produced by a local roaster, of course), from their self-serve coffee station. While I was preparing my items for purchase, the owner of the shop greeted me kindly, offered assistance, and finished serving another customer. I overheard him assist her with selecting just the items she needed. He listened to her needs, asked good questions, and shared his expertise of the products available. As she left, he encouraged her to follow up with him about how her items worked and then he went on to wonder around his shop, tidying and being a general friendly presence. As I set about paying for my tiny bag of spices and my caffeine fix, I was told that my coffee was on the house today. “Enjoy the sun and take care.”
I really believe that he meant that. He is a shop owner who is really passionate about his goods. He procures quality products, offers limitless assistance to customers, and is working, in his unique way, to provide a positive experience to those he encounters. I will gladly give my money to a business owner such as this any day of the week. I want to see this business succeed and I care about having this resource available to me in my neighborhood. Happy and successful local shop owners, equal a happy and vibrant community that I am fortunate to call home.
For more information on eating locally, or if you are interested in CSAs, here are few resources you may enjoy:
Previous Entries in This Series:
#5 – Why I Eat . . . To Heal and To Fuel
#4 – Why I Eat . . . Food From My Own Kitchen
#2 – Why I Eat . . . With Reverence