Why Wednesdays? – Why I Eat . . . Local – #6

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.

Overview

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 parksPathway 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!

Groundwork Organics

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:

Local Harvest

Simple Steps to Eating Local

Find Local Foods

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Previous Entries in This Series:

#5 – Why I Eat . . . To Heal and To Fuel

#4 – Why I Eat . . . Food From My Own Kitchen

#3 – Why I Eat . . . Plants!

#2 – Why I Eat . . . With Reverence

#1 –  Why I Eat  . . . Thoughtfully

Why Wednesdays? – Why I Eat . . . With Reverence – #2

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.

For most of my life, I didn’t have much respect for food. I grew up on a diet made primarily of fast food, microwaveable meals, and processed junk food. Without getting too much into the details, I was essentially raised in a single-parent household and my mom was busy. She worked. She went to school for a few years in addition to work. Every once in a while she would cook on a weekend or a holiday, but it wasn’t the norm, so we did what we needed to. When your food comes in a cardboard box or is handed to you through a window, it’s easy not to have much respect for it.

I ate it. I enjoyed it. I craved it. But, I didn’t really think about it much.

I didn’t think about its nutritional content (or lack thereof) or its cost. I certainly didn’t think about where it came from or what it took to make or produce my food. As far as I was concerned, if The Hamburglar wasn’t trying to steal away my Happy Meal, all was well.

As I’ve grown, this has changed dramatically, especially in the last couple of years.

Coffee Pickers in Timor-Leste

I work with individuals living in poverty. Good people who take their $200 of ‘food stamps’ each month and do what they can to ensure they won’t starve until the 1st of the next month rolls around and they get their next $200. That inevitably makes me consider the cost of food.

Now that I’m an active runner, I notice how even subtle changes in my diet impact the way my body feels and works and moves. Eat the ‘wrong’ thing and my body feels sluggish. Eat the ‘right’ thing and I have the energy and strength I need to run as far as I choose. That certainly makes me think about nutritional value.

I stay well- informed on world events and social issues, so I read all too often about the abuse and maltreatment of crop pickers and dangerous conditions in food production plants. So that definitely leads me to ponder the ethics of food production.

And, tending to be the introspective-type, I frequently consider my personal relationship with food and food-related issues, which is a complex relationship to say the least. My grandfather was, essentially, a farmer for many years. He worked hard, every day, to produce crops that raked in money for those he worked for, though he certainly never saw huge paychecks himself. He tended and toiled and understood food in ways that I likely never will. I belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture plan) during crop-producing months and sometimes I think about him when I unpack my goodies. Vegetables that were actually watered and touched and picked and packed by people who cared about what they were producing. Sometimes I get excited about this and think I will start a balcony herb garden! I must have some ‘green’ genes in me passed on by my grandfather, surely! Right?!

Then I remember the last three times that I did try to start a balcony herb garden. I recall the shriveled herbs, dirty pots, and withered plants creating an eyesore on my balcony and mocking me with my urban farming failures. And as I remember them, I have all that much more respect for the skill and patience that it takes to grow something beautiful and bountiful.

When being introspective, I also think about how I eat differently these days. Like, literally, how I consume my food. You see, I used to generally eat one of two ways. I all too often ate on-the-go. I can’t even begin to count up the thousands of meals I have eaten in my car. Alternatively, even when I actually ate at home or somewhere similar, it was usually while multitasking to the point that I barely even noticed what I was eating at all. I ate while working, studying, cleaning, you name it. There was pretty much zero connection between the behavior of eating and the experience of it. Now, though probably busier than ever, I slow down to eat. I take my lunch break away from my desk. I eat dinner with others in my household. When I eat at a restaurant, I take the time to enjoy the experience of it. Changing this approach to eating has given me an appreciation for the ways that food connects me to others. The conversations shared over a meal are some of my favorite and the act of sharing a personally prepared meal with others feels comforting and intimate in a way that few other acts do. Plus, as someone with a bit of social anxiety disorder, I have found that strangers can always talk about food – and it tends to be a bit more interesting then discussing the weather.

photo credit: stijn via photopin cc

photo credit: stijn via photopin cc

Food is a common, shared denominator, a linking factor in all of our lives and it nourishes us (or hurts us) in innumerable ways. The relationships that it builds, the work it takes, the care it demands, the desire it elicits and the frustration it can bring are more powerful than we often acknowledge. I have certainly been guilty of taking it all for granted in the past, though I’m trying a bit of a different strategy these days, one with much more respect for the food on my table, the people behind it, and those that I share it with.

Happy eating.

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Previous Entries in This Series:

#1 – Why I Eat . . . Thoughtfully