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.


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


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 . . . Thoughtfully – Reason #1

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.

I have a lot to say about food and I am looking forward to doing so in the next several weeks in this particular series of Why Wednesdays.  I thought it would be best to start by discussing why I think so much about food and why I feel it is such an important topic to explore (beyond the simple fact that I just love to eat, that is).

Food is fraught with implications and contradictions.  Food can be political or personal.  Utilitarian or indulgent.  Hot or cold.  Filling or meager.  Shared or eaten in solitude.  Bland or flavorful.  Nutritious or harmful.  You see what I mean?

photo credit: ilmungo via photopin cc

photo credit: ilmungo via photopin cc

Food is an enormously complex issue, but all too often that complexity is not given the consideration that it’s due.  What we eat and how we eat it has deep impacts on health, economics and the environment.  Plus, food is intricately connected to social status and political ideology.

But so very often we cook and eat without thinking about any of this.  We eat unconsciously –   in front of the television, at our desks, in our cars, running out the door, standing in the kitchen, etcetera.  You’ve done this, right?  I know I’ve certainly had my moments years of doing this.  You get so busy you can’t remember if you ate lunch or you finish off a box of Cheez-Its while in front your computer screen, not even noticing the flavor, the crunch, the point at which you reach fullness.

Even when we sit down to eat an honest to goodness planned meal at a table, it is still unconscious in many ways.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it’s probably pretty uncommon for people to consider how their food was prepared, how it is impacting their bodies, where it came from, if chemicals are on it or not, how it fits in to their budget, and so on.

Now, before you protest and begin to tell me how exhausting all that would be to consider all the time and that you just don’t have the time or that it doesn’t really make much of a difference anyway or whatever other arguments spring to your lips, just wait a minute, please.   Take note that I am not going to say you must know the answers to each and every one of these questions in great detail every time you take a bite of food.  But I will say that adopting a more conscious approach to these things in general will change the way you eat, the way you look at food, and will have huge impacts on your life (both short and long term).

I’m willing to bet that at some point or another, you’ve complained about your weight, lamented about the rising costs of groceries, been a bit confused about what it really means to be GMO or non-GMO, wondered why you didn’t feel full after eating a large meal, or been outraged when you’ve read an article about slave-like conditions of produce pickers.

These are just some of the issues that affect us all day in and day out.  And, we can understand them more fully and we can make changes to them to better our bodies, our health, our communities, our environment, and our lives in general.  We absolutely can.

But it takes thought.  It takes consideration.  It takes some education and some willingness to make some tough decisions about what and how you consume.

It also isn’t as difficult and time consuming as you may first think.  Once you start to consider these issues, do a bit of research, and keep your eyes open, you’ll start to develop a base of knowledge and understanding that easily informs your food choices.  You’ll know which stores you can (mostly) trust and which ones you can’t.  You’ll have brands that you can feel good about buying and others you’ll steer clear of.  You’ll know what foods nourish your body accordingly and which ones, well, just simply add to its volume.

Mediterranean Beans

I will write more specifically about these individual topics in the weeks to come, but to start, I am encouraging others to cook and eat with some thought and consideration.  Ask questions (even if it’s just to yourself or to Google) about the food you eat and the way it’s grown or prepared.   Ponder the flavors and feelings it gives you, rather than just consuming it, distracted by the goings on of life.  Talk about food (and recipes and food production and nutrition and grocery inflation and all of it) with others.

In fact, I propose this: treat it like those classic tenets of journalism. Consider the who, what, when, where, why, and how of it.  Get conscious in your food choices and really experience the act of eating.  Try to consider it a little experiment.  And, if it helps, go ahead and practice this experiment on cookies.

Cookies make research better.

To read the previous series in this column, select the ‘Why Wednesdays’ tag in the right side column.  Prior series in this column include ‘Why I Run’ and ‘Why Creativity Counts’.