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Is Local the Goal?

I’ll say it: I like local food. I tend to choose it whenever I can find it, and whenever I can afford it.

I’ll say something else, as well: I don’t just eat local foods.

local.jpgI’m extremely fortunate, as my corner of the world (Southern Vermont) offers an agricultural bounty unknown to many parts of this country. Within a few miles of here, I can find farms that explode with delicious eats. In the spring, we’ve got baby greens, asparagus, strawberries. Later in the season, there’s chard, zucchini, tomatoes and onions. We have delicata squash and blue potatoes and kale and apples. We’ve got peaches and pumpkins, blueberries and basil, leeks and lettuce, shallots and string beans. We’ve got pastured chickens and grass-fed beef, free range eggs and honey from the comb. We’ve got milk and yogurts and cheeses. I know: I’m very, very lucky…at least from June to November.

Still, I sometimes choose foods that aren’t grown within my own foodshed. I’ll happily buy kalamata olives and feta from the Mediterranean. You won’t find a salmon swimming within hundreds of miles from here, but you might find it on my plate. And I don’t think I could survive, frankly, without my coffee that’s harvested thousands of miles away.

But I do try to eat with a conscience.

I’m fond of a T-shirt, sold by Herbivore, that says “Eat Like You Give a Damn.” That’s my goal: to eat thoughtfully, to participate in a food system that doesn’t blithely destroy the natural environment, that doesn’t put quarterly earnings statements above the quality of the food they sell. I want food that connects me…to…something – other people, I suppose. And the planet.

Eating locally is one way to do that. But it’s not the only way.

Recently, the New York Times published an article about foods from small “local” dairies. This fed the ire of Wooly Pigs pork producer, Heath Putnam. Putnam produces pork from Wollschwein and Berkshire pigs and a brief tour of the Wooly Pigs web site makes clear that this guy cares β€” a lot β€” about the quality of his food. In a blog post, Putnam expresses frustration with the local movement, noting that a California chef who insists on buying “local” pigs is almost certainly buying inferior pork than that of Wooly Pigs.

It’s certainly a point worth thinking about. Fortunately, Casing the Joint did exactly that in this beautiful post on what it means to eat thoughtfully. He notes that local is only one means to an end:

By consistently engaging a single foodshed or small group of foodsheds β€” presumably one(s) near where we live β€” over time, we can start to understand the land we live on and the people we live with, and develop meaningful connections with both. It’s the idea of understanding, sharing and belonging…the idea of home.

By his definition, “local” doesn’t have to mean food from your back yard, but rather food that comes from somewhere, that introduces you to someone. It can happen with local food, absolutely. There’s nothing like meeting the people who grow your food. But it can also happen, as Casing the Joint makes clear, with farther-than-a-stone’s throw producers like Wooly Pigs.

It’s a beautiful post, and it’s enough to make even a local-food-cynic want to start eating like they give a damn.

Thanks to the Ethicurean for the heads-up about these posts.

4 comments
  1. Sharon Troy

    Funny, I just ordered that exact same t-shirt from Herbivore a few weeks ago. I haven’t gotten it yet though because it was on backorder. I guess that bodes well for more people giving a damn about what they eat.

  2. Ali Benjamin

    Melissa – it’s a good question…though on their web site, they actually say “Animals, the environment, local economies, oil, gardening, avoiding overly processed crap, biodegradable packaging…so many ways to eat like you give a damn.” So, I’m hoping that they’ll just be psyched that someone’s giving a damn about something!

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