Tag Archives: Regional Food

Stocked Up for Local Eating Challenge

Day 1 of Eat Local Challenge Series

Following the Mad River Valley Localvore Project’s lead, my family is following the Marco Polo Rule (i.e., salt, pepper, spices) and taking five wildcards (i.e., coffee, olive oil, baking powder, baking soda, TBD) in our 2009 Eat Local Challenge.

Thank goodness for these exceptions, since I can’t imagine either my wife or me starting out the day without a hot cup of coffee. By the way, our Organic, Fair Traded certified coffee of choice this week is a French Roast from Burlington-based Fresh Coffee Now.

When we are unable to find something locally grown or raised, e.g., coffee beans, something that became readily apparent during our “stocking up” food shop on Sunday, it is important to have a succession of next best alternatives, e.g., organic, locally processed or locally-owned retail. Which raises an important question related to eating local which I covered in a recent blog post: Is it more important to buy from locally-owned retailers than it is to eat local food?

While I won’t revisit that post again, I will suggest that if there were more locally-owned food retailers (see Mad River listing as example) that would likely be smaller and more intimate than today’s average supermarket (>45,000 square feet), then regional consumers would have increased, everyday access to locally grown, raised and processed foods. The term “everyday” is key, since currently many people have to use exceptional channels to purchase such foods, e.g., once-a-week farmers markets and CSA programs.

This symbiotic relationship between local food producers and retailers should allow both to grow and prosper, and, most important, begin taking back market share in a market dominated by industrial-sized food companies.

Today’s Localvore Meals

  • Lunch:  Vermont Soy Maple Ginger Tofu (not sure about ginger), Shelburne Farms Maple Cheddar Cheese, and cucumbers, tomatoes and green beans from our garden (13-year-old exception: U-32 cafeteria’s salad bar – not sure how local)
  • Dinner:  see Day 2 post
  • Wild Cards: Coffee
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Taking a Long View of Kids Eating Local

For nearly 14 years, my wife and I have been thrilled that our four kids eat nearly anything we put on their plates. Granted, we aren’t overly adventurous with the meals we serve – for example, we’ve never served tripe or cow’s tongue – but the variety of what we cook is likely broader than average, as are the flavors, spices and combinations of foods.

So, coming into next week’s 2009 Eat Local Challenge, I assumed it would be a no brainer for the whole family to get behind it, even enthusiastically, assuming we didn’t have to completely give up chocolate or coffee, two showstoppers in my household.

Wrong.

It turns out that as kids get older (my oldest is 13 going on 21), this developing-a-mind-of-their-own thing kicks in. Dad wanting his family to participate in an important challenge becomes “It’s stupid.”

Ouch!

My reaction? Defensive at first. I was disappointed and a little hurt, since figuring out ways to proliferate sustainable food is how I spend my days. Upon further reflection I began to see inherent difficulties in making good everyday food decisions, especially for young people dealing with very real social pressures and fighting off the onslaught of sophisticated marketers hawking edible food-like substances. After years of taking for granted our success in getting our kids to regularly eat good food, it turns out the rules change as kids grow up, so it’s time to adapt.

Thanks to the Eat Local Challenge, I will no longer assume kids automatically value what we have worked hard to instill in them about food, e.g., supporting local farmers; enriching regional food economies; consuming healthy, flavorful, nutritious food; etc. I expect most kids will realize these things in the long run, but first many of them may need to figure this out on their own.

For my wife and me, as well as many other families taking part in the Eat Local Challenge, there will likely be “disagreements” with our kids over the food we eat. Rather than fight with them about the importance of eating locally, I’m resolved to take a different approach.

Compromise.

Give them choices. Encourage them to participate. Take them shopping and let them pick out some local foods that appeal to them. Let them define “local” if that helps them get engaged. Just don’t force the issue. And positively support the actions they take. If they want to rebel for a week, let them, since it would be a shame to have even one young person end up resisting eating local because their dad thought it was so important.

Food (hopefully local) for thought…

Industrial Food Continuing to Stack Deck?

Today’s New York Times included an article titled “Small farms fear bearing brunt of new food safety regulations” that caught my eye.  The headline alone was enough to make me cringe, but reading the actual content made it even worse.  Here is a taste of what you will read:

But small-scale farmers say the big companies have the funds and staff to comply with the rules, and that factory farms that specialize in mass-producing one item are better positioned to comply with mandates to establish food safety plans for every product they sell.

“A small farm is much more likely to grow multiple things and have a diversified approach,” Lavera (Assistant Director, Food and Water Watch) said. “So if they have to take 19 steps for each of those crops, it’s much harder for them than a large farm that only grows one or two things.”

Small farmers argue that they are already much more accountable to their customers for the quality of their product than are mass-production facilities, and that they will be crushed under the weight of well-meaning laws aimed at large industrial offenders.

As my post yesterday highlighted, the food marketing system (a.k.a., industrial food) has been systematically shifting more of every dollar spent by consumers on food into their pockets, especially since 1980.  Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad if they were producing food products positively contributing to our health, the environment, and regional economic development. That is not happening, at least not in most cases.  Now, as if to add insult to injury, industrial food may be jumping on the opportunity to further burden smaller farms through new food safety regulations.

The challenge is how to ensure food safety for all consumers without severely limiting the diversity of where our food comes from.  Given the complexity of the industrial food system, which includes many steps and lots of hands touching mass produced food, there is no doubt that food safety is a very real problem that needs more regulation.  But smaller farms, especially those that sell direct to consumers or one-step removed through regional distributors, do not present the same problems, so it makes no sense to impose on them something designed for the more complex system. Again, from the New York Times article:

“The law requires that a food safety plan be written up and that the farms keep a record of the way it is administering the plans,” said Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association, a nonprofit advocacy group. “If it was scale appropriate and was mashed in with organic standards, it would be fine. But it’s not.”

Do smaller producers represent risks to consumer?  I think it would be naive to say they don’t.  Do they need to be regulated and monitored regarding food safety?  I believe most people giving this question some thought would say yes, but only if such regulations are designed for the local and regional food systems that many smaller farms operate within.

 

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