Then in the evening I was back at my bookstore for a wonderful event - the authors of Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally. They're this ridiculously cute young Canadian couple who pronounce produce "prahduce". Their story is this:
When the average North American sits down to eat, each ingredient has typically travelled at least 1,500 miles—call it "the SUV diet." On the first day of spring, 2005, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon chose to confront this unsettling statistic with a simple experiment. For one year, they would buy or gather their food and drink from within 100 miles of their apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia.
An example of bloggers sparking a real movement - "back to the land" for modern, urban, internet savvy types. Or whoever. People from all over the world have been really inspired by them - thousands have pledged to do 100-mile diets of their own! It's such an interesting and simple concept, and taps into so many pressing issues - bucking the industrial food system, supporting small farmers, sure. But it also became about connecting with local history/ecology, reexamining priorities of cost, convenience, leisure, health, etc etc!
Some of the things that really resonated with me:
Alisa discussed the original idea, when they were just regular people trying to live relatively green, and realized their food was far from it. She said "we know the oil is going to run out sometime. I'd rather have the last hurrah to fly myself around the world, instead of my brussel sprouts!"
James talked about a "double disappearance" of crops. Not only were certain foods they'd taken for granted impossible to find (wheat, cooking oil) because they'd been banished by the globally subdivided agricultural/food chain, but even the memory of those crops being native to their area had been mostly wiped out.
Of course eating locally is environmentally responsible in that you reduce fossil fuel use etc. It makes us all feel good to choose the organic local produce from the farmers market and all. But when you actually DEPEND on your local ecology, you suddenly become invested in conservation in a much more intense way. They recounted the story of a toxic spill in the river. It made the news for a few days, and then people shrugged and still found plenty of fish in the supermarket. But J and A were devastated - despite living in the pacific northwest, they had just lost any hope of salmon for the whole year!
In conclusion, run out and buy/borrow the book. Also at their website you can do all kinds of things - see people sharing their stories from all over, find local resources like CSA programs, find your own 100 miles, read a short faq/interview which reiterates a lot of the questions i heard yesterday - like "was it expensive? repetetive? why 100 miles? can i do this here? etc"
My current culinary endeavors sort of preclude any serious 100-miling by yours truly (um, salt and pepper anyone?), but living in the middle of this bountiful land it's crazy NOT to eat heavily local. Sadly, even here most people don't - for all the amazing farmer's markets and natural food stores that label local products, there are still plenty of Safeways selling that bounty back to us, 2x1 in a shiny box, enriched with the sweet sweet taste of those 1500 miles of petroleum.
Which reminds me something else i heard this week. From an ecuadorian friend who just moved to Montreal (and here eating locally connects with globalization, immigration, free trade...):
It is hard to find anything fresh here, almost everything is precooked in some sort of strange frozen meals. I haven't bought any so far but just saying that getting fresh vegables to prepare my own food is a hard task. I have to go to different stores and be shocked dumb by prices and bad quality. A fig costs one dollar. In Ecuador I bought 40 figs in 1.5 dollars!...
It makes realize that no matter how terrible is the economic crisis in the future, Ecuador will never have people dying of hunger or eating rats or something like that. We have a very high productivity all throughout the year and are self sufficient in food.
But she can't say enough good things about free books and internet! Oooh yeah, public libraries make everything better.