Six months ago, I started a dissertation on local food purely because I was touched by the organic food market vendors that used to spring up every Sunday around the corner from my flat in Paris. I’d just moved back to Birmingham, UK, and I was Paris-sick; blue from being moved from a sunny, beautiful city where the people still had an inkling of their relationship with nature, to coming back to a grey, ex-manufacturing city full of pseudo-food outlets. Completing my final year of university and finding a job was my mission to move on up, while finding healthier and more ethical ways of living that I hadn’t contemplated before my year in France.
Half a year later, I’ve completed my dissertation and presented my subject in an exam. Despite it being in French, the discoveries I made from both English and French resources were something that surprised me, and has kindled a new understanding of our relationship with not only agriculture, but with each other, the environment, and a mindful respect of everything around us. I believe this is what Curiously Conscious stands for at its core, so I hope you find the information that I disclose here useful, and perhaps as inspirational as I’ve found it.
What is local food exactly?
Local food essentially embodies any kind of project or movement that limits the consumption of food to a proximity of roughly 100 miles. Locavorism is what most often springs to mind – participants in the locavore movement eat local food only, on a strict regime perhaps even more complicated than a vegan diet. There are many reasons why people choose to be a part of a local food movement, and each is personal – whether it be the support of a local economy, the improved traceability of all food products, the possibility of immediate communication between farmer and consumer, or even the creation of a new social community that supports itself, and provides economic and environmental stability.
Local food naturally fits into a sustainable lifestyle: ecologically sound, socially fair and economically efficient, it often goes hand in hand with seasonable eating, organic food production, reduced food freight and the creation of an autonomous industry that supports local jobs, and maintains a steady income flow for farmers no matter the success rate of their crops.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t that long ago that we were wholly sustained by local agriculture – for France, it was in 1891 that the largest percentage of its population worked on the land. That’s just over 100 years ago. Agriculture represented sustenance, not money.
Nowadays, the food industry is just that – an industry. An economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials. Food is the world’s largest industry, and its fields, factories. Or at least, that is the way that is now being interpreted by many, many companies. From all the reading I’ve done, I would say that it’s this process, of commercialising food, seeds, nature, that has driven out all of the other positive aspects associated with local food too. Local food is now old, forgotten concept that is being revived on the fringes of society – and here’s why we should support it.
We are at a crossroads…
Let’s take a look into the specific present and future “advances” in food production that I touched on in my paper. The continued commercialisation of the food sector is now seeing the quality of our food diminish. Widespread use of chemicals on plants, sterile seeds and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are all commonplace, and yet are being unknowingly accepted by the general public. I think the one thing to stress here is, no matter how many studies come out disproving a difference in nutritional content between organic and “normal” food, the real crux of the matter is organic foods’ implied sustainability. Pesticidal use is poisoning farm workers, insects, and in the case of bees, entire food chains. GMOs cannot be reseeded, breaking the natural life-cycle. This creates a reliance on GMO creators, companies that are commercialising nature at its very heart – its seeds. Doesn’t it seem cruel that these companies are now preying on communities that are victims of natural disasters? Haitians burnt the seeds Monsanto sent them after their earthquake, because they could see through their exploitative strategy. But strategies such as these are targeting third-world countries, famine-stricken communities, creating a reliance from poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet.
We (those of us living in developed countries) are not excluded from these threats either. Pesticide use is now the norm. And in April of this year, the European Union authorised 17 GMOs to be grown for human consumption in Europe, even after readily defending its zero-tolerance policy when negotiating the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership, a proposal to open commercial barriers between Europe and the U.S. – you can read more about it here). Prior to this, GMOs could only be found in animal feed – making meat a secondary product of GMOs. And while your country’s government may ban the cultivation of these products on their land, free movement of goods under the E.U. means GMO-supporters such as Spain and Portugal could easily be shipping their GMO foods to our shops. Local food has never seemed more pertinent in the preservation of our health and our respect for the earth.
What to do now?
Right now, I have no national or supranational petition for you to fill out, nor a place to boycott. We do have a way we can vote, however – with our money. Just like turning vegetarian has been a symbol of my refusal to support the practices of the meat industry, we can do the same with places stocking GMOs (thankfully, the use of GMOs has to be labelled under European law). I’m sure many of you regularly shop at health food stores, your local markets, or even visit farm shops. Even now, a lot of that is aspirational for me, but buying organic even in supermarkets raises demand and supports producers. Let this be our little support system! And as always let people know about it – being conscious is always the best way! I’m excited at how much support I’ve seen for mindful eating and conscious living over the past months. I know the demand for a chic, sustainable lifestyle is out there, so let’s live that way. If you can, eat locally. And if not – eat organic.
If you’d like to know more about eating local food and/or creating sustainable agricultural systems, here’s a brief list of the most accessible English sources I used to write my dissertation:
Bringing the Food Economy Home: Local Alternatives to Global Agribusiness by Helena Norberg-Hodge
EU-US Trade Deal: A bumper crop for ‘big food’? by Friends of the Earth
Report on Food and Climate Change by Friends of the Earth
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein (I have not completed this, but so far, it’s a must-read!)