I've spent most of my food dollars over the past year on imported fruits & vegetables and industrialized cuts of meat at the Food Basics that is a five minute walk from my house in Kingston, Ontario. Of course I visited the farmer's market every Saturday and some weekdays too, but the purchases I made there were minimal in comparison to those I made at chain grocery stores. This summer I became a loca-veg-ore, which is to say that I sourced about 95% of my vegetables from the community garden plot I co-tended and a local CSA operation (Vegetables Unplugged) on Wolfe Island, where I worked three hours a week in exchange for a week's worth (often more than one person could eat) of delicious, organically grown vegetables. And I did tend towards vegetarianism during the months of August and September, purely in an effort to minimize wastage from thes two local sources of food, which didn't always have a long shelf life. Still, the fact is that I continued to buy the rest of my food from the store - my bananas, salad dressings, tofu, chicken, rice, quinoa, raisins, etc. And I rarely, if ever, chose the oranic option, party b/c Food Basics doesn't carry the broadest range of food options (i.e. organic was hard to come by) but mostly because I've become disillusioned about industrial organic and find myself almost as skeptical of large organic brands as I am of Wal-Mart's claim that it's going green (green consumerism seems rather oxmoronical to me, but perhaps that's just me).
Which Weigh to Go?
In addition to studying up on local food systems as of late, I've also been reading much more about nutrition for personal interest.
I've decided that there must be something I've been missing in my attempts to slim down in the past, because I definitely, definitely exercise more than the vast majority of people and, for the most part, eat unprocessed, healthy foods in reasonable portions. A visit to a holistic nutritionist in June was the beginning of a wide awakening to the amount of contradictory information that is, literally, being fed to the public . She suggested, as a start, that I eliminate gluten and dairy from my diet, eat organic whenever possible and take supplements (whey protein, greens and fish oil). All of this after she reviewed my current eating diary and told me it was much, much better than the average person's ?! OK, so apparently I've been eating better than most people, but still can't seem to shed the weight
On top of that, every time I read another book or see a film about food, I find myself sickened by the thought of eating 'sick' meat and eggs (sick because the animals that they come from are treated inhumanely from birth until death and injected with endless antibiotics to keep them from dying from the ill treatment and improper diet they are receiving). Then there's the poison-laced fruits and vegetables (hey, if pesticides are meant to kill insects, I'm a bit wary about what they're doing to my internal organs), and the genetically modified grains (e.g. corn, soy), not to mention the highly processed food-like products that are more a product of modern chemistry than of the ancient, mysterious wisdom of Mother nature.
Eyes or No-Eyes? 'Eye' Don't Know :(
To top it all off, I find myself utterly confused as to whether a vegetarian or omnivore diet is better for the planet and for my health. And, within the omnivore diet, is it better to avoid grains and other foods that are, essentially, a product of mankind's relatively recent forays into agriculture. I've come across some pretty convincing arguments that suggest a diet rich in protein, vegetables and fats is far better for the individual than a diet that contains processed grains (i.e. flours,), sugars and is low in fats.
A Locav-or-ganic Emerges
I am not ready to give up meat yet. This is not because I am a meat-lover. In fact, a much greater proportion of my current meals are vegetarian or some variant thereof (not clear on what you call someone who eats eggs a lot...). There are two reasons I'm not ready to give up meat First, I have yet to be convinced that a vegetarian diet is superior or even comparable to an omnivore diet. Recently I interviewed a young farmer/activist who had been a vegan and then started to get involved in local food movements and found himself swayed towards eating meat (locally produced of course). Secondly, I am not so sure that a vegetarian diet (eaten in Canada) is necessarily less harmful to the planet than an omnivore diet that consists of meat raised in natural conditions. Polyface Farms and its owner, Joe Salatin, make a strong argument for the need for livestock as part of a closed system of agriculture.
So, with the decision about meat vs. vegetarianism made, the 'what next' for my diet has become pretty clear: I have to start eating what I preach, I have to 'go local and organic'. I have to make a commitment to ensuring the vast majority of the food I put in my body is produced/raised manner that is sustainable and healthful for all involved - for the planet (land, soil, water, air, biodiversity etc), for the livestock being raised, for the producers/farmers and farm workers, for the local communities where the food is produced, and for the health of those that choose to eat it.
I know myself well enough to know that any sort of purist commitment will be too much to bear when I can't commit the entirety of my energy to this new way of eating, so instead of going 100% local, I am giving myself a couple of caveats.
- Firstly, if (and only if) I can't find something that I am absolutey craving (e.g. a banana for my morning shake) from a local source, I will buy the organic version. That being said, I do intend to let the season dictate my eating choices for the most part, but I suspect I'll have some challenges with breakfast and that's where the organic option will likely be a saving grace.
- Secondly, I'll allow myself to use up the existing foods I have, regardless of their source. It should be noted, however, that I've just moved, so have very little food stocked, althogh I did bring about 10 cartons of almond milk with me, as well as a jar of whey protein, bottle of fish oil, bag of pecans and bag of rolled oats.
- Thirdly, I'm still going to use salt, pepper and other spices. Like I said, I'm not a purist
- Finally, if I am served a non-local meal at someone's house or taken to a restaurant where non-local food is the only option, I'm OK with that. When I make a dining out choice, however, it will always be for a local/organic restaurant
Lucky for me, I came to this conclusion about my future food diet at around the same time (today, in fact!!!) I landed in Hardwick, Vermont. How is that lucky? Well, it just so happens that Vermont has been cited, by Michael Pollan nonetheless, as being 30 years ahead of the rest of the nation in terms of the development of its local food system. Hardwick, a small village of 3,000 people in the Northeastern Kingdom,is one of two locations I've selected to do my case study research on for my Masters thesis. There is an extremely strong sense of community here (based on my impressions from a 14 hour visit I made earlier this month), plenty of producers in the surrounding countryside, and some great in-town sources of local food that I know I will be frequenting often, including Buffalo Mountain Co-operative (local and organic groceries) and Claire's Cafe (locally sourced, absolutely delicious meals at reasonable prices).
So, without further adieu, I enter a new chapter in my relationship with food. I am hopeful, bordering on confident, that this burgeoning relationship will bring me more enjoyment, energy and positive challenges than any past relationship has. I'll check in on a semi-regular basis with how things are going - the good, the frustrating, and the delicious.
*First local/organic meal consumed while writing this post. 3 egg omelette (eggs purchsed at farmer's market in Bangor, ME, en route to VT), raw milk cheddar cheese (NE Kingdom, VT), spinach (farmer's market, Bangor, ME), organic mushrooms (Pennsylvania), tomato (farmer's market Bangor, ME), carrot (farmer's market, Bangor, ME) and red onion (farmer's market, Bangor, ME)