There is one issue that is so intimately tied to our survival and economy that it sometimes is overlooked in economic impact—food. We all know what organic is all about, but what struck me while I was in Oregon was how unsustainable organic food can be ultimately. At that time, Oregon was the second most food insecure state in the nation. This was not because the state lacks arable land or food producers. The problem seemed to be what was happening to the food. Niche markets had locally-grown food for sale. But Trader Joe’s got most of their produce from Canada. It made me long for Wegman’s and my co-op. When I returned to Rochester and looked at the packaged organics available, many of them were from Oregon. I realized that people in Oregon were surrounded by great food, but were unable to buy it, because it was being processed or frozen and shipped all over the country. Essentially, the organic movement has become so large that local people are starving for others’ “right” to healthier food. It was somewhat of an epiphany. I knew this was a problem in say, Indiana, where most of the arable land goes to corn and leaves few fresh choices at the market. But this seemed completely antithetical to the organic movement. The good practices being used in the fields ultimately resulted in a massive excess of oil usage due to the export of food and the resultant import of it. That’s when localism started making much more sense.
I’d always been pro-local product. I hate malls and supported local businesses because I felt more connected to them. As a kid, we often shopped at the Public Market which was full of local purveyors of food, although most of that food was not local. Along came a sudden, vibrant farmers’ market explosion in Rochester. I realized that I could buy my produce and meat and dairy twice a week, and it was fresh. Most of the smaller markets are populated by local farmers who may have goods traded with a distant farmer, but the locavore market was my favorite. People traded ideas on how to use garlic scapes and kale and the bounty of chard when they were in season. I knew my farmer’s dog, the practices farmers used for raising their chickens, and effortlessly began to eat foods that were in season. (Tomatoes are not actually available in March if they’re grown locally outside of a hothouse.) I was also excited to find out that the owner of my favorite locavore restaurant came directly to the market to do his weekly menu planning and shopping.
It didn’t seem radical at all. Actually, it felt very traditional. Then I realized that I was in the perfect neighborhood; I could actually meet all of my daily needs by walking five minutes to a half an hour. My markets, restaurants, barber, coffee shop, bike shop, and favorite hangouts were right there. It was an amazingly simple life. In fact, it’s how Rochester neighborhoods were structured long ago, and has seen a revival. I even had enough of a yard to garden. I made good headway on this, and harvested my own heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, and peas.
I left it all behind for law school, and have yet to find my “groove” here. But, for those who are interested in how our food intake influences the land and economy, here are some resources on one urban homestead (which I’d love to do someday and is probably the most “organic” way to build a life), how to eat local during the winter, about food sovereignty, and a locavore restaurant in Buffalo as well as one in Rochester (both have the most amazing restaurant food I’ve tasted). Food is a basic human need, and I believe it should be a right. Eating local helps our own community and others, ensuring greater food security and decreased oil consumption.
http://www.vinoaroma.com/ (Apparently their internal links are broken, but Trattoria Aroma serves local foods)