On a whim, I decided to read some of the books recommended by the David Suzuki Foundation’s Book Club. The first I read was Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields to Rooftop Gardens – How Canadians Are Changing the Way We Eat, by Sarah Elton. I started reading it because I thought it might offer a bit of insight on the types of projects that are happening across Canada (I love reading about innovative projects). I assumed it would be just like most other eco-centered booked I’ve read in the past: a preachy treatise about the evils of the current system and how we’re all ruining the environment. But, I was wrong.
The author clearly supports the idea that local eating is do-able and very important for both the environment and for food security, but she’s honest about some of the hurdles (affordability, access to foods that can’t easily be grown locally, etc.) and recognizes that we’re long past the point of being able to move to a system that’s 100% local food. If nothing else, people are still going to want to eat the occasional tropical food that doesn’t grow well in Canada.
I felt that she gave a thoughtful, honest, and very interesting account of the past, current and (potential) future status of farming in Canada, including the past booms, the lack of respect for farmers, and people who’ve taken risks and tried new things. Many of the stories she shares are about farmers who started or got involved in co-ops, selling directly to the consumer, and trying greenhouses to be able to supply goods year round. She also spoke with a lot of chefs who are dedicated to using local foods (not just high end restaurants, for example, she profiled a small pizza franchise that buys from local farmers).
I was disheartened, but not overly surprised, to learn about how some grocery companies work and how food imports can affect farmers. She spoke of how groceries stores will buy what’s cheapest, which makes sense from a make-money perspective, but food that’s shipped from other countries can be much cheaper, even if it’s been shipped long distances or in specialty containers. If we paid the actual cost (not necessarily the environmental cost, but just the cost of time, equipment, gas, etc.), we’d be paying quite a bit more for some foods.
The author also had a lot of good news stories: a farmer who was able to keep his farm even after the suburbs surrounded it, unlike what’s happening to this sheep farm hobbyist here in Alberta; farmers who went from the brink of bankruptcy to success because of local food initiatives; a farmer who partnered with an eco-organization to buy some land and protect a large piece of natural landscape at the same time; etc. But, my favourite parts were where she discussed urban farming (farming in the city) and innovations in roof-top or balcony gardens. I love that some people are seeing the value in keeping their own gardens in the city.
She ended the book with a list of things that we can do to help support a better food system that supports local food initiatives:
- Ask questions (where is the food grown? how is it grown? etc.)
- Buy foods that are grown sustainably
- Eat in season
- Avoid processed foods
- Choose organic foods and humanly raised meats, dairy and eggs
- Voice your opinion
- Go to the source (visit the farm, etc.)
- Look for restaurants that serve local and sustainable foods
- Search for alternatives (different sources of more sustainable foods, etc.)
- Choose fair trade
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It was interesting and easy to read, but still managed to get me thinking about local food issues. I really appreciated that she recognized that we don’t need to move towards perfection and that every little bit of effort helps. Anyone who’s interested in the local food movement, farming in Canada, or food in general would likely find this book quite interesting.
Remember, every little bit counts. If you can’t afford to eat exclusively from the farmer’s market, start with trying to buy as much local or near-local (same province, same country) foods as possible.
…Harriet Friedmann compared the new shoots of an alternative food system to dandelions … We had been discussing all the different ways people were finding to access local food, to get around the system and find what they really wanted to eat.
“Dandelions are the first plants to come back and break up the concrete. The trees, they come after that. All these little experiments are the cracks in the sidewalk, making way for a whole new ecology,” she said. If these dandelions are so impressive, then imagine what the trees will be like.