Eating Local and Participatory Democracy

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epaulo13 epaulo13's picture
Eating Local and Participatory Democracy

..in aug of 08' i was in vancouver, shopping at famous foods. now famous foods is a supposed alternative store that carries, for the most part, organic and "natural" foods. i must admit that it has an impressive range of products. when i came to the produce section i noticed some stuff from the US. there were also veggies and fruit that did not say where they were from. i wanted some green onions so i asked the produce worker where they were grown. he told me china. i was stunned! here it was the middle of summer, there were plenty of bc farmers yet they were getting veggies from china! i set the basket of food i was carrying on the floor and left the store. i was very upset. the alternative market, i realized, was just that..a market. 1st and foremost concerned with maximizing profit by feeding off peoples desire to live and eat in a better way. i headed back home and once there began to look up relevant web sites. i had decided that i would eat only foods that were produced locally.

..through aug and into sep i attempted to buy only local. i soon realized that this would not be easy an easy task. so much of what i liked to eat was not local. other than some produce, eggs, dairy and bread i had no idea where i could get foods that were local. i decided to give myself one year to find this info out and to make the adjustments i needed to be successful in eating just local. and to do this in such a way that i was not going to cost me an arm and a leg.    

..that year came due as of oct/09 and ever since then i buy all my food local. my major challenge was getting through the winter which i managed to do. i have defined local as any food grown or produced in bc. i haven't included restaurants in this as i've yet to decide whether this is more entertainment than nourishment. i eat out about once a week and it has become important in my life as i mostly share this activity with a dear friend.

..what i discovered by choosing to eat local was a community of people dedicated to this cause. not only was this fulfilling my desire to do better on the environmental front but i began to see the political implications. this community had no formal leadership, no formal politics and no formal declarations other than eat local. yet it was working. working in the sense that it is a growing movement both locally and internationally. working in the sense that more ways are being found to eat local such as buying a share of a grain crop. working in the sense that many grocery stores are now clearly identifying locally produced foods. working in the sense that it is independent of global food cartels. i believe this movement to be participatory democracy.

..i've begun this thread not so much to have a debate or attempt to define but more to discover ways we can grow this movement in a participatory way. i will post various food projects that i have found around vancouver.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Good for you. We too make an effort to only eat local and we also treat ourselves to a "night out" once a week. Like you we found there is a movement, unled, unformed, and quite diverse, all trying to do the same thing. We started about four years ago and we've found it gets easier every year.

ETA: We have also found our food budget is much lower and we're not vegetarians. We are not religiously organic though we are religiously local (inlcuding flour and dry goods). We avoid pesticides but we don't need the organic certification. We try, instead, to know the producers.

al-Qa'bong

A friend of mine wrote a book on the subject.

 

http://homefordinner.blogspot.com/

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..thank you FM and good on you as well. i would like to go organic but it's just to expensive. the cost needs to be addressed by the organic community who have always claimed that the more organics are used the cheaper it becomes. if the price has come down in the past 5 years i haven't noticed the difference at the market. organics need to reach the growing low income population.
..totally agree with you about knowing the producer. this past sunday i took a transit bus that let me off in front of country farms in steveston which is kind of a suburb of richmond. it was such a joy to puruse big wooden bins full of fresh fruit and vegtables in comparison to shopping at a supermarket. no packaging here.

Bookish Agrarian

I think it is slightly wrong-headed to suggest that organics are all that much more than conventional products when you buy locally.  The real difference is of course in the grocery store where a significant amount of gouging goes on for organic products. 

One difference in pricing that I have noticed on the local level between conventional and organic is that conventional farmers often don't seem to understand their costs as well and are often charging a price below their cost of production, especially if you factor in their time.  Organic producers, I guess, are more directly and more consistently involved in the production of a particular crop because of practices, but also because of the paperwork invloved in being certified organic, so they have a little bit of a better handle on their actual costs.

As an example I see this with sweet corn often.  You find people selling corn for say $3.00 a dozen.  There is simply no way that someone selling corn at that price is covering their costs, let alone their labour.  I refuse to buy from that person and will pass them over to go to the person selling for a bit more as I know they are more connected to the food they are growing and I trust them more.  Now I am fortunate that I can make that choice finacially, where I know others can not.  But for those of us who can, I think we need to be aware of the role we play in promoting the globalized food system, even if it is a sin of omission and not comission.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

I do a big chunk of my grocery shopping at the farmer's market from July through October, when it shuts down for the winter.  I also frequent a small grocery that specializes in organic and local produce.  Sometimes it's more expensive, and sometimes it isn't.  I find that the small grocery will have organic apples for less that the large grocery store down the street, and sometimes not.  It just depends.  I prefer to spend my money on the local first and fill in the gaps with conventional grocery stores.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

Bookish Agrarian wrote:

I think it is slightly wrong-headed to suggest that organics are all that much more than conventional products when you buy locally.

..i don't disagree with most of what you have said. i am coming at this as someone on a low income and i feel that difference between conventional and organic. in this i have no doubts and i do buy locally. maybe it's my income that needs to be increased but in any case it's a problem for me if i buy organics and which i do when i can.

Bookish Agrarian

Sorry I wasn't trying to be critical.  I sell our farm products in a number of farmers markets and haven't seen a significant difference in conventional and organic products- although that sometimes depends on the produce involved.  Organic meat for instance tends to be a bit more because it is slower (thus more expensive) growing an animal without anti-biotics, hormones and so on. Understandably that greater expense is and should be reflected in the price.  Farmers, whether organic, or conconventional, are already facing huge financial pressures, (those darn Stats Canada figure eh Stevie) so it is hard for me to suggest farmers themselves should be, or even can lower their prices.

Also at our farmers markets we try not to undercut anyone, whether organic or not, so that we can make a living providing healthful, local food regardless of our production method.  As you FM, and Timebandit have pointed out, and this is my own rule too, local (whether conventional or organic) beats 'organic' from elsewhere (grown to who knows what standards) every time. 

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..no offense taken bookish. i read somewhere that if you spend a dollar for food at the farm gate the farmer earns a dollar. if you spend a dollar at the grocery store the farmer earns 19 cents. i understand this and know that change is needed. i try as much as i can to buy from the farmer first. i find the difference between conventional and organic fruit and veggies is not as great as the difference between meat, eggs, milk etc. my concern though is with accessibility to organics based on income. also just like in natural medicines/vitamins there is a racket going on in organics.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

quote:
In 2005, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon began a one-year experiment in local eating. Their 100-Mile Diet struck a deeper chord than anyone could have predicted, inspiring thousands of individuals, and even whole communities, to change the way they eat. Locally raised and produced food has been called “the new organic" — better tasting, better for the environment, better for local economies, and better for your health. From reviving the family farm to reconnecting with the seasons, the local foods movement is turning good eating into a revolution.

http://100milediet.org/

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

I agree with BA. If we buy organics at the grocery store, there is a hefty premium. If we buy from the farmer, there is not. We only go to the grocery store for those things we don't eat. As for meat and dairy, well, really there isn't a lot of organic available. But we care about three things: the animals are raised and treated humanely, that they are raised in open spaces, and that they are fed a natural diet. We just can't get organic, but we can get beef, pork, goat, and lamb often better priced than at the grocery store and that actually has flavour. Once you've eaten what was a healthy, happy chicken you just can't go back to that chicken-like meat substance they pass for chicken at the grocery store. Same goes for beef. Even the smell of grass raised beef being cooked is different. I'm making myself hungry.

For people unable to buy directly from farmers, I know there are a number of people working on ways to address that incluidng myself. There are major challenges. The solution appears to be more regional food depots catering to both commercial and residential buyers. But then that requires investment in space and transportation, and it requires that farmers take a risk in dedicating a part of their production to something that may start slowly before it catches on. What is really, needed, in my view, is a summit of independent grocers, restaurants, eaters, and growers, all committed to local food, who are willing to make commitments. On one side a dollar commitment must be made to purchase 'x' amount of produce and on the others, farmers then have to agree to ensure 'y' amount of produce is available and that quality is good.  The purpose would be to reduce the risk farmers take and to convince them there is  guarantee they will be able to sell what they do commit. And then all players would need to promote the concept and the market beyond the initial group in order to win a larger share of the market.

In other words, we need to put our money where our mouths are.

 

Life, the unive...

Hey BA nice to see you dropping by.

 

 

One model of solution is the work being done in Owen Sound, On by Anne Findlay-Stewart at http://www.aroundthesoundfood.com/

 

Our daughter has products there. Farmers pay Anne a small commission to cover costs and Anne does a lot of work promoting their products. It brings the food to the city where the eaters are and provides much closer to retail for the farmer. I could see this working well as a co-operative too.

 

 

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..local and slow food linked

Slow Food is Good, Clean and Fair

2010 is the UN Year of Biodiversity and the year that Slow Food is hosting Terra Madre 2010.

Terra Madre Fund Campaign: Locally, we are raising funds to send representatives from our food communities to Terra Madre, October 2010 in Italy.  At the last Terra Madre in 2008, over 7,000 farmers from 153 countries met for four days to discuss sustainable food production & biodiversity.  We aim to make farming a viable career option....

http://www.slowfoodvancouver.com/

..international links

http://www.slowfood.com/slowftp/eng/pagine/international.lasso

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Great thread!

I don't know where you live, epaulo, but you should check out the Home Grow-In Grocer on 18th Ave and Columbia. I recommend their Farmer's Sausage. Yum! You can also buy fish direct from the boats on the docks near Granville Island.

Gardening is obviouslyt the best way to ensure your produce is local though. In Vancouver we're particularly blessed because we can keep a garden going pretty much all year round. Brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, Kale, potatoes and beets can all my grown throughout the winter with minimal effort. And it's pretty rewarding to have a plate of food grown just outside your kitchen door

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..i live in vancouver. thanks for the link, i'll check it out.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I know! I meant "where you live in Vancouver..."

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..sorry i meant east vancouver. i noticed my mistake after posting.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..protuccio pointed out this Raj Patal video to me. it links food sovereignty to ending violence against women.     

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dV7N-QGV_w&feature=related

ElizaQ ElizaQ's picture

 

 Great thread.   I also focus on eating local food.  I figure about 75 to 80 percent of the food I eat is locally or regionally produced.  I'm fortunate because the area I live in is quite abundant in choice.  Even have a good source of locally produced grains and flours which is nice.  

 I used to be organic, organic, organic but over the past few years it's become lower on the priority scale and I agree with the comments about local over organic.   Plus I've found that many of the smaller producers that I've gotten to know aren't actually officially certified but still use some form of organic, natural and less factory farm type methods.    In terms of prices whether officially organic or unofficially I haven't found that much difference in prices in the farmers markets I do go to.   Meat products are more, dairy products tend to be more but I understand the reasons why and have no problem paying them plus quality and taste is just better.   I haven't found that it increases my overall food budget any because over the years I just generally use those things less then I once did so it balances out.   

 The grain products, flour and oats mostly, do cost more as well but it's not a huge difference if bought in more direct route to the producers.  I've been seeing them in more conventional stores now and there is a bigger difference, more middle people and premium pricing I guess. However I've found that since buying local tends to foster buying the basics, cooking more from scratch and eating more simply I haven't seen large increases in what it was before.  Eating and preserving  with the seasons also is more economical way of eating.  

 Speaking of premium/higher  prices what I have noticed is that when I have gone to markets closer to the big city, in this case GTA , the prices charged for organics do tend to be more.  St. Jacobs anyone? Wow.  :)    There's probably be some economic reasons due to costs of bringing them and costs of selling there  but I also think that theirs a bit of what the market will bear type pricing, especially in a place like St Jacobs which comes off to me at least as quite trendy and playing some sort of back to the land/farmer experience for the more upscale and touristy types.     Not that I blame the producers for that because quite frankly if I was a bit closer and for example could easily get a dollar or two more for the dozen free range/grass eggs I sell I probably would.  

 I also grow quite a bit of my own food so of course that's as local as it gets.  My aim is to eventually get as close to all of my veggies and fruits out of my own gardens as possible.  Takes a while because along with getting enough space into production it also entails learning about food storage (have had a few oopsys along the way), doing more preserving and adjusting diet in the off season months to different food then I was used to before. Squash is the big one for me.  I never ate squash before I started growing my own food but squash is great for off season eating because it stores well for a long time.  Plus for whatever reason my soil grows squash family plants like they are on some sort of mega plant steroids.  I've got a couple of plants that are now 30 ft across and they're STILL growing.  

     Some fruits and berries take a number of years from planting to producing so patience is in order.   I'd like to plant some nuts and that can be quite a long wait, 5-10 years in some cases.    I'm also making of the abundance of 'free' food that surrounds me, berries and apples mostly.  Last fall I picked tons of apples from trees left from old homesteads as well as the ones that now grow on the side of the roads, likely planted by birds.  Most aren't great for hand eating but are wonderful for anything cooked or apple sauce and jams and jellies.  This fall I'm going to make my first attempt at apple cider as I have access to a neighbors old cider press.    

 

 I doubt though that I will ever completely go 100% local or regional.  I still  eat quite a bit of rice.  I like tea and coffee.  I don't want to give up olive oil entirely for taste and health reasons. Then there's the multitude of spices that I regularly use in cooking which just don't grow in our climate. Then there are baking ingredients like sugar, baking powder, baking soda and vanilla.  I also don't want to completely give up chocolate either though cutting down is a good idea for a number of reasons.  :)   With these sorts of things I go fair trade if possible, try to buy things that are at least processed and/or bottled/bagged in the region and if possible by from more locally owned stores or businesses.   What I've found, especially with some of the more exotic spices is that I treat them as more special and not just run of the mill things on my shelf.  I've become more aware of there origins and don't take them for granted as much as I used too, especially after investigating what I would have to do if I desired to try to grow some of them here.     I also eat out quite a bit though I have found that more restaurants are using at least some locally sourced ingredients or at least letting people know they are because there's a few that have been for years and realize now it's a thing that some people desire.  

 

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..i am sorry to say that for personal reasons i need to leave the board for a while.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

ElizaQ wrote:
This fall I'm going to make my first attempt at apple cider as I have access to a neighbors old cider press.  

Make sure you post your results in the Cider thread!

epaulo13 wrote:
..i am sorry to say that for personal reasons i need to leave the board for a while.

I'm sorry to hear that, epaulo--I hope everything's okay.

bagkitty bagkitty's picture

While I like the idea of eating food produced locally, I am not certain about the health consequences of a diet based on beef, sunflower seeds and canola oil. While I also like the idea of home gardening, there are certain realities that simply must be faced, which become clearer when one consults a handy chart outling time from seeding to maturity. (I guess I can add radishes and beans to the list)

I find a lot of discussions around the 100 Mile Diet and its kin really fail to take into account the climactic conditions of huge (and yes, inhabited) parts of this country.  I doff my cap to those who, in fairer climes, put the time and effort into tracking down and supporting local food producers, and also doing the work involved in maintaining a home garden. I will, though, also point out that the model they are following is not possible for a large number of us:

Quote:

According to data collected over the past 120 years, the Calgary average for last spring frost is May 23, and first fall frost is Sept.15.

Theoretically, this leaves 112 frost-free days in Calgary for gardeners to enjoy without concern for cold temperatures. The reality is quite different from the theory.

Despite the magic 112 number, the actual range of frost-free days has been as short as 50 and as long as 150.

I would add that being frost free does not mean it is warm enough for actual growth of the plants, simply that it is not cold enough to kill them outright.

Again, while I salute those who can and do support the locally grown food movement, I find a lot of the commentary coming out of it to be quite elitist, and at times downright prissy. Although I understand the anecdote about the green onions takes place in the context of the lower mainland, if it is extended to other places within Canada (and a larger variety of foodstuffs) I think more emphasis should be placed on talking about the total environmental impact of transporting the food in question. For those of us living in areas where buying locally produced is simply not possible (and for many Canadians the list of what cannot be produced locally is seemingly endless), more attention has to be paid to making the least harmful choices... and this will frequently mean that the actual distances food is transported will be greater, but with a greater reliance on ships and rail than on trucking -- in the case referred to in the anecdote, China might actually be the preferable source to say southern California.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

bagkitty wrote:

While I like the idea of eating food produced locally, I am not certain about the health consequences of a diet based on beef, sunflower seeds and canola oil. While I also like the idea of home gardening, there are certain realities that simply must be faced, which become clearer when one consults a handy chart outling time from seeding to maturity. (I guess I can add radishes and beans to the list)

I find a lot of discussions around the 100 Mile Diet and its kin really fail to take into account the climactic conditions of huge (and yes, inhabited) parts of this country.  I doff my cap to those who, in fairer climes, put the time and effort into tracking down and supporting local food producers, and also doing the work involved in maintaining a home garden. I will, though, also point out that the model they are following is not possible for a large number of us:

Quote:

According to data collected over the past 120 years, the Calgary average for last spring frost is May 23, and first fall frost is Sept.15.

Theoretically, this leaves 112 frost-free days in Calgary for gardeners to enjoy without concern for cold temperatures. The reality is quite different from the theory.

Despite the magic 112 number, the actual range of frost-free days has been as short as 50 and as long as 150.

I would add that being frost free does not mean it is warm enough for actual growth of the plants, simply that it is not cold enough to kill them outright.

Again, while I salute those who can and do support the locally grown food movement, I find a lot of the commentary coming out of it to be quite elitist, and at times downright prissy. Although I understand the anecdote about the green onions takes place in the context of the lower mainland, if it is extended to other places within Canada (and a larger variety of foodstuffs) I think more emphasis should be placed on talking about the total environmental impact of transporting the food in question. For those of us living in areas where buying locally produced is simply not possible (and for many Canadians the list of what cannot be produced locally is seemingly endless), more attention has to be paid to making the least harmful choices... and this will frequently mean that the actual distances food is transported will be greater, but with a greater reliance on ships and rail than on trucking -- in the case referred to in the anecdote, China might actually be the preferable source to say southern California.

You should read Michael Pollan about the health costs of the industrial diet. Oddly, people survived and even thrived in the prairies for generations without industrial agriculture.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Have you ever talked to someone who lived out on the prairies without food brought from outside?

My MIL is 91, and grew up on a farm between Regina and Saskatoon.  They grew most of their own food, and their diet was very limited when growing conditions were poor.  So on one hand, they thrived, but on the other you couldn't pay my MIL to go back to it - even though she knows a lot about canning and such.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

I don't know your MIL, for sure. But I know a few seniors who once worked hard from first light to last and produced almost everything they used on their farms and they would quite happily return to multi-generational households where everyone contributed as it would mean living with people rather than alone and forgotten as so many of our seniors do today. And I've got bad news for you: learn to grow or kill. Bad times are coming.

remind remind's picture

Had the most amazing find  yesterday when I was going through some old cook books I had found in a box of mom's stuff.

It is a 1944 CCF cook book signed by Lucy Woodsworth, and was compiled by  Mrs Stanley Knowles, Mrs David Lewis et al. The intro stated they were doing it because good health and good living all started with good healthy food. It seriously reads 60 years before its time.

Personally I think the NDP should re-publish it and market it, as it has some great stuff in it. I wonder how many of these cook books are left floating across Canada?