A few weeks ago I had with me a bag of food from the farmers market that I had filled up from there on my way to work. Before leaving to go back home I shared some of the contents with a couple of my co-workers. A sample of delicious ground cherries, and a glance at those beautiful pumpkin-shaped bright white and purple eggplants which they had never seen before, both of which, of course, grow right here in the GTA. I also had never seen this type of eggplant until this past summer; they are an heirloom variety indigenous to Italy called Rosa Bianca. I've made stuffed eggplant from them, and the late-season bloomers were great for Baba Ghanoush.
There are so many other varieties of local fruits and vegetables that fall well short of the mainstream radar. Not only have variety and diversity been casualties of industrial food production, but it has also created a huge separation between food and human beings; food has become drastically depersonalized. The supermarket variety of food that people consume en masse these days has very little to do with people. The point of production, most of the time, is very far away from them. The methods used in production are counter to, and aim to eliminate and delegitimize traditional cultural food practices. And, the production, packaging, and distribution of industrial food is unsustainable, and devastates the environment and ecology that support life and make the growing of food possible in the first place.
I remember talking with one of my friends a while back, we were talking about fruits and I was telling him how much I love mangoes, and mentioning how I was already a little bit older when I tried a mango for the first time. The mango was delicious, I was blown away so I remember it clearly. I was at my dad's house, I was in Grade 8 or 9, I'm born in '83 so 13 or 14 years old at the time, that's '96, NAFTA started in 1994, it all adds up. Free trade was making giant strides as the northern countries realized that they could flood and undercut third world local markets with cheap subsidized crops.
Prime example is ex-president Bill Clinton last year famously admitting that neoliberal economic policies in the '90s had devastated Haiti's rice sector. A similar situation took hold in Mexico, even up until recent years, with regards the accessibility and price of corn, and its adverse affects on local markets. These agricultural policies in Mexico also threaten small farmers' ability to grow traditional corn varieties because of transgenic crops, a problem that is duplicated in many parts of the world. The Global South was swindled as food sovereignty and local producers were devastated, and North American and European supermarket shelves were suddenly overflowing with exotic fruits and vegetables.
So there are, when it comes to food, some political and economic consequences of free trade and globalization that are unacceptable, but I'd like to zero in on one even more simple and fundamental reason: the environmental and climate consequences.
The industrialization and globalization of food production brings us food that comes to us from thousands of miles away, from other countries, and other continents. So, kiwis from New Zealand, and grapefruits from South Africa, and apples and salmon from Chile keep the carbon footprint of industrial nation consumers alive and way too high, disproportionately so, and create emissions that are rapidly warming the planet. These environmental impacts are happening with such speed and intensity that they have surpassed the earth's regenerative and ecological capacity. In other words, the planet is now incapable of protecting itself from the industrial system; that protection is going to have to come from a radical redesigning of human activity. The environmental devastation currently unfolding on the planet, however, is not solely due to the industrialization and globalization of food production. It is due to industrial production in general, it is due to resource exploitation, it is due to the licentious waste of water by industry, it is due to petroleum extraction, and the list goes on, but food certainly is a large part of it. Eating regularly is a non-negotiable activity, and when seven billion people are involved, it is done at exorbitant volumes.
Recently, a friend and I were having a conversation, talking about an experience we had both had at the supermarket, at different times. Both occasions happened to be at No Frills, and similarly we described the feeling of standing in the cash-out line and being dumbfounded by the endless row of tellers, and the sterile, generic, mind-numbing continuous sound of scanned-item beeps. This is something that many people experience every day, but if you think about carefully, it can really begin to put things into perspective. Industrial consumerism is taking us farther and farther away from our humanity. It is a malignant phenomenon that threatens culture, and threatens life; it is deceitful, it is silent. Tumours are dangerous because you often become cognizant of their existence only after it is already too late. Materialism and over-consumption take us away from what is integral to life, and they leave void and decay in its place. We must be on our guard against too much decadence. We cannot lay the foundations to the future with something that holds no substance.
A few weeks ago I made and canned applesauce with green apples that came from a 225-year-old tree; 1786 the farmer told me the tree had been planted. I got the apples of course, from the farmers market. It is incredible to think that a tree, after 225 years of existence, can still be producing perfectly good food. It is amazing what nature can do, and the benefits, and health, and life that it can provide us, if it is properly respected and nurtured.
So the point is that, and now I'm speaking for our region, Ontario and especially southern Ontario produces a tremendous variety of beautiful and delicious fruits and vegetables; we can do without papayas and plantains and dragonfruit and lychees, and mangoes for my part, despite how delicious they are. Try pears and ground cherries, or purple beans, carrots, or potatoes instead. And now, with the outstanding organization and coordination of farmers markets, the resurgence of the local food movement, and the passionate, creative, and quality-oriented small producers of our region, the pieces are in place, and the community will is there to make it happen. Also, with a growing strategy that extends into the fall, improved methods for preserving produce for market later into the season, with certain vegetables extending well into the winter, and with canning to bring your local fruits and veggies with you into the winter, local year-round is gradually becoming accessible to everyone. There will not be fresh abundance in the dead of winter, and we will have to make small sacrifices, but we must learn to live with the environment around us. Our parents and grand-parents did just fine before Mexico starting blasting NAFTA avocados and tomatoes across the border; we can do so again. There is time and work involved, and there is certainly a transition period ahead, but it is a fun and challenging one.
So it is undeniable that we have to localize our economies, and absolutely necessary that we change our consumption habits, especially what we eat and where it comes from, and the irony of this giant problem of which we are all contributors, is that the first and most significant victim of climate change will be the food supply. So how will we feel 40, 50, maybe 60 years from now, or more importantly what will future generations think, if it becomes clear that our complacent eating habits of today were responsible for the food crisis of tomorrow?
It is strange to think that from one day to the next we have to stop eating certain foods that we have always taken for granted; it is a difficult reality to imagine, but one that is necessary if we would like to continue living on this wonderful planet. So next time you're eating a mango or a banana, or any exotic fruit or vegetable that is not grown in your region, just consider that every bite you take, every fruit you consume is hurting the planet. It is a difficult and complicated thing to explain to your children maybe, and unfortunately, the forbidden fruit will persist on supermarket shelves long after local and sustainable have permeated mainstream consciousness, but it is a small price to pay for what is at stake.
Julien Lalonde is an independent community organizer and writer in Toronto who focuses on climate justice, food sovereignty, and the People's Assembly movement.
Thank you for reading this story…
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.
rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.
So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.
And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.