Local Food: What is it? Is it Good?

Alice Waters, Mother of the Local Food Movement
From: http://tgr.ph/1jO7b2

Alice Waters, the mother of local food in America, has learned that “the people who were growing the tastiest food were organic farmers in [her] own backyard.” At her acclaimed restaurant, Chez Panisse, she insists on the use of locally sourced ingredients because of their exceptional taste and quality. The small family farms she buys from tend to care more for their crops than industrial food producers do. They care for their plants each day, they harvest them by hand, and they have a respect for seasonality, nutrient-rich soil and sustainable growing techniques. Because of this care, Chez Panisse is able to serve the vibrant and alive food that it is internationally known for.

It’s certainly true that there is some fantastic local food – in Austin and otherwise.  I buy my honey from Round Rock honey and love its pure taste. I have heard great things about the CSA programs of farms including Johnson’s Backyard Garden and Green Gate Farms.  Locally grown cage-free eggs are far superior in quality than anything that can be found in a modern supermarket, to be sure. And for someone who has been raised on tasteless, mass-produced food for his or her entire life, the bright, succulent taste of a strawberry from a farm right up the road can be transformative. It’s easy to understand why so many have adopted the “Go Local” food philosophy after an experience like this. And it feels good to eat local food – it tastes good, we’re supporting our local economy and our neighbors, and we feel as though we’re part of a greater cause.

But before we give ourselves completely to the “Go Local” mantra that is so pervasive in Austin, it’s important to critically examine the implications of the statement. We should be asking:

From: http://bit.ly/rf063V
  • Is local food good by virtue of its being local?
  • How do we define local food? Does its definition include “organic” as well?
  • Is it practical to eat local?
  • Ideally, should all our food be sourced locally?
  • What about foods that we have grown to love – coffee, chocolate, and tropical fruits – that cannot be grown locally?
  • Can everyone eat locally, regardless of socioeconomic standing?

These are the questions that we should be asking and answering in order to understand the local food movement comprehensively. Over the course of my upcoming posts, I’ll explore the issues behind the “Go Local” slogan.

If you have any thoughts, please don’t hesitate to email me.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Andrea says:

    Great write-up on the local food movement! We visit the farmer’s market every weekend here and it’s been really great to the food that’s not necessarily perfectly shaped or spotless, but that tastes infinitely better. I think it’s always better to eat locally-grown food, when possible, but we, as Americans, have grown used to access to strawberries in the middle of winter and pumpkin pie in the summer (if you’re into that!), and I don’t think that we should give that up, just because they aren’t grown locally at that time of the year.

    You’re right in your speculation that local doesn’t always mean organic. Tyson chicken is “local” in my grandparent’s part of the country, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s grass-fed and free range! (I’ve seen the miles of cages, myself.)

    And it is more expensive to eat locally, for sure! Unless you personally know someone who has chickens (or have them yourself), eggs by the dozen are often $3-4 from the farmer’s market vs. 99 cents at the mainstream grocery store. I don’t peronally buy local eggs, for that reason alone!

    I do, however, love the idea of having a “victory garden” as they called them during the war, basically a garden in your backyard to grow the essentials. We grew tomatoes, chives, carrots, spinach, and a few herbs this year, and it was great to be able to walk outside, pick off a tomato, wash it, and chop it on up to add to dinner–and, I could trust that it was naturally grown, because we grew it ourselves!

  2. asiago says:

    The thing that drives me crazy about Farmers’ Markets in America is that there seems to be very few Farm stands (with food, produce, meats, etc) and very many food vendors (tacos, honey, drinks). Seems like the few farmers’ markets that I have been to in Austin are too much like fun saturday picnic fairs that one would take their family too to get out of the house.

    Look forward to seeing your other thoughts on the matter in future posts!

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