Shedding Food Miles

New thinking on local eating

One of the most effective ways to live green is through the food we eat—three times a day, every day of our lives. It’s one of the only consistencies in life, but over the years the food we eat has changed drastically, distancing ourselves from what we buy at the supermarket.

Since industrialization on the family farm took place mid-century, food has been increasingly refined and ‘produced’ in factories with the use of engineering and flavour enhancers. As globalization spread, our food system has moved so far away from the subsistence farming of our ancestors—where eating locally was a thing of necessity, not luxury—our food chain is now a tangled web of airplane rides and border crossings.

Prior to reading Sarah Elton’s Locavore I felt good about buying organic, and figured I was sparing myself unnecessary chemicals that were harmful for my body and the Earth. Of course, eating local was a pleasure I sought in the summer months when produce was fresh and easy to acquire. Still, my thinking didn’t spread to include bread, grains, dairy or pasta.

Now I know there’s another layer to consider when you choose what to eat, and one that is every bit as important as organics: food miles. The effects of globalization are most evident in the produce aisle. On your next trip to the grocery take a closer look; before you know it, you’ll have completed a world tour with nothing but a shopping cart for transportation! Bananas from Guatemala, avocados from Ecuador, cherries from Chile, strawberries from the USA. Our international choices are seemingly endless, and Canada’s nearly nowhere to be found!

Elton’s journey began with an innocent, and seemingly innocuous, pink sugar cookie that had travelled thousands of miles from a factory in China—that simple cookie led her to explore the globalization of food happening right under our noses. In Locavore, she investigates the possibilities of creating thriving local food systems that move away from industrial farming and towards a new economic model: one that rewards and supports the producer. After scratching the surface just a little, Elton found a food movement slowly gaining momentum: that of the locavore (a person interested in eating food that has been locally produced, not transported long distances to a market. The term “locavore,” was the New Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year in 2007). Small farms are slowly making an impact on our food system in Canada, and their bounty is available right next door. Grocers are listening, and sections for food grown in your province are expanding.

While I don’t expect you to cut avocados or mangos from your life completely, I do urge you to cut back, and start to read more closely about where your fresh and packaged food comes from. Revive preserving in your household, so that summer’s bounty can be enjoyed year round. One discovery I’m rather excited about is red fife flour, an über-healthy heirloom grain that’s grown right here in Canada (a lot of grains are, but are sent abroad for processing and mixed with grains from near and far).

In the winter, Canada produces an astonishing amount of tomatoes in greenhouses, yet stores sell varieties from Mexico or the USA. Talk to your grocer and ask why Canadian tomatoes are nowhere to be found. Greens grown hydroponically, like Cookstown Greens just outside of Toronto, are also growing in availability.

So let’s investigate these possibilities, which allow us to create thriving local food systems that move away from industrial farming towards a new economic model: one that rewards and supports the local producer. We have come to regard food as a commodity that is driven by price and convenience—a system that’s all but destroying our hope of a more sustainable means of production. We must learn to place value on other factors, like sustainability, organic production, biodiversity and reasonable wages—you’ll feel good about every bite.

About the author: Celine MacKay is the founder and editor-in-chief of Pure Green Magazine, an independent print publication for stylish green living based in Ontario. She also owns and operates Sustain, a green home improvement store, with her husband and partner Jonathan MacKay. For a daily dose of Pure Green, to take a peek at the magazine or to subscribe, please visit www.puregreenmag.com.