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A Locavore’s Biggest Challenge

Two and a half years into this project, I am still finding major challenges to eating locally.  When I first started out, I encountered four major barriers to eating outside the agro-industrial food chain: 1) finding local and sustainably produced foods; 2) being able to afford these items; 3) learning the skills of canning, preserving, and cooking from scratch; and 4) time.

Sourcing food is essentially no longer a problem.  I can find really great, sustainably produced food that covers all my basic needs: meat, dairy, eggs, veggies and fruit galore.  I really don’t find anything lacking other than spices, tea, coffee, olive oil and lemons.  Ok, and from time to time, rice, coconut and most recently, bananas.  But I use these items rarely and have been able to find all as fair-trade, organic products (except for the coconut which is just organic) for these occasional indulgences.  All in all, finding food outside the corporate food system is pretty much a routine now, instead of a challenge.

The actual cost of eating local, sustainably produce food is no longer a challenge either.  Now that I have found good sources for all my staples, mostly buying directly from farmers, cost is probably about the same as buying at a grocery store, or perhaps even less.  I pay only $1.50 L for organic milk, and $2.00 a dozen for free-range organic eggs (where I can see the chickens running around in the grass).  I don’t eat a lot of meat myself, so that is not much of an issue.  Feeding the dogs is more expensive – probably my biggest expense.  Nearly all of the meat I buy for them is at locally produced, and if not organic, at least pastured at small farms until grained before slaughter.  My goal is to switch to grass-finished meat for 100% of their food, but that will have to wait until I am working full-time, or am able to produce it myself!  So there are still some compromises and always room for improvement.

So neither cost, nor procurement are a big challenge anymore.  As I have written even very recently, acquiring the necessary skills to prepare all my food from scratch and without industrial ingredient (such as making bread from wild yeast instead of store bought yeast) continues to be a challenge.  But I have figured out most of the basics.  I can now make my own bread and yogurt, I can staples like tomato sauce, jams and relishes, and blanch and freeze various veggies to use in winter.  There is still much to learn (like more about lacto-fermentation and dehydrating techniques) but I now know enough to comfortably get by and eat well.

The only really consistent challenge I encounter these days is the last one: Time.  There simply never is enough time.  Here it is, 4:20 pm, and I have yet to do anything academic for the day.  I just finished making enough bread for the next month (I ate my last slice yesterday) and baked some pumpkin custard for the week.  Over the weekend, I roasted pumpkins and squash to get them into the freezer, blanched and froze brussel sprouts and leeks, made a big beef stew and so on.  I also spent time driving around the countryside picking up said veggies, eggs and so on.  Finally, there’s a lot of cleaning involved since nothing comes in packages.  Everything I make is stored in glass jars and containers, and each one requires washing and tending to.  Veggie scraps go into the compost which must then be layered from the yard waste pile, 25 feet away (due to short-sighted logistical planning).  I still waste a lot, but  I’m doing my best to reduce this.  Reducing waste means more effort, and more time.

Every now and then I wonder why I keep going.  Why not just go back to grabbing pre-made, processed foods that I can pop into the microwave (which would entail buying a microwave since I gave mine away a long time ago)?  I almost wish I could.  But I can’t.  I simply know too much now, and can’t even bear the thought of eating most of what is found in the grocery store.  I look at the ingredients and see all the GMO corn, soy, and wheat (at least one of which is found in 70% of all processed food in North America), or I look at the meat and picture high density feed lots and horrific chicken houses full of debeaked, featherless birds.

Have you read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx & Crake?  A wonderful tale of where we might be headed with all this.  Once upon a time we created visions of the future that were peaceful and inspiring, depicting the wonders we are capable of (think Star Trek).  Now our futuristic visions consist of Attwood’s chickie-nobs (a genetically engineered chicken-like creature that produces only legs and breasts, with a hole in the middle in which you pour food) or the obese floating screen zombies of Wall-E.  This change has happened only very recently, as we become aware of the destruction we are bringing down upon ourselves.  Hopefully can stop the madness, and I am trying to do my small part in this through my choices around food.  So when I start to waiver, wondering how on earth I am going to make it through the semester with my crazy schedule, and finish this dissertation while eating bread that takes three days to make, I think of chickie-nobs and realize I have no choice.  And so, I carry on.  Speaking of which, I need to feed the compost and then get down to work.

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7 Responses

  1. Oryx & Crake is such a good book!

    I really like this post as it sums up what is involved with eating locally and sustainably

    • Hi Kristy,
      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post.

      I really loved that book, despite it’s bleak message. I just got her latest book “The Year of the Flood” which takes place in the same setting as Orxy & Crake, only from within the Plebelands. Apparently a very dark story, but I am looking forward to reading it…

  2. The only problem I have with your post is the effort involved to achieve your goals. I too grow much of what I eat, keep chickens for eggs, can and freeze, and buy local what I can (including grass feed beed). While I enjoy this lifestyle (it is a lot of “work”) it does require a level of effort that many cannot commit to (or enjoy, as clearly both you and I do).

    What we need as consumers is opportunity to buy sustainable products through a sustainable delivery system. In otherwords, without having to drive. Otherwise the benfits of supporting sustaianble production are lost in the exhust fumes of the cars that we good intentioned customers use to drive to farm gate sellers. Sustainablity extends not only to the way the products are produces, but also to the delivery channels.

    For example, which is least impactful: driving 30 km both ways to get organic apples, or buying minimal-spray apples from a local farmers market that can be reached by bicycle? There is no end of similar choices: is it better to get Niagara wine from the lcbo or drive 20 min to our local winery?

    PS: Why did you get rid of your microwave? Microwave ovens are the most energy efficient means to heat/reheat food and IMHO a good way to reduce enegy use (unless it is winter when the ineffiency of ovens and stoves is a benefit to heating the house),

    • Hi Rob – yes, it is a lot of work! That was exactly what I was talking about, and it is tough to find the time (and energy) to do it all. I commend you on your efforts and aspire to grow more of my own and get some chickens! Finding healty, fresh eggs is a constant challenge.

      I agree that one of the problems for many people is the lack of easier access. Some communities are working hard to bring in neighbourhood markets, and I think that is one potentially good solution to reducing how much people have to drive. If a few farmers come to each neighbourhood, and everyone else can walk to the market, that drastically reduces oil consumption.

      That said, the outdoor producer-only farmers market in London – which sells a lot of organic and “no-spray” produce – is very centrally located for walking, biking and taking the bus. There’s also plenty of free parking. Yet people just don’t come. What really needs to happen is a change of mindset. People don’t just want proximity, they want total convenience. They want (often need) to be able to shop at 10pm at night on Sunday, and get everything in one place. They are too busy bringing kids to soccer etc. or working part-time job #3. Our society does not prioritize food anymore and as a result, most either don’t wish to, or are unable to rearrange their schedules to fit market times, even for Saturday mornings. I see this as our biggest problem, even beyond logistics

      • Oh, about the microwave oven… Sometimes things only appear efficient because we don’t take into consideration all the variables in the equation. In my opinion, microwaves fall into this category. What we gain in reduced electricity consumption, we lose in nutrition and perhaps unknown environmental impact.

        Briefly I got rid of it for three reasons. First, it was taking up about half the prep space in my kitchen. Second, I have read enough studies that show that cooking food in a microwave significantly reduces it’s nutritional value.

        Third, as a student of both physics and homeopathy, I am acutely aware of how water holds energy patterns that are imposed on it. Microwaves heat by agitating water molecules. I don’t know that we understand enough about how that affects us, and decided I didn’t want to keep eating food heated that way. We have a lot of electromagnetic radiation going through us all the time and I don’t want more. The fact that my computer screen got all wonky when the microwave in the next room is running was freaking me out!

        Finally, as a result of not having a microwave, I tend to eat most things cold and raw in the summer. So I don’t think I use that much more energy without it. And this time of year, with our barely working furnace, I welcome how nicely our (gas) stove heats the house!

  3. Personally, health effects are not a concern for me, but I appreciate that you and others do have concerns. I really only use it for reheating, not for any proper cooking. This time of year I love putting someing in the oven to cool low and slow (last night it was baked beans) — it wams the house and the soul.

    I am in Guelph and envious of your London Market — our (fabulous) market only runs Sat. Which in it’s own way is good as a place and time connect with frieds each week, but does not provide the convienice needed to really move local/sustainable food into the mainstream.

    Happy halloween!

    • The London farmers market only runs two days a week, and is much smaller and less diverse than the Guelph market (which is indeed fantastic!). It also only runs from May-Christmas. There is the indoor market at Covent Gardens, but that is more like a supermarket, although you can get some local produce. Fieldgate Organics is located there, and that indeed is a great resource.

      Trying to find a way to get more local/sustainable food into the mainstream is a tremendous challenge. There’s the danger that if we focus too much on convenience and efficiency, we make slow food fast, and end up right back where we started (after all, isn’t that how we got here in the first place?) . Changing our mindset and priorities I think is easily as important – if not more so – than increasing access and convenience. But certainly the latter is needed too.

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