I’ve just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I’m a bit behind, as most people read this book when it was published in 2007. I could have done the same, when my mother gave a copy to both me and my sister that year as Christmas gifts. My sister had already jumped on the band wagon of reducing her carbon footprint, using recycled paper towels and changing all the light-bulbs in our house to energy saving ones, and she read the book almost as soon as she tore the wrapping paper off. As a student in culinary arts school, all I could think about was food, but my mind was far from the food system and I tossed the book aside. I was more concerned with how to de-bone a chicken then how it was grown, and as far as I knew, produce came off a truck, straight from the company our school bought it from.
After moving to California, my thoughts changed a bit. Tasting strawberries and tomatoes that lacked the starchy, cardboard substance of those found in East Coast grocery stores, I adopted a farmers market focus in my palate. I ate my first persimmons, chard, and fresh figs, purchased directly from the farmers who grew them, and I couldn’t get enough. Living on three years of California produce, I finally traveled to Europe to work on two organic farms, furthering my understanding of the importance of quality produce. After watching the documentary Food, Inc, I realized how this farmer focused produce fit into the picture of our food system. And how corn and soybean additives and government-subsidized, corporate agriculture should not. I changed my food ways, trying to buy goods from stores that supported local, sustainable companies and shopping more at the farmers market.
It wasn’t until I read the first few chapters of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, however, that I realized just how important knowing what you eat, where it comes from, and how it affects out food system, really is. The book tells the story of Barbara Kingsolver, who relocates her family from the dry and arid landscape of Arizona, to rural Appalachian Virginia. There, surrounded by a sprawling farm, the family of four embarks on a mission to eat only locally produced items, found within 150 miles of them, for one year. Throughout the prose of the Kingsolvers raising chicken and turkeys, gardening everything from apples to asparagus, and making bread, cheese, and pasta, is the literature that sticks in my mind: the why. The book tells why the family is growing their own food(because they can, and because food travels on average 1500 miles to get to your local store). It explains why the family raises their own turkeys(because almost extinct heritage varieties can reproduce on their own unlike the genetically modified grocery store version that must be fertilized with human help). And it answers why the family choose to do this at all(because living off of their land means growing vegetables in a way that nurtures their surroundings, creating products without additives). It’s enough to make you want to buy your own plot of land and start fresh.
One of Kingsolver’s main focuses is eating what is in season, because those of us who don’t have the luxury of our own farms must buy from the store or market. When you eat what is in season(i.e. tomatoes in July and August), it is likely the produce has been grown locally and not stored in electricity-draining refrigeration or shipped from a warmer climate. Asking your supplier, where and when the produce is grown is even better, as Kingsolver repeatedly discusses how most produce found in grocery stores nationwide is shipped hundreds of miles from California.
California. Where I am lucky enough to live. As much as I have focused on farmers markets and shopping sustainably, the fact of the matter is, I live in a state and a region, where I can find the best of the country’s produce available for the most amount of time. Produce that makes a New England farmer jealous. Right here, everyday, I can shop at one of the many Los Angeles farmers markets. Unlike other areas, most of the produce sold in California grocery stores is local, because it can be. And all this time, I’ve just been taking advantage of it. Shopping at stores who may not offer me local goods, buying produce with a blind eye.
And it’s almost over. As I close in on my last weeks in Los Angeles, reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I realize how spoiled I’ve been. While it may be only a few days, all I can do is make up for lost time and try to go local. This week I’ll eat only farmers market produce, buy my chicken and beef from local, sustainable producers, and make my own bread and cheese. In every way I can, I’ll buy local, sustainable products, savoring the fact that it is so easy to do in California.
What does going local really mean?It’s simply doing what you can to buy goods from people producing near you, shopping at farmers markets, and eating in-season produce. It may not be possible to do as the Kingsolver’s and move onto a rural farm to produce your own food, but you can grow your own herbs, buy local produce and meat from markets, and make many of your own products. Even in areas not as blessed with sunny weather as California, you can ask your grocery stores for local items, and buy more from these sections. Sustainable producers treat the land in a way the enriches minerals and keeps it healthy. These farmers grow heritage and heirloom varieties, not genetically modified produce and meats. They treat the land better, and in the process create better products. By supporting local, sustainable producers, you are helping the environment, eating better, and positively affecting our food system. So why not choose local?