Monday, February 25, 2008

On Locavores and Other Tasty Issues

Food. We all need it to survive. Some of us love it, some of us hate it, but we all need it. As the old adage goes: some eat to live while others live to eat.

I am the latter.

Your surprise is complete, is it not?

There's a hierarchy in the organic food movement, that you may have heard about:
  1. Local and organic.
  2. Local, but conventional.
  3. Organic, but not local.
  4. Conventional, but not local.
The idea behind it is that anything that cuts down on the amount of transportation it takes to get food to your plate is good for you, the freshness of your food and the environment. The emphasis on organic has led to the Sustainable Agriculture movement and the Slow Food movement. This collection of thought processes has led to the rise of the Locavore.

Today's SixChix comic. Love it! Click to enlarge.

Now the interesting thing about the locavore is the fact that it is a rising trend in agriculture today. So much so that it was the first item mentioned by the keynote speaker at the Ag Conference I attended last week. People that want to eat locally are also, in effect, required to eat seasonally. Suddenly (or not so suddenly, really), we've come full circle and have returned to old fashioned agriculture. Shopping at the local farmers' market returns us to our roots and gets the individual shopper in touch with the people responsible for growing the food they eat: the small family farmer. It's a very good thing to know your local farmers, they're good people.

Eating what is grown on the land around you also reduces your carbon footprint (Calculator here.) and has the added benefit of keeping your money circulating in the local community. Both of these things benefit you and your community in both the short and long term. By purchasing local and organic food, you will improve your family's health and welfare and also help to drive more farmers into the organic market. By keeping small family farms in business, you help to employ more people locally.

The effect of organic food on the health of our children is significant:
Organic Diets Significantly Lower Children's Dietary Exposure to Organophosphorus Pesticides

We substituted most of children's conventional diets with organic food items for 5 consecutive days and collected two spot daily urine samples, first-morning and before-bedtime voids, throughout the 15-day study period.
...In conclusion, we were able to demonstrate that an organic diet provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposures to organophosphorus pesticides that are commonly used in agricultural production. We also concluded that these children were most likely exposed to these organophosphorus pesticides exclusively through their diet.
--Abstract from Environmental Health Perspectives, February 2006

As more folks purchase organic food, more farmers will move away from conventional growing. Then, as the laws of supply and demand tell us, the price of locally produced organic food will drop. Just in time, too, since with the rising price of gas we'll soon see rising prices in the grocery store. If we haven't already, that is.

As a small farmer, I'm delighted by this trend. Yes, we'll be out there this summer at our local market, selling to the general public, meeting people, making friends and gaining new customers. We'll be doing our part to change the world around us via food. And we won't be alone.

According to an article in the NY Times, a study found that (Gasp!) when offered vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables, low income women actually bought and ate them.
Effect of a targeted subsidy on intake of fruits and vegetables among low-income women in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

Intervention participants increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables and sustained the increase 6 months after the intervention was terminated (model adjusted R(2)=.13, P<.001). Farmers' market participants showed an increase of 1.4 servings per 4186 kJ (1000 kcal) of consumed food (P<.001) from baseline to the end of intervention compared with controls, and supermarket participants showed an increase of 0.8 servings per 4186 kJ (P=.02). CONCLUSIONS: Participants valued fresh fruits and vegetables, and adding them to the WIC food packages will result in increased fruit and vegetable consumption.
-- Publine entry from the American Journal of Public Health
Bolded entry was my emphasis.

The only problem with the vouchers? Not enough money. Surprise!
The U.C.L.A. study gave women $10 a week, while the W.I.C. program will provide monthly vouchers worth $8 to each recipient and $6 to each child. Breastfeeding women will receive just $10 a month toward fruits and vegetables.
-- NY Times The Farmers' Market Effect
So here's the thing: if we're all so darned concerned about women and children and making sure that babies are born healthy from healthy women, why wouldn't we make that a more reasonable dollar amount? Eight dollars a month?! Ten if you're pregnant?! Did you know about the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge where congress people vowed to live on $21 a week? Now imagine if you had an additional $2 every week for more fruits and vegetables. Wow! Now there's a balanced diet! We'll have obesity and nutritional diseases amoung low income families licked in no time at that rate!

The problem that you see is that for $21 a week, you want to get the most caloric bang for your buck and it's not going to be in fruits and veggies. They are good for you, but the small portions you can buy for $2 a week (Extra! Whoo!) are not going to fill you up and stop you from feeling hungry. That's where cheap junk food comes in, repeatedly: it's very very cheap and calorically dense. The problem is that you pay with your health and in the long term, your life.

This pittance for fresh fruits and veggies is in complete contradiction to the cries of:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
-- Unhappy Meals, NY Times
Read it, it's a really good article. However, it puts everything into stark contrast. Unless you're rich, you can't afford to be healthy in our society. We're a First World country! What the hell is going on?
A little meat won’t kill you, though it’s better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat “food.” Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.
-- Unhappy Meals, NY Times
What do they mean by food products? They mean this:
-- SixChix comic from February 13th. Click to enlarge.

So what do we do? How do we get healthier, live longer, reduce our carbon footprint, keep money in our own communities and encourage responsible, sustainable agricultural practices? We either grow our own food or buy it from our local farmers' market or join a CSA. We also fight back against Big Ag (See the OCA website for more details about issues that affect your food and find out what you can do to help.) when they try to lobby for changes that only benefit them in the marketplace. We buy our meat from local producers that we trust so that we can know that our food is safe, because this is horrifying.

And we do it because we know that a real tomato, one grown either in your own backyard or by someone that actually cares about the food they make and sell should never be on the Untasty yet Easy side of the graph.
Today's XKCD comic. Click to enlarge.

Grapefruit shouldn't be there either, but it requires you to get a fresh picked one to realize they can actually be sweet. Something I didn't know until I had one while in Jamaica. Just imagine the local markets there. Yum!

So get out there and get growin'!

Me? I just started 420 340 tomato plants (too tired to do math properly) (15 16 different heirloom varieties) last night (and I haven't even started the 6 8 different basil varieties, 192 plants...). I'll see you at the market.

For more information on finding your local farmers' market or CSA, go here.


Missy said...

Wow. What an informative post! That is a whopping load of tomatoes. I will be lucky if we get past talking about putting in a veggie garden this summer.

Woman with a Hatchet said...

Thanks Missy! These thoughts have been tumbling around in my head since mid-January. The NY Times articles started it, then two comics`about food triggered the writing.

A local market will also sell you transplants for your garden to get you started. That's what most of the 420 are for. Later in the summer we'll sell our rainbow of tomatoes to people that didn't grow their own.

Scylla said...

Yay Locavore!!

I can't wait to get back to my little, tiny, rooftop garden with my own tomato plants!!

This year I plan on building large pot gardens of veggies!!

Of course, when I am already hanging with you, I will be buying from you too!!

So can't wait for the fresh local produce!

I do have to say, an upside to living in Jersey is the high quality local produce. There are a lot of local farmer's markets here, and they are not all that pricey either.

village mama said...

Yeah to you farmers! Yeah to you using the power of blogging to spread the word!! We can't wait for our local farmers' market season to start - besides produce I'm looking for a new lavender plant ;-)

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