Going Local

The ducklings are doing, well, just ducky. When grown, they will eradicate slugs in the garden, while producing the most amazing fertilizer on the planet, and eggs to boot. The more I research issues around sustainability, food miles, and so on, the more I recognize the importance and value of growing my own food, and poultry is an invaluable tool in doing so.

I have been thinking, and reading, a lot of late about fossil fuel use and climate change, and among the things becoming starkly clear to me is that utility cycling, although critically important, is not enough. Gardening and Food Miles are inextricably linked to issues of fossil fuel use and, there for, sustainability. Utility cycling is an essential part of living sustainably; but it is not, in itself, a complete solution to all sustainability issues. Cycling to the Mall to buy highly packaged consumer items trucked in from thousands of miles away –or cycling to a national food chain to buy over-packaged, highly processed food trucked in from thousands of miles away-- does not support the needs of a finite planet. That is why this blog “cycles” through a number of issues related to living sustainability, most frequently: transportation, food miles, and organics/permaculture.

According to World Watch Institue, food sold in U.S. supermarkets travels over 1,500 miles from farm to plate (in some cases 4000 miles). Increasingly, even certified organic produce is grown on vast monoculture spreads, often overseas, and too often those food mile result in the burning of literally tons of fossil fuel, as well as the release of millions of pounds of carbon into the air.

An average meal uses 17 times more petroleum products than one made from entirely local ingredients, leading some to argue that local trumps organic. Certainly, when one considers the pollution and the global warming caused by the transportation of commercial food; the loss of nutrients during weeks on the road en route to the supermarket; the loss of plant varieties and biodiversity as growers select for “ship-ability” over all other considerations, including taste; and the ascendancy of corporate agribusiness over family farms, it becomes clear that a diet of local, organic food is the clear choice.

But can one eat well without buying chemically-altered foods picked and packaged three weeks ago by exploited migrant farm workers and marketed by giant international corporations for huge profits? An increasing number of coinscious epicourious folk are proving the answer to be a resounding "YES". Local eating has been called "the next organics," and human-scale economics is poised to take on agribusiness in perhaps the only way that has real hope of success: the bottom line. The vote-with-your-fork-and-pocketbook theme of today's personally responsible politics is evolving naturally into the trend of "loca-vores," concerned culinary adventurers who base their diets on foods grown within 100 miles of their home.

The trend, which has been dubd 'The Hundred-Mile Diet', hints not only at a more ecologically sustainable way to eat and drink, but also points to a deeper shift --an actual change in life patterns. Coordinating the rhythms of our lives, and eating patterns, with those of the seasons, offers us the opportunity for a greater sense of connection to this land, a sense of place, and also opens up avenues for community with the farmers who grow our food, and the independent business people with make up our local economy. Perhaps Alice Waters said it best: "Knowing where your food comes from can change your life . . . finding and eating local foods connects us deeply and sensually with where are and why the everyday choices we make about food are the most important choices we make"

For myself, I have opted to think in terms of my bioregion, rather than the “100 Mile Diet”. I heartily congratulate, support and applaud those who choose to feast on the bounty grown within 100 miles of their home, I also recognize that supplementing the immediately local food that comes from my garden with the cornucopia at the local farmers at the market and co-ops allows me to forge connections with local farmers in my community, to support my local economy, and gives me just enough flexibility and variety to avoid falling off the wagon all together.

Prior to “going local” I had been a strict vegan (and I am still a stubborn vegetarian) but I am becoming aware of the myriad ways in which the standard vegan diet is propped up by globalization: as a vegan I ate mangos, bananas, dates and other produce from distant continents, as well as highly packaged specialty foodstuffs that plagued the planet with packaging as well as food miles. My only concern was that they were organic, never mind that they were shipped in from thousands and thousands of miles away. Doubtless there are ways in which I might have made my being vegan “lower impact” on the planet, and that is a major point: being conscious and fully present in out food choices is essential if we are to creat truely sustainable lives.

This new consciousness brings with it some quandaries, for example, eggs: Where did their feed come from (shipped in from a million miles away?)? Was the feed genetically modified? Were the conditions the hens were kept in humane? Was the animal "improved" with a biomedical soup of hormones, stimulants, antibiotics? Oy! All these coices and it's only breakfast!

In my case, I choose to keep my own poultry, fed on insects and veggies from my garden, supplemented with locally grown, human grade organic grains. This meets not only my desire for eggs from compassionately kept, organically fed poultry, but also my commitment to permaculture gardening. The chickens and ducks become part of an interdependent system as they eat up the pests, convert them into the best fertilizer on earth (which they also distribute onto the garden), and even help turn up the beds for planting.

Local eating is much more an adventure than it is a hair-shirt exercise in environmental extremism. Everyone assumes we are subsisting on an spartan and bland diet, but in fact it has been wonderfully interesting to discover new flavors and recipes. This evening the Boy and I had personal pizzas for dinner, made with garden veggies, local cheese and Naan bread baked at the northern edge of our bioregion. Had we wanted to avoid wheat, as some folks do, we might have had a stirfry of all local ingredients, or French Ratatoulle; or Cheesesy Eggplant casserole, the possibilities are endless

A friend of mine pipes up with a good natured challenge “ok, it's the middle of winter in Oregon, what are you gonna make for dinner if you are limited to ingredients from this bioregion?”

“Spinach and Endive Salad with Fried Goat Cheese
Creamy Parsnip Broccoli Soup
Braised Winter Lentils with Thyme & Garlic
Oven Baked Butternut Squash with Gee
Roasted Pears with Beet Sugar and Ginger

But only if you are coming to dinner, my dear”



zilla said...

Love your post. It brought to mind an article I read years ago, by David Ownen, who proposes that New York City is a model of environmental responsibility -- an idea that always sounded counterintuitive to me. Your posts often call that article to mind, so I tried to find it on the internet, and behold! I was successful. Here is the annoyingly long link to it in pdf format. Let's hear your thoughts! Your pizza sounds divine, but fried goat cheese I can live without :-)

zilla said...

Hmm. Blogger doesn't seem to be posting the complete link. If you're interested, I googled "green manhattan" and the link to the pdf appeared early in the results.

griffin said...

Well, the Boy nixed both the goat cheese and lentils, so there you go. The basic idea holds: one can eat bioregionally even through a harsh NorthWest winter.

New York as ecotopia eh? Of all the places I might have thought of as a model of environmental responsibility, they wouldnt have come to mind, guess I better check out the article

Curt said...

That's really inspiring. I noticed right away when I moved to Oregon from the Southeast that this was an amazingly diverse and abundant produce-growing region, so I was excited to be able to eat local. I'm not yet as far along into making it a way of life, and I thank you for showing us that it can be done and enjoyed, and that there is a lot of value to it. Really, really interesting. Thanks! There are so many people out there, in all parts of our country and across the world, who wonder "How can I help? How can I be more ecologically responsible?" Well, you're providing a great example and that deserves attention.

Caroline in NH said...

I'm a new reader, and loving your blog! Your attitude is much like mine. We have two Nubian goats for milk, some chickens (who aren't old enough to lay yet, but I trade homemade bread with a neighbor for free-range eggs), and a garden. I've been doing lots of canning, and will be putting up peaches (purchased locally) and salsa (from my own tomatoes) over the long weekend.

I live pretty far out in the middle of nowhere (not that far, really - 6-1/2 miles to a grocery store, about 12 miles to the nearest real town) but I'm going to be trying to bike more, now that the kids are in school.

griffin said...

Welcome Caroline! Oh how I would LOVE to have goats!! But my neighbors have yet to recover from my ripping out the lawn to put in the garden, not to mention the chickens, a goat would give them an anurism!
The co-op and farmers market that I shop at are both 6 miles from my home (down hill goin, all up hill coming home!) and the University I attend is 10 miles away. So, it can be done --though, in my case, I had to work up to it.