local food

Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge

A friend of mine recently told me about this April’s Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge. The goal is for one week to only eat food that comes from within a 100 mile radius of where I live. This is something that I try to do on a daily basis as a lifestyle choice, so it seems easy enough. It also helps that I live in the Bay Area, California, where there is a lot of quality organic local food available. It is also in my favor that I have access to wild foods (and have some stored already) as well as a large garden. The challenge for me however, is in the “Penny-Wise” part. The U.S. Department of Labor recently put out some intensive research on how much the average American family spends on food per week. So it’s not that I typically spend that much more than $68 per week on food, but I really struggle to budget it in a clear way. I value what I eat so much, that I typically choose the better product (for the Earth, for my health, and for social justice) over the cheaper product. Also, bulk items like flour, nuts, and olive oil are hard to calculate in a weekly budget, but I look forward the attempt. Of course if I eat out at all during that week, suddenly $68 seems like a drop in the hat. One other encouraging thing is that this amount doesn’t include beer, which according the parameters of the challenge, I get to spend an additional $8 dollars on. I think I can manage that, although I must say in my house beer is a food. And there are so many great local beers to choose from! So I’m going to do it, and report my experiences here on the blog.

But why local foods? I realize as I’m typing this that I’m not really writing for a general audience that needs that question answered. If, as I believe I’m doing right now, which is preaching to the choir, I’ll dish out a little green evangelizing. In short, I think switching back to a local food system solves a great number of our world’s problems.
The average American meal travels 1500 miles from field to plate. This is a tremendous waste of resources, is exploitive of the Earth and of workers and farmers, and contributes to global warming. It also further disconnects people from their food, and thus, from the natural world. Eating from your place helps reconnect us to natural world, to the place we live in, and to each other. It eliminates much waste and pollution. Food that is not local is typically not fresh, which significantly reduces its nutritional value, and things that are out season I argue are not good for the body anyway. It seems strange to completely alienated people that they should not have grapes in April (imported from the Southern Hemisphere), but my body doesn’t want grapes in April. The grapes in my garden are just beginning to flower right now. Fresh ripe grapes are the embodiment of the summer sun and heat. To eat them in spring is to be out time and rhythm with the place around you. Our bodies don’t need fresh grapes now. But if you must have grapes in April, eat raisins or drink some wine — that’s how we get grapes in April!

Considering the overwhelming dangers and challenges we face right now on this planet, I do not think any programs per se will help solve our problems. If you can sum up the solution in a specific idea, task, or action, then I think you’ve missed the boat. We are so out balance, and the end of the world extinction event which as already happened is getting so worse so fast, that we need to do more than change our strategies or programs. We need to completely change ourselves, and I think one of the many good ways to do that, to reconnect to the natural world and natural time, is to eat with the seasons. And it’s not like it’s some depravation punishment strict discipline. It’s perfectly natural, in flow, and delicious! Fresh local food just tastes tons better and is much better for you. Our ancestors ate nothing but organic local food for 99 point many 9’s of human history. I think we can figure it out.

I don’t want to suggest however that local is the only thing that is important. Our food needs to be sustainably, safely, and ecologically grown (right now our consumer option is “organic” but as those standards are increasingly weakened, we’ll have to do better). This means first and foremost NO GMO (genetically modified organisms) which is so horrible that if I don’t dissociate from it a little, I can’t get out of the bed in the morning, because what’s the point, right? Genetic engineering is a whole other topic that is really beyond the scope of this discussion, but if you are looking to bring about the end of the world, keep supporting biotech, because they are delivering the apocalypse as fast as their stocks are rising. Another thing is the food needs to be grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or any other icides. (These substances are designed to kill, just like their word cousins “suicide” and “homicide.”)

So anyway, after hopefully a few yawns, and perhaps some “hallelujahs”, I’ll wrap this up. Please check back in for updates on the Eat Local Challenge, which for me will be the Eat Local Organic (or sustainably wildcrafted) Challenge. Let it be a celebration of abundance and of the Earth!

The (copyrighted) photographs were taken by Dawn Panda in October when grapes are ripe. These were from an enormous wild (feral) patch in the Oakland hills. The grapes were climbing 60 to 80 feet up live oaks, willows, and redwood trees! Amazing and delicious!