Oct 092011

Our own Nancy Ging got a nice write up in the KPLU Radio blog for her promotion via her blog and weekly column in the Bellingham Herald of the locavore movement. A locavore is someone who makes the decision to eat food produced in the local area, in Nancy’s case—Whatcom County. If you follow her blog posts you will learn who the local producers of food are in the county and how to prepare this food deliciously.

It’s important that we move towards a local economy. If the economy takes a bigger dump, if the trucks quit rolling down the freeway, we will have to utilize local food sources and develop new ones.

Why not follow Nancy’s lead and begin now by trying to source your food locally? We can’t grow everything we need in our backyard gardens. Fortunately, Whatcom County is a rich agricultural area with a vibrant Farmer’s Market and many farmstands offering the complete gamut of locally produced food. Additionally, we are also blessed with an abundant supply of wild foods which we need to learn more about (some comments on Jennifer Hahn’s Pacific Feast coming soon to this blog).

Local food initiatives are spring up all over the country. A filmmaker in Colorado has made a film called Locavore which looks like it will be interesting. Watch the trailer.

On Orcas Island a new group called Orcas Food Masters has an innovative concept to build interest in gardening and local foods:

“I want to help other people in the community, my friends, my family to grow more of their own food so we can have a thriving local food system,” said coordinator Learner Limbach, a 10-year Orcas resident and landscaper who raises goats, chickens and sheep on leased land. “The premise of FoodMasters is that we feel there’s a new economy emerging that’s based on local production and exchange of goods and services,” he said. “Food is the foundation of that new economy…. Right now we don’t have the local production to support everybody buying local.”

The food master concept is one we all need to think about and talk about some more with the goal of making a local economy a reality.


  8 Responses to “Locavore”

  1. Thanks, Randy! The Locavore movie is available through the Library. It was filmed here in Washington state, I think. Very well done, I thought.

  2. There were a few things in the trailer for the new movie Locavore that mentally set me back on my heels a little, and set up an internal mental debate that woke me up at 3 am. It started when someone in the film who was promoting eating locally said, “in 17 years we have never had a medicine that the kids have taken. No antibiotics.” I understand what she may be saying is that because she has only fed her kids locally grown (and probably organic) food, that her kids are so much more healthy then the kids who eat foods grown on big corporate farms with lots of pesticides, that it solves all health problems that would normally have been solved with antibiotics. She also said, “if more people had gardens, they would be doing really important things, growing food for themselves and the planet and, yeah, I think it would be a better world.” I kinda had a few philosophical qualms about that direction of thinking, but…. to each their own.

    Then I read the Locavore write up for the KPLU blog where it was discussing how there are some well intentioned folks who judge themselves and others negatively for eating and serving food that is not vegetarian, vegan, plant based and not locally grown. Now I started to get a little worried. There has been movement on this train of thought lately and more and more people have jumped on board. But now it seems that with all this added mass, the train is gaining momentum and things like this new movie are shoveling in heaps of coal and the whole situation is going in one direction faster and faster. Now would be a good time to think about where this is all going before it gets going so fast that we can’t jump off.

    If enough people start to believe that by eating locally (and presumably organic) it will be a panacea to all health problems and that by doing so we will no longer need antibiotics (or doctors, dentists, etc), and that by growing food in our gardens we would only then start to do something really important and make the world a better place then it is now, maybe we should rethink that concept a little. I just worry that the pendulum of thought has maybe swung a little too far in that direction and I would like to use caution when moving to quickly away from some of the dysfunctional and unsustainable food practices that are being used today.

    We live in a society that is unprecedented in luxury, convenience and leisure time. Without the overabundance of readily available and instant food that is in our society today, we would not have the time to advance ourselves with the education, technology, and industry that makes it possible to have the time to even think about trying to buy local or have vegetable gardens for pleasure. We have to realize how many of our conveniences come about because of the economies of scale of our corporate mass produced food. It is the guy at the power station switchboard who grabs a sandwich from the vending machine and is able to keep our power on rather then go outside and thresh some wheat and grind it with a rock and make a fire to cook it, and then while doing so our power grid fails. It is the medical student who orders a pizza late one night and has the time to learn and discover the knowledge that heals us. Most of us reading this blog would be dead by now if we had been “doing really important things, growing food for (our)selves and the planet” for our whole lives because it would have been such a hard life. Even the people growing locally and selling in the farmers markets today are using shovels made in china, driving cars to the market that were made in Japan, burning oil from Saudi Arabia, of course the list goes on. My point is that if we take the idea to grow and consume locally to the extent that some would like, we would be back in the stone age freezing, starving and dying of diseases. I, for one, do not want that. I know that the way we are doing things now is unsustainable and needs to be changed, but if we all were to spend all the time needed to grow all our own food from our gardens, there would be no doctors, no engineers, no warm houses with running water, all women would have to give birth to 10 kids just to get a few to adulthood, etc.

    In the film one man says, “we are eating oil, right now, essentially …and that is not going to work much longer.” If we want to know what life would be like without having fossil fuel to do our work for us, we only need to look at life before we started using it. Turn the clock back 1000 years and see how people lived then. But, we would not be able to sustain the population size on the earth today and there would have to be mass starvations or something to get the population low enough to live without fossil fuels helping us make food. That same person in the film said, “we outsourced our lives, our jobs, our food and everything. It’s time to bring it home.” Yes, we have outsourced our food to oil, coal and gas. The only way our population size is sustainable is by using those resources to do work. When we are encouraged to spend all of our time growing our own food, we are being encouraged to regress ourselves back in time and a more difficult life, not a better one.

    A better approach would be to acknowledge that we have made advancements for ourselves through hard work for many thousands of years in order to have the plush life that we have now and it would be better to refine what we have rather then go back to the start. A plan to maintain our current standard of living in a sustainable way is a topic for another time, but I do know that we all can not spend all our time to grow all of our own food. Having time to spend growing food for pleasure is a luxury for the rich and we need to admit it.

    I don’t have all the answers to save humanity, but I do know that growing locally is not the panacea that some are claiming. In fact, it is less sustainable then our current system of producing food, if by sustainable you mean sustaining the current size of human population. Reducing our time that we spend contributing to society in non-food ways, and increasing our time growing our own food will eventually deteriorate our infrastructure to the point of diminishing returns and in the long run it would cause the collapse of our modern society. But maybe that is their intent.

    If we want to continue to have a modern society, we need to continue to have mass produced food so people can have time to go to school and specialize in non-food careers and make life better for all of us. Maybe it could be done without harmful chemicals, without petroleum, and without eroding the soil, etc. But that transformation is different then just everyone buying only food grown locally and would take a long time to implement. I buy local whenever I can and encourage others to do so, but our larger society will always need big corporate produced food.

  3. Klayton,

    Sorry that woke you up in the middle of the night but I don’t think you have to worry about the pendulum swinging. The whole point of Transition is that change may be forced on us (more like a guillotine dropping than a pendulum motion) and that doing such things as learning how to grow food, developing a local economy and taking some steps to improve our health and learn how to deal with illness with something other than a pill.

    That Locavore film was made on a budget of less than $10k and, unfortunately, it won’t be widely seen. As to some of your specific concerns:

    We live in a society that is “unprecedented in luxury, convenience and leisure time.”

    We have 8% unemployment among whites; 18% among African Americans. That adds up to 24,000,000 folks without jobs.

    There’s 50,000,000 citizens without medical insurance.

    47,000,000 people on food stamps.

    Bottom line is that even in the “richest country in the world” quite a few people are missing out on “unprecedented in luxury, convenience and leisure time.”

    I don’t know if growing a garden is a panacea. My guess is just staying away from docs, dentists and antibiotics and other drugs might save more lives than gardening or eating locally. See the chart on this web page http://www.ourcivilisation.com/medicine/usamed/deaths.htm
    or this one

    Why that’s more deaths than the ones that started the endless War on Terror.

    Some make the argument that cheap energy has caused the huge population growth and that less energy might cause population to level off.

    I don’t think you have to worry about vegetarianism taking over unless it is forced on us by circumstance. Check the stats here on vegetarians, vegans and “vegetarian inclined.”


    “…but our larger society will always need big corporate produced food.”

    The problem is: what if they are unable to deliver?

    At any rate, subject worthy of discussion which is the point of this blog exercise.

    Thanks for the detailed comment.

  4. Do you really believe, Klayton, that we can only have education and improvement at the expense of health? Because that’s basically what you said. There is a substantial and growing body of scientific evidence that those quick foods you are talking about are killing us.

    The way we have achieved our comfy lifestyles isn’t sustainable (or even fair and just). I don’t think we should give up the vision of a comfy lifestyle, but I do think we have to reexamine everything we are doing with an eye toward making it more sustainable. We can’t continue to consume resources at the expense of the vast majority of people in the world who are nowhere near a comfy life (at least by our standards). And we can’t continue to consume resources that are nonrenewable. Maybe that will mean that some aspects of our lives have to be discarded. For example, maybe we can’t travel the globe anymore with reckless abandon. Maybe a car for every adult was a bad idea to begin with. Maybe paving fertile farmland should be illegal.

    There are always alternatives. If you don’t want to garden yourself, then I strongly recommend purchasing a CSA share next spring from a farmer who’s willing to grow that food for you in a way that doesn’t destroy your health and the health of the land. Fortunately there are quite a few doing that work in our area.

    When we think about the wonderful life we are living and how we maintain it (notice I didn’t say “sustain” it), we should at least consider the question, “What if this is wrong? What if this is bad for us in the long run?” I think we need to beware of dogma on these issues as much as any others. Perhaps even more so, since our current food system is based on some of our most fundamental cultural beliefs.

    I’m an optimist. I think we can ask those questiosn and find better solutions that ARE sustainable. Clean water and healthy food and adequate shelter are the places to start. No lifestyle at all can be sustained without those three essentials. I think solving those three issues in a sustainable way (which implies long term) should be our first steps.

    (And just for the record, the woman in the film didn’t say she wanted do away with antibiotics, she just said she hadn’t needed them for her family. That doesn’t sound to me like a bad thing, especially since even doctors know that the less they are used the more effective they are when you really need them.)

  5. P.S. Don’t forget all the people in jail, Randy, who don’t count as unemployed. And in fact they are doing work for pennies on the dollar because jails have also become largely corporate operations and prisoners are literally a captive workforce. Did you know that as recently as about 5 years ago, when you called American Airlines to make a reservation, you were giving a convict your credit card information? A convict being paid 25 cents an hour? Lots more of that going on than most people are aware of.

  6. Hi Nancy,
    Thanks for continuing this discussion, I have been roiling it around in my head for the past few days and appreciate your take on it all.

    First some background and clarification. I do believe growing local and organic is important and I have been part of CSA’s in the past and am signed up for one now. I have been growing gardens sporadicly throughout my life (even while working at sea) and have bought land here on Lummi Island for the specific purpose of eventually growing all of the food I consume without any outside supplement. The reason that this is my goal is because I don’t trust Big Ag and all of their monoculture practices (gen mod, breading for shelf appeal, environmental issues, etc) and I know that Big Ag is unsustainable in the sense of soil erosion, and that fossil fuels are finite, and pesticides are killing pollinators (and us), etc. I also believe that many, if not most, of our health problems come from the garbage in Big Ag food and I hate that it is sometimes the only thing available to eat.

    The reason that I had qualms about some of the things that were said in the film and the NPR blog post is that it seams that people are starting to believe that the world would be a better place if everyone were to buy local and organic and not use fossil fuels to grow food, and that it is possible to do so. I absolutely and wholeheartedly agree that it would, in fact, be a better place and I sometimes daydream about how this could come about, but short of a virus that kills 99% of the humans on the planet, I don’t see how it is possible. There are so many people that need so much food that the only way to feed them is with Big Ag, and even now half of the world population is malnourished. Organic foods are more expensive because the are labor intensive and less productive. Using only local foods would also be more expensive and less diverse and would leave gaps in the diet that we now are used to eating (like cooking oil, and salt). I support local and organic, but it will never solve all the problems of world food, just like recycling will not stop mining and mineral extraction. The problems of sustainability are much bigger and far more complex then the film proposes.

    I have travelled and lived all over the world and have been a conscious observer of how people grow their food and sustain their lifestyles. From deep backcountry Africa, to utopic Swiss villages, to teaching primitive living skills with Native Americans, I have seen and lived a wide variety of lifestyles. My opinion is that societies can only advance by increasingly exploiting their resources and with each level of advancement and exploitation comes higher living standards (running water, septic tanks, etc) but also some reductions in personal and environmental health (chemical pollution, loss of fish habitat, etc). There are trade-offs for everything. So to your question of whether I believe that we can only have education and societal improvement at the expense of health, I say that, yes, I do believe that. But it is not a binary choice, it is one of gradation and trade-offs. The only truly and infinitely sustainable lifestyle is one of primitive living in stone age fashion, and that is even debatable because there is evidence that stone age civilizations died out or moved on when their supply of obsidian for arrowheads was used up. Any time taken out of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to educate or be educated took time away from getting food, therefore a fish trap needed to be expanded and a river’s fish population was decreased to an unsustainable level. Any reduction in resource exploitation that we experience in our society will result in some reduction of education and standard of living. The choice is where do we want that balance and how long can the balance that we have selected be sustainable.

    The transition movement is of the general opinion that we are past the peak of standard of living. I have a bit darker view and believe that humans will continue to exploit our planet and our health to a far greater malady before the collapse. We are just so good and innovation and denial.

    I would love to see us as a human race realize our folly before it is too late. The movement for local, sustainable, organic, gardening and backyard bean projects is directly addressing this issue, and I am happy to have it thriving. But for me, it does not acknowledge the overarching society formula of exploitation equals advancement. Maybe if we reduce the size of human population by 90% and lower our standards of living to 18th century standards and also apply our knowledge of environment, science and technology, we may have a chance to keep society running for another few thousand years. But to keep doing it the way we do it now, we have maybe a few hundred years left, if that.

  7. Lots of people think that the reason we have 8 billion people on the planet is cheap energy. Some theorize that a reduction in cheap energy will cause the population to decrease by up to 3 billion people. http://www.jstor.org/pss/4236642

    Many ways this could happen and, frankly, many of the possibilities are not pleasing to think about. Bill Gates has cryptically suggested that vaccines could reduce the world population.http://www.infowars.com/bill-gates-use-vaccines-to-lower-population/

    “There are so many people that need so much food that the only way to feed them is with Big Ag, and even now half of the world population is malnourished. Organic foods are more expensive because the are labor intensive and less productive. Using only local foods would also be more expensive and less diverse and would leave gaps in the diet that we now are used to eating (like cooking oil, and salt). ”

    I’m not sure I agree that Big Ag is the only answer because they grow crap, food that isn’t nutritious. The theory of nutrient dense food, grown locally in back yards and community gardens and local farms is that we could be healthy on a smaller volume of food. On the other hand, Big Ag feeding people GMO and food without real nutrition may take care of the population problem. And local foods will always be supplemented by trade goods even if we revert to the day of the sailing ship.

    “Maybe if we reduce the size of human population by 90% and lower our standards of living to 18th century.”

    I think the 19th Century ought to be our model. I’ve been reading a lot the last few days about Victorian vegetable gardens. They grew an amazing variety of fruit and vegetables including tropical stuff and they grew it all year long forcing growth and retarding ripening, using all sorts of techniques to extend the eating season to twelve months. There’s an awful lot more we can do given the necessity to do it. Unfortunately, Safeway and MacDonald’s have made us lazy and unable to take care of ourselves. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done again.

  8. I agree that more nutritious food could feed more people per pound of food then the big ag food. But the labor and cost per person fed is far less with big ag food, and when people are starving it will be the only thing that matters. Can big ag adopt methods to grow more nutritious food? Sure, but at the cost of less people fed per dollar and hour of labor. World food production bumps up against the same problem we all face when gardening at home. It just takes so much time and effort to grow organic and sustainably. So then, only those with no job (the very poor or the very rich) can do it. I can’t spend all my time growing my own food until I retire and have my land, house and energy paid for. Do we want the teachers and firemen to quit their jobs to spend the extra time needed to grow organic and local?

    I am not saying we should not grow local and organic if we can, I am only saying that it is probably not possible to feed our current world population in that way. Which is what the film was suggesting. I truely hope there is a solution to our situation, and maybe local and organic is part of it, but it is not THE solution. If we want to fix our mess, we will need to keep thinking and not accept what has been proposed as the one and final solution.

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