I'm not sure how true that post title is, but most people who have known me throughout my life would assume I should now look like a Value Meal. I'm not the best eater in the world when it comes to healthy choices. But our family has spent the last year or so thinking more carefully about what we eat. Not just for dietary reasons, but also for the impact our food choices have on the food system and the environment as a whole. And those choices aren't always easy to make. I finally got around to reading the recent article in Time magazine on organic food versus local food, and the author did a pretty nice job of laying out the pros and cons of attempting to make these choices.
Why do we sometimes eat organic? The obvious answer would be to avoid ingesting all those pesticides sprayed on crops to get rid of those pesky bugs. There is still much debate about whether those small amounts really harm us. Some scientists say we are over-reacting. Others say the pesticides do horrible things to us from cancer to hair loss to shrunken testicles. I think one scientist has identified the "Spears Syndrome"...brief bouts of irrational behavior and head shaving from eating that stuff.
But our choice also deals with the food system. When the bugs do eat the poison, and then are eaten by birds, the bird population suffers. The poisons drain into the dirt and eventually into the water table...killing small animals in streams and rivers that larger fish need as a food source. So eating organic seems like a good choice.
But have you tried? Our local, giant supermarket only offers a handful of organic produce. And the price is much higher than the rest of the produce. So it is hard to find and hard to afford. And it may have traveled from far away to get here. Good to avoid the toxins...but the benefit is almost eliminated by the fuel used and the pollution created in shipping the food around the world.
Which bring me to locally grown foods. "Bioregionalism" is the fancy term for it. Eating foods grown in your local area. This has been an easier shift for our family. Oh, don't get me wrong, we eat plenty of stuff grown around the world. But throughout the summer we visit the local farmer's markets for some of our groceries. And last summer we joined a CSA - Community Supported Agriculture. If you've not heard of these, this is the system where each member pays the farmer in advance. In our case, we pay $325 in March. Then for the entire summer, we drop by the farm once a week and we get an equal share of all that was harvested that week. Fresh herbs, salad greens, strawberries, boxes of tomatoes for making and freezing sauce, melons. squash, beans, fresh garlic, zucchini, peppers, etc, etc, etc. We got way more than $325 worth of produce and ate fresh vegetables every day during the summer (and had plenty to blend with fall foliage for our Mabon centerpiece to celebrate the harvest). We also filled our freezer with frozen veggies fresh from the field and home-made spaghetti sauces and breaded zucchini slices and more. And to really make this a good thing, our local farmer is certified organic! The best of both worlds!! So we've been lucky there.
Our latest effort - and this is no picnic for Mr Value Meal here, is we are trying to go one day a week without eating meat. Trust me, I'll never be a vegetarian. Not that there is anything wrong with it. I'm sure it is a healthy choice. But I love meat. Love burgers and steak and pork chops. But one day a week...okay, I can do that. But why would we? Well we learned that if each family went meatless just one day a week, by the end of the year several million barrels of fuel oil would have been saved without trucking all that meat around. Thousands of acres of rain forest would be saved without the need to for so much grazing land for cattle. Greenhouse gases would be significantly reduced without the pollution associated with the additional ranching and transportation. But it isn't easy.
None of this is easy. Especially in a region of the country with long winters and short growing seasons. And I'm not writing this as a lecture to try to encourage folks to do the same. I'm just sharing.
But do I like it? Yes. I realized when we got a new roof, we interviewed four different contractors, asked for references, and picked a local guy with a good history. I knew more about my roofer than I did the guy who grew the food for my family. Now, I like knowing George, the guy who owns the local farm we joined. I like chatting with him every week about the heritage produce and the hybrid stuff and tasting things he just pulled from the field.
And eating that way makes me feel a little more connected to the earth. We are more likely to eat what is in season...and not choose that six-dollar, baseball-sized cantaloupe at the market this month that came from the other side of the world. As a pagan, I like being more connected to the cycles of nature. And I like making choices that are good for not just me, not just my family, but for the earth.