Is eating local more ethical?

July 7, 2008 § 1 Comment

Is eating local more ethical? Well, we think so. Animal, Vegetable, MiracleIn fact, that’s why we want to share the “gospel” with others and encourage people to think of eating a bit differently. Where our food comes from has burgeoned in the public consciousness with the Salmonella outbreak, and it has been a repeated theme in media outlets. As I was making a stir-fry last night (from reading my posts you might think that’s all we eat around here… but it’s coincidence, I assure you) I was listening to The Ethics of Eating on Speaking of Faith, an American Public Media radio show.

The host, Krista Tippett, interviewed Barbara Kingsolver — who inspired this blog. The longer, unedited interview is available, but the broadcast version is worth a listen — especially while you prepare a meal for your household.

One point that Kingsolver brought up that seems to be the crux of the problem is that we have become so disconnected with food that we take it for granted. Just two generations ago, eating local and eating seasonal was what everyone did, and had been doing, since the beginning of humankind. But with the advent of the internal combustion engine, domestic highway system, and international shipping infrastructure, our food now can be shipped around the globe and when most people walk into the supermarket they don’t think for a second about where the banana in their cart came from.

One of the goals of this blog is to help people get past the basic difficulty of being a localvore (a term that is new and strange in its inherent meaning — almost as if it is an elite activity vs a means of survival). Simply, eating seasonally requires a different thought process for meal planning and shopping. Instead of thinking of what sounds really great to make for dinner, instead you have to think about what is in season, and what you can make from that. This requires a bit of connectedness to the food seasons in the area you live, and a bit of self-restraint. What we are striving for with this blog is to provide ideas for what you can eat that is local and seasonal, and inspire you to really actively think about it when you shop and plan your meals. Once you gain the active awareness you might take some baby-steps and put down the watermelon that looks tasty but was imported from South America, or hold off on the water chestnuts for your stir fry. But each little step is a step in the right ethical direction.

Luckily for us. because we are in the Willamette Valley, we are privileged to have a bounty of local food available for a relatively long time. A good way to get an idea of what is in season and what is local is to go to the various farmer’s markets in our community and simply find out what’s for sale. Also, while you can’t get fresh berries in the winter here, you can freeze or can them, and have good, nutritious fruit year-round. All of this requires some extra planning and some time-consuming activities during the productive harvest months. Just last weekend my friend put up quarts of freezer-jam that will nourish her for breakfast through the winter. To her it was one night well-spent prepping her berries and putting them up (she went to bed when she ran out of sugar).

Kingsolver also discussed the attitude we have toward food prep. We’re “too busy” to cook for our families in the United States. But Kingsolver pointed out that in many European cities, cooking is so much a part of the culture that it is not seen as a time-taker, but as part of living. Even CEO’s head to the local market after work to pick out the ingredients for dinner every night after work. So if you think time is what’s stopping you, it may be helpful to think about how people live in other parts of the world and evaluate how you live and what you would have to give up, and also what you would gain.

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§ One Response to Is eating local more ethical?

  • brightviolet says:

    I loved Kingsolver’s book. My mother and I listened to it on our trip from Oregon-Wisconsin-Texas by car, to see all the Little House on the Prairie museums. Some of what Kingsolver and her partner (husband?) said rang very true for the area we drove through. Endless GM corn and soy, nothing else. Pathetic fruit/vegetable departments in grocery stores, no greens except iceberg lettuce and tomatoes, from the moment we left Washington until we hit Texas pretty much. No farmstands anywhere except for corn, even though we were supposedly driving through the bread basket of America.

    Nothing organic, nothing local (tho perhaps ppl grow their own in the midwest?) One supermarket on an Indian reservation had nothing but two heads of lettuce and a few half rotten tomatoes. No other fresh vegetables whatsoever in the only supermarket on the reservation. It seemed to us that all fruits and vegetables in most mainstream supermarkets these days either come from California, or other countries.

    Kingsolver’s book not only inspired us to grow our own strawberries, zucchinis, broccoli, cauliflower, herbs, shallots, apples, pears and cherries, but we also started making our own mozzarella. (my husband can’t eat it tho, for some reason he gets serious allergic reactions to the fresh milk(?), even though he doesn’t get it from anything like yogurt, milk in coffee drinks, etc.)

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