Friday, December 17, 2010

Our Food System Is Broken. Buying Local Food Can Help.

For many of us, the fact that our food system is broken is not news.

The US government subsidizes crops we don't need more of (like "number 2 field corn"), which get processed into foods that are bad for us (high-fructose corn syrup), and are fed to animals who get sick from eating them (cows). Vegetable farmers receive no subsidies.

Government incentives and regulatory agencies encourage centralized, industrialized food production and processing, which lead to food-borne illness and recalls on a massive scale, not to mention the disappearance of local variation. Time was, you could drive across the country and get some local color by visiting family-run roadside eateries; today, most of your options are chain restaurants serving food from Sysco and other foodservice distributors.

We have become so dependent on food from other regions that any sort of crisis—whether it be transportation fuel shortage, water shortage, or natural or man-made disaster—will have its effects magnified, because it will have an impact on the food system nationwide.

How can buying local food help?

First, when we buy food directly from local, small farmers, we cut out the intermediary. The profits all go directly to the farmer, rather than going mostly to the distributor. The farmer is able to stay in business and continue growing food, rather than selling the farm to a real estate developer. Furthermore, we are able to talk to the farmer. What kinds of anti-pest measures were taken? Grass-fed, grain-fed, or a combination? Why? What's good right now? What's coming next week? How's the family? And so on.

Second, when we buy local food, we are creating a more robust, resilient food system. It is to our advantage to have more food produced locally, whatever sort of food is suited to our climate, because in the event of a discontinuity of some sort, it may become more difficult or expensive to transport food thousands of miles. Buying eggs from a national distributor is, in effect, "putting all our eggs in one basket".

Third, local food is likely to be fresher, tastier, and more nutritious.

This isn't the first time anyone has made these arguments, and I hope it won't be the last. And of course there are many more arguments to be made in favor of local food.

We need to keep making these arguments until things are working right.

(This post was submitted as part of Fight Back Friday over at Food Renegade!)


Musings of a Housewife said...

Succinct and well put. Thank you!

Unknown said...

Well said!

Alex Lewin said...

Thank you. :-)

k said...

Raising awareness, wonderful. We buy local as much as possible. I find it very nice indeed to know the couple who tend the chickens whose eggs I eat and feed to my family. I like knowing that the salad I have for lunch was once several carefully tended veggies 10 minutes from my house at Maya's Farm.

It's not just nice to know where your food is coming from, it helps you to connect to your community and yourself, affirming the interconnectedness we all can experience if we pay attention.

Alex Lewin said...

K, I totally agree, paying attention is a lot of it. Discovering where your food comes from makes it into an experience, rather than a bodily function.

Meagan said...

Yes - our food system IS broken :D