The Freedom to Eat Food: Going local in uncertain economic times

By Deborah Adams

When I decided to live the locavore diet for a month, it hardly seemed worth the bother. I have a garden, my chickens provide eggs, my pantry is stocked with beans, peas, potatoes, apples, peaches, and other goodies that I preserved last year. A plethora of small farms in my rural county would surely offer everything else I needed to see me through July.

A caffeine addict, I gradually weaned myself from coffee. I managed to convince a local farmer who raises dairy goats to sell me a half gallon of raw milk and we both gloated about our act of civil disobedience. A local herb grower wasn’t quite brave enough to tempt the Food and Drug Administration by selling me a tea blend (although it would be perfectly legal for her to sell me the individual herbs which I could then mix together for my morning cuppa), and one lone wheat farmer made it possible for me to have fresh bread.

All in all, it was not much of a challenge. I already knew I’d be eating a healthier diet, what with the refined white sugar gone from the menu. I knew that I’d be supporting small local farms, that I’d meet interesting people, and that I’d have to make up excuses for not joining friends at local restaurants because ‘I’m eating only locally grown food this month’ would require far too much explanation.

And there’s the problem, you see. When I did say that, the responses ran the gamut from ‘They have salad’ to ‘Well, the restaurant is right in the middle of town. That’s local.’ There is a vast disconnect between what we know of food and what we put into our bodies.

In certain circles, the phrase food security pops up all the time. There’s a widespread belief that people all over America are starving, that they don’t know where their next meal will come from. I suggest that most people don’t know where their meals come from; they don’t have a clear idea of where food originates or even what food truly is.

In small towns like the one where I live, every non-profit is greatly underfunded. I recently retired from one of them. In order to save money, we shared office space with other local programs including the food pantry. There are those who access the free food boxes once or twice in their lifetimes, when they’ve hit a rough patch financially. And there are others who make a regular stop to pick up the food box as often as the program’s guidelines allow.

Now these emergency food boxes contain a standard collection of items – canned meat and vegetables, rice, dried beans, instant oatmeal, that sort of thing. The canned and instant food works for most everyone, but an astoundingly large number of recipients are baffled by the dried beans; they don’t know how to cook them.

More often than you’d believe, the recipients of the emergency food box (who are there, remember, because they assert that they have nothing to eat) will go through the box and remove anything they don’t like. Others will request special items – peanut butter with the jelly already mixed in, for instance, because that’s easier to use than peanut butter from one jar and jelly from another.

One very nice lady collected her food box one day and returned the next day with pounds and pounds of apples for all of us. These were apples she didn’t want from a tree in her yard.

As most of our mothers said, if you’re hungry enough you’ll eat anything. That’s probably true, but you’ll eat it only if you recognize it as food.

Lest you think it’s only lower income families that have lost touch with basic self-reliance, I’ll tell you that mine is the only garden in my middle class neighborhood. I see the Schwann’s truck making regular deliveries to the mini-mansion next door, however.

This is the world in which we live. Two-thirds of adults and 15% of children are obese. Heart disease, diabetes, and a host of nutrition-related syndromes we’d never heard of 25 years ago are rampant. A recent study by McMaster University confirms that emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are related to eating habits.

Meanwhile small farms are disappearing as corporate farms gobble up land and resources; communities are disintegrating; across the board, we are losing our ability to provide for ourselves.

In a very short period of time, we have developed a form of learned helplessness that leaves us dependent upon handouts for our sustenance. Whether handed out at the local food bank or at the drive-through window, we have become Eloi to the Morlock food industry.

When we can’t feed ourselves, when we depend upon social services organizations to dole out a box of canned tuna and soggy pastry, when we don’t know how to cook beans, we cannot possibly enjoy food freedom. By extension, when we are dependent upon others for food, we are at the mercy of any individual or entity that provides it.

The easiest way to enslave a people is to have them voluntarily relinquish their ability to take care of themselves.  Food for thought…

Deborah Adams is a writer, recently retired from the field of social services, and a proponent of sustainable lifestyles. Her blog Notes From Dry Creek Farm (where the crazy chicken lady is single-handedly saving the planet) www.deborah-adams.com chronicles her adventures.

24 responses to “The Freedom to Eat Food: Going local in uncertain economic times

  1. Pingback: One of my little rants | Notes from Dry Creek Farm

  2. I loved this post! Good for you for trying to eat local and I know from experience how hard it can be to wean yourself off coffee.

    Is that a silkie chick pictured?

  3. Yes, that’s a splash silkie, about 3 hours old in the pic.

    Are you up for a month (or a week or a day) of local food only? Please let me know if you decide to give it a try.

  4. Your splash silkie is so cute! I just love how fluffy they are.

    I’m at the zero-day mark. However, I think this is mainly because – like you mentioned – I want to support local businesses.

    I’m lucky because most of places I eat do purchase organic and locally as much as possible, but I know that not nearly enough of what I’m eating is local.

    I haven’t had fast food in over three years, I’ve been a strict vegetarian for probably a year now and since we have a new Co-Op that just opened this month (I’m SO excited!!!) I think it might be time for the 30-day 100 mile challenge soon!

    I love when you mentioned that you were both gloating over your act of civil disobedience! I always feel the same whenever anyone asks if they can buy chicken eggs from me – HA!

    I always give them away for free, but still there is that little rush🙂

  5. Great post, Deb. Your discussion about the disconnect between where food comes from, what we will eat, and the knowledge we may or may not have to cook the food we get is truly scary. I have learned a lot from your month of Locavore behavior is very inspirational!

  6. Thank you both, and I’m glad you’re both considering a locavore experiment. As for those chicken eggs — yes! I tried selling them but was too (ahem) chicken, worried that the feds would come after me. Now I donate them to a local charity that gives them to people in exchange for donations.

  7. We’re able to buy chicken eggs from our local farmers–but they come with a disclaimer that it’s for private sale and that the eggs aren’t graded. I love my local grass-fed, free-range/cage-free chicken eggs. I also buy beef, produce, and cheese (as well as heirloom herb and vegetable plants) from my local farmer’s market.

    I feel like there is a real community at the market. It’s been a rough year for our farmers–crops were delayed because of the rain, and the high heat has affected other crops–but I plan my Saturdays around going to the market. I like buying from people and getting to know the people who are growing my food. Even when the market is closed in the winter, one of the farmer’s makes a weekly visit to fill email orders (mostly for meat and eggs)–how i enjoyed the early radishes and baby lettuces this Spring.

    One of the farmers cooks and sells breakfast items made from local products (eggs, milk, veggies–meat is from another farmer). Another makes wonderful canned goods from her home-grown and farmer’s market produce (love her pickles). This past week I was also able to get some peaches (yum!).

    Deb, I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts during your adventure. Thank you!

    I don’t buy everything local, but I try to buy as much as possible that way–our state has a program called “Kentucky Proud” which identifies KY-grown meat and produce at butcher shops and grocery stores. Perhaps there are other states with similar programs?

    • What a wonderful market you have, Valerie! I’m so glad you’re supporting the local farmers and so glad THEY are banding together to keep community alive!

  8. I have good cache of the staple items you designated, including home canned veggies and dehydrated fruit and beef. So far, my voice hasn’t gone soprano, maybe because I don’t drink (nor afford) factory milk. If we process and store our goods in our homes, will the food constables site us as selfish hoarders and attempt to jail us as evil ‘food misers’?
    awl

    • Albert, I have notes around here somewhere about just that — someone (I hesitate to name names without my notes at hand for reference) did, indeed, refer to it as ‘hoarding.’ For what it’s worth, I’d say that you are a responsible person, taking steps to remain independent and secure.

  9. Excellent work, Deb!

    A new cookbook you would appreciate: Watson, Wildly Affordable Organic, from Lifelong Books. Request a review copy?

    With love and admiration,
    Melody

    • You are surely psychic, Melody! I have that book right here, will be reviewing it later this week. It’s absolutely the best start for anyone interested in going organic but afraid it might be too costly.

  10. Great post! We too have gone pretty much totally local, as far as our food is concerned. You develop a much more intimate relationship with your food and the people who grow it, especially when you get to go to their farm and see how they do things. We have started our own backyard chicken flock and have a Nubian doeling that we will breed next year and begin milking (goat’s milk has greatly improved our allergy issues). We have had record heat this year, so the garden and rabbits haven’t done so well, but there’s always next year. I am looking forward to canning and grinding my own flour. Thanks again for the post!

    • Wow, J.K. You’re grinding your own wheat? That is a sure sign of devotion. Good for you! And I agree about the intimacy — food is so important, yet we give it so little attention. I hope you’ll be an inspiration to all your friends and neighbors.

      • I should clarify. I haven’t grown any wheat…yet. 🙂 I buy wheat berries from a local farmer. I am going to attempt it though.

  11. Deb – this is another great post. Thank you so much for highlighting these issues with your signature passion. I keep on reading …

  12. Thank you as a localvore life-stylist I could not agree with you more! Great article!

  13. Deb, can i re-post this on my blog? Feel free to say no if you’ve copyrighted it…

  14. People that care and are doing something. Great post, great comments.

    Ned

    • Thanks, Ned. I’m convinced that there are many individuals who are chipping away at the business-as-usual approach to food production. Slowly but surely, awareness will spread. There will be a food revolution. Eaters will rise up and demand the right to choose real food that is nutritious, tasty, affordable. It will happen.

  15. Excellent post Deb. I agree totally. The disconnect is huge and every day we let industry tell us what to eat, what is healthy and THEY are only concerned for their bottom line, not ours or our health.

  16. Pingback: The Freedom to Eat Food: Going local in uncertain economic times | Health Impact News

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