Sunday, April 22, 2007

2,500 Miles Worth of Diesel Fuel, Fair Trade, Wal-Mart, and How to Act at the Market

I recently read a very interesting article, Local is the New Organic, by Brita Belli. There are some very interesting points brought up, many of them I’ve considered in the past, some are relatively new ideas, and some are hopelessly romantic. In the end though, I’m only 3 weeks away from going to my first farmers market of the year.

In her article Belli claims that a parcel of food is likely to travel up to 2,500 miles before it is sold. Not only does this put an unnecessary pressure on the environment in the wake of refrigerated diesel trucks rolling rampant on our highways, but you have to consider the price the farmer is paid if his product is bought at as low a price as possible to enable this great expenditure of transportation cost, all to meet the same price point of a local product with low travel expenses. How is it possible that a Fiji Apple from New Zealand costs the same as a Cortland Apple from Ashtabula, Ohio. What is the benefit of importing apples, or any specific fruit or vegetable when it can be produced, processed, and sold locally. Living in Ohio, we can’t sustain a long growing season, but I don’t understand why in September I can go to the grocery store and purchase tomatoes from Florida. Why are they even available, and how is it that they are cheaper than what I pay when I’m putting cash money in the hands of the people who actually grow them. When I bought my last pound of ‘fair trade’ coffee beans I thought this exact situation is what that organization was lobbying against.

"That organic label told consumers their food was safer, fresher and more likely to have come from a small, reliable farm than a mega-farm-factory. Then, last year, Wal-Mart started selling organic products. Suddenly, organic didn’t seem so special" This is the opening statement of Belli in her article, and I think it is a short and concise summery of this dismal situation. Basically factory farming and corporate giants are able to manipulate the government and it’s regulations in a way that makes the priority of wholesome individuals null and void. I think I’m at liberty to say that when Chez Panise opened, their definition of ‘organic’ is far from what we understand it as today. In the same way the word, "local" will be twisted and jaded in the future. In the food industry words like, ‘fresh’, ‘frozen’, ‘wild’, and ‘pre-washed’ all have different meanings than they do to the regular public. It’s only a matter of time before Wal-Mart offers local produce, produced where, who knows. The only hope is that they keep it separated into their stores and don’t pull their semi-truck up at my local farmers market.

"The story of your food" should be the title of a pamphlet that is handed out at every suburban farmers market nation wide. Unlike the grocery store where most fruit and vegetables are washed, waxed, and sealed in packaging, the farmers market presents some real life dangers that mass producers have overcome.

First, fruit and vegetables grow in dirt. Dirt is dirty. Wild animals, birds, and bugs all defecate in the dirt where fruits and vegetables are grown. So wash your fruit and vegetables.

Second, be polite to the farmers, and the people helping them at the farmers market. So many times I’ve been bullied or interrupted by some old lady who wants to spend 15 cents on half a bunch of parsley, or a loud mouth tempting the farmer with a, "it better be the best corn I’ve ever had" kind of irrational rant. Why can’t people just act civil, save the yelling and the pushing for Wal-Mart, November 16th.

Third, and most challenging, know your produce. While it is fun to interact with the farmers, and other market goers, know some background. Know what is in season, that is how you know what is best to buy, it should be obvious once your there. Know which farmer specializes in what. Don’t buy garlic from the corn/apple farmer, buy it from the garlic farmer, he is there, just look around. Keep and eye out for your special situation. Basically if you have an allergy, or new born babies, you should be careful at the market. Know what you need to know about your situation with regards to fresh produce. For instance there are some beans that are toxic to young children when eaten raw, this is the customers responsibility to know. Unless each and every market going customer enriches their lives with these guidlines, sooner or later; Good-by farmers, good-by farmers market, good-by ability to make educated choices about the food we eat and where is comes from.

1 comment:

mrpink said...

great piece!