Photo by Steve Hopson.
To understand the concept behind America’s latest trend towards eating local, it might be best considered from the standpoint of a banana. A staple in the diet of many people in this country, the banana actually originates in Southeast Asia. Thus, unlike its steady counterparts in the fruit bowl, you won’t find banana trees in your backyard ready and willing to be picked. In many ways, the banana is exotic – a traveler from foreign lands, if you will – trekking great distances with much labor and exertion to make it’s way into your smoothie, cereal bowl, or peanut butter sandwich.
At least that’s the way Jessica Prentice sees it. Prentice, a long-time advocate and sponsor of the local foods movement, hosts a Web site dedicated to “Locavores,” produces and markets the original “Local Food Wheel,” and runs her own prepared foods enterprise centered around serving customers all the benefits of eating in season. She believes there is a lack of consciousness to eating, and that an awareness of the origins behind our dinner plates could have significant global impact if embraced by the general population.
“It’s an idea so fundamental even my 3-year-old can see it,” explains Prentice, recalling a recent conversation she had with her son at the grocery store. “Bananas grow far away where the sun shines. You put them on a truck then on a plane, and eventually they make it into the store… There’s a specialness to the journey. It’s like a friend visiting from Italy… Imported foods are rare and shouldn’t be eaten as often.”
Okay, hold up – bananas, rare? From personal observation, they seem like the one fruit that’s always cheap and available at Trader Joe’s. Yet to simplify the context of foods in such a way defies all theories behind the localism movement. It’s not merely a question of whether they’re at the grocery store, but whether they should be there. Basically, the idea of localism is to eat foods that are in season and native to your region so as not to deplete the earth. This, as Prentice points out, comes easier for those in more temperate climates like the West, and while she fervently endorses the practice, even as a San Francisco resident she admits it’s a challenge.
“Not everything I eat is local, but most produce and meat I consume are, plus a good portion of grains, and almost all dairy,” she comments, also noting she opts to shop at farmer’s markets over Whole Foods, and resists eating out. Her favorite season living in the Bay is late summer, considered to be the harvest period, and primetime for soups, stews, beans, pork and sauerkraut. Comfort food at its finest and most indigenous.
The benefits to going local are not necessarily health-related, though likely there’s nutritional value to the experiment. Rather, it’s more about the potential ecological impact a wide-scale effort could have. Issues like pollution, global warming, and the cost of monoculture can all effectively be thwarted by paying more attention to our menus. As Prentice observes in her own life, consciousness of food has positively shifted her overall perspective on the world around her, shedding light on what dark forebodings await us in the future if we continue living unsustainable lifestyles. In fact, one of her family cars broke down this year, but she opted to invest in new bicycles instead of replacing it. For the activist, it’s a change of heart.
She adds, “Originally, it was more a spiritual commitment and less about carbon footprints, but now I’m much more focused on climate change…We have to realize the world is not here to provide for us.”