In the last few years there has been a shift in the food movement from organic to local as a “the answer” for what ails our unsustainable food system. The “buy local” movement seemed like a good one to get behind, yet it always sort of made me uncomfortable. On the one hand I enjoy buying coffee from the guys who own the shop two streets away from my house. I’m happy to support their endeavor (although if they actually had the coffee in stock a little more frequently I would feel even better about patronizing them), I like seeing the crazy primitive set up they have for roasting-a cast iron capsule from 1906 with half of a huge barrel in front of it. There are days when I run in for an afternoon latte and the Roaster is standing three feet behind the espresso machine shoveling steaming beans into the air, staring intently at them as they fall back into the barrel in front of the breeze of a cheap box fan. I wish I knew what he was looking for-what made them “done”. I like that the huge burlap bags that the green beans come in are labeled organic and fair trade. I like that keeping my money in their business helps them stay in the neighborhood and creates a bit of healthy competition so Wegmans is not our only option when it comes to buying decent coffee.
So what is the problem with “buy local”? The zealotry of the movement, those who try to source everything they consume from some arbitrary line in the sand-the 20 mile meal, or 50 mile meal, or 100 mile meal. Keeping every dollar that local-saying goodbye to coffee even if it is roasted 2 blocks away because it sure as hell wasn’t grown anywhere near central New York makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Because what about the people that grow the beans organically and ethically in Costa Rica for example? Should we not support them because they aren’t our neighbors? There seems to be a fine line between fervent localism and isolationism. Or xenophobia.
Ok, supporting people all over the world matters. But is that the answer? What about food miles? How many calories of energy in terms of fossil fuels are expended for every calorie produced meant for human consumption? Isn’t there a compelling case for buying local in those terms? Of course. And that is the point. It is an incredibly complex issue that really can’t be simplified with a single catch phrase and mission. Or fixed by devout dogma focused on one issue.
And that is what I learned in school this semester-there are no simple answers, just more questions. But I think that is the ultimate point of nearly every class in an undergraduate setting. In grad school you start looking at complex answers and as you pursue a doctorate you start to try to create solutions.
Sorry, sorry I know this isn’t my usual Mommy blogger/anxiety blogger/diarrhea blogger fare. It’s been on my mind since my class wrapped up this week. And then yesterday we went to an awesome Craft Fair. We got several Christmas presents from local artists. Afterwards we drove to a Candy Shop down the street. It is fourth generation owned and operated, which is pretty cool. But the candy itself is delicious and that is what really matters. We were unable to muster much restraint when it came to picking out treats. I’m enjoying a potato chip enrobed in peanut butter and chocolate right now. Yesterday was our friend’s birthday and she and I headed to a local spa in the late afternoon to get massages. It was a local day all around. And while buying local isn’t my passion, while it isn’t going to solve every issue surrounding food and economic justice it felt damn good. As a bonus it made me feel excited about the holidays for the first time this season. Or that might just be the after effects of the massage talking…