Wednesday, September 2, 2009

reinvent your appetite: the relative value of local food

Last week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune contained a short article about the cost of eating as a locavore - "Making the local food movement accessible." Written by Hayley Tsukayama, a grad student, the piece describes how the author seeks to eat more local foods but also maintain a trim grocery budget. Here's an excerpt:

"I was so excited that I forgot a key fact: I'm a single, omnivorous graduate student who normally buys groceries at Wal-Mart. And while the local produce at most farmers' markets is the same price or cheaper than at supermarkets, the meat is far more expensive. I believe that good food is worth the higher prices, but after rent and student loans it's hard to finance a foodie habit."

I'll start by saying that I'm not a big fan of the word "foodie." In a creepy way, it reminds me of the Crucible-era word "goody." Besides, it's too cute, and helps stoke the fire that enjoying high quality food is somehow elitist. By our pitiful standards of nutrition, anyone living in rural France or Italy would be a foodie - "those people make their own pesto!" As an unhealthy society, we should shun these words in favor of "healthy," "high quality," or "whole" foods, prepared from scratch (either at home or at a restaurant). Perhaps the verb "to cook" could see a renaissance.

Enough semantics. What I find interesting about this article is the frequent supposition that "going local" is simply a matter of plugging local products into the American discount "menu" and Walmart "more for less" value equation. Quite literally, we're looking at apples and oranges; or rather, locally-grown Minnesota apples (eaten in season) and dry, industrial orange-like organisms.

Eating healthy, delicious, simple food is possible at any budget. Rural, agrarian communities around the globe have demonstrated this for hundreds of years. In my opinion, one of the biggest issues is that many Americans are reluctant to adopt a healthier, more sustainable diet because it requires eating different foods and much less of certain things, such as meat.

For example, Americans eat a lot of bacon and pork chops. When you make the decision to eat local, pasture-raised pigs that are humanely treated and minimally processed (with care), it will cost more than buying a frozen mass of industrial chops from a huge company. Get over it. What this means is that you may only be able to eat pork chops once a month rather than every Wednesday. The same is true for bacon. At $1.99/pound for industrial bacon, the average person could eat bacon every morning and not go broke. Spend more on some high quality bacon and eat just a few slices on the weekend with pancakes or dice and toss it with pasta. It is time for Americans to revere high quality meat as a precious, scarce delicacy.

The same is true for other parts of the American meal. Bulk, organic oatmeal is very affordable. So is polenta. Dried pasta and rice have kept people satisfied and proud of their food culture for centuries. Remember your grandma's beef stew recipe or your aunt's green curry recipe? Perhaps it is time to rediscover these simple foods as the basics, and combine them with small amounts of more costly ingredients, such as meat, cheese, butter, milk, and olive oil. Throw some seasonal vegetables in a salad or on the side and you will enjoy a trim grocery budget, better tasting meals, and a higher quality of life. I promise.

In the author's defense, the people she interviewed suggested some novel, paradigm-shifting habits, such as eating less meat, so the article does offer some thoughtful perspective from different people who do know something about this. It also generated a number of comments - take a look.

1 comment:

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