Wednesday, June 06, 2007

On the Road to the Farmers’ Market

You are what you eat. What are you then when what you eat is industrial-produced food?

I read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation a couple of years ago and boy-oh-boy did it ever change the way I think about what I eat. Where does it come from? Who farms it? Is the farm environmentally sustainable? Is it ethical to eat meat when I don’t know where it comes from, the quality of life the animal led or what it dined on?

You Get What You Pay For
According to Michael Pollan in his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Americans (and Canadians) tend to approach food like any other commodity, putting cost before quality. Sure we scan the produce to ensure that the apples and bananas are bruise-free, but what we don’t see won’t hurt us, right? Best not to think about the pesticides used, the nutrients lost and the taste compromised. Why think about the soil erosion as a result of monoculture farming or air and water pollution from excessive animal waste? And I know we definitely don’t want to know about the practice of cutting off pigs’ tails and chickens’ beaks to manage these creatures in tight confinement or the painful side-effects cattle suffer when eating corn. Let’s not even think about how industry slaughters the animals.

Sure we would love to support more sustainable and humane practices when it comes to our food, but it’s too costly. Yes? Michael Pollan questions this. He writes:

“Americans today spend less on food, as a percentage of disposable income, than any other industrialized nation, and probably less than any people in the history of the world. This suggests that there are many of us who could afford to spend more on food if we chose to. After all, it isn’t only the elite who in recent years have found an extra fifty or one hundred dollars each month to spend on cell phones….So is the unwillingness to pay more for food really a matter of affordability or priority?”

Isn’t it time we put quality before price when it comes to our food? And when I say quality, I am referring to what’s good for the body, as well as community and ecology. Keep in mind that fruits and vegetables start losing nutrients as soon as they are picked. Imagine the nutrients lost when your food is trucked from all corners of the planet to reach your plate. Imagine the greenhouse gases used as a result (the other day my neighbourhood Sobeys was selling asparagus from Peru – when it’s in season here in Ontario).

Here’s another thought – industrial-raised and processed cattle (which are corn-fed, something their systems have great difficulty accepting, hence the antibiotics), produce meat that is higher in saturated fat and lower in omega 3 than their grass-fed counterparts.

Quality Food
Studies show that food from local sustainable farms, which are mini eco-systems, allowing nature to play off itself, are more nutritious than food from industry. I would imagine that taking more time out to invest in your food, understanding where it comes from and enjoying the process of preparation, does much in the way of reducing overall stress. Supporting local farms that are committed to sustainable practices can only do wonders to your local economy and ecology. And that’s good for your overall health too, and that of your children.

In protest to a McDonalds rearing its ugly head in Rome in the 1980s, a group of Italians began the Slow Food Movement. I encourage all of us to become part of this important cause. Don’t have the time? There’s always time. It’s just a matter of priority.

A good place to start is meeting the farmer that grows and raises your food. How can any self-respecting urbanite do that?

Why, the Farmers’ Market!...Where the farmers and their food come to you.
Farmers’ markets are growing in popularity. I have recently started to visit the market at a nearby park every Saturday morning. I get to chat with the farmers and buy very tasty food. Be careful that the person you are buying from is not some shyster who bought from a farmer and is reselling at a higher price as reported recently in the Toronto Star.

For a Farmers’ Market near you:

Farmers’ Markets in Canada

Farmers’ Markets in the USA

Farmers’ Markets in the UK

Farmers’ Market in Mexico City

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BBC – The Greenroom

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