The cult of local: a cult of one
Hi. My name is Jim, and I’m a locavore.
Last week, we had dinner at my Mom’s house. She made asparagus.
Last night, we had dinner at my in-laws. They made a salad. With lettuce.
A decade ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about either of those meals. Both were good, but not great. This month, they both seemed wrong. Because neither asparagus, nor lettuce, is in season right now where we live.
Today, a friend sent me a link to this article, about the challenge of eating locally. Not to spoil it for you, but the author concludes that eating well locally is becoming more difficult because consumers are demanding cheap food, and industrial food is cheaper food, a theory that used to resonate with me. (After 5 years of operating an artisan food business, I now think most consumers are just stupid – at least a little – when it comes to food, which is not exactly at odds with the article, just a little more cynical. We agree that whatever the root cause is precisely, stupidity or cheapness or both, that our shitty industrial food supply our own Goddamned fault).
I was also inspired by an opinion piece in Lucky Peach on what constitutes “authentic” food.
This series of events caused me to think a little harder about WHY I eat the way I eat.
So first, how do I eat? Well, I haven’t purchased fresh food at a traditional store (e.g., a grocery store) in many years. Whole Foods gives me the heebie jeebies. Trader Joes is an utter fucking mystery to me, with their shitty, over-packaged, over-processed food they try to pass off as “gourmet”. When it comes to meat, I’ve started buying whole animals from farmers who will allow me to dispatch them myself, because even farmers’ market meats come without offal, and the mediocrity of the butchering makes me insane. Our vegetables come from purchase or barter at farmers’ markets and CSAs where we sell our coffee. I obtain raw milk whenever I can, conveniently, and when I can’t, I don’t drink milk. It’s safe to say that I should be a poster boy for the local food movement, and on some days, I am.
Usually, when I encounter a locavore, it’s a person who has a cause, a mission, to convert others to their way of thinking. “Don’t you get it, man? Industrial food is ruining everything!” is the usual refrain. I suppose that, in the beginning, I bought into that, to some extent (and I still believe it’s true). But as I come to accept, and even embrace my particular style of obtaining and eating food, I realize that “the Cause” is not what motivates me.
Selfishness motivates me. There, I’ve said it.
I eat the way I eat because it’s in my own self-interest. I really do believe it’s better for the planet, it’s better for small farms, and it’s better for communities. But at the end of the day, it’s better for my family, and for me. That’s why I do it. I feel better (physically), and it’s less expensive (really, it is). But perhaps most importantly, it tastes better. People like to eat things that taste good, and locally produced fresh food almost always tastes better than industrial alternatives transported from far away.
Why do I promote local eating? Because in order to serve me, producers need some critical mass of customers. So it’s in my best interest to be sure they have them.
Does this make me a bad person? Maybe, in some circles. But I’m guessing that if the cause-oriented locavores abandoned their missionary work for the sake of missionary work, and acknowledged their self-interest, the Cause would advance more rapidly, too. Because all of those esoteric arguments about local economies, healthier planets, etc, etc , while likely true, are not as effective as SHOWING somebody that by eating locally, they will feel better, have more money, and oh by the way, enjoy the taste of their food more.