What Does It Mean To Eat Local?
Every year, technology makes our world more borderless, seamless and small. Cultures meld, cargo planes fly, cuisines are hybridized and tropical delicacies become staples in northern villages. But the convenience of January mangoes grown in Peru and massed-produced mochi shipped from Japan all come at a cost: our predilection for far-flung foodstuffs is one of the most wasteful parts of modern life, and, despite their charm, is largely detrimental to our health.
In response, recent years have seen the rapid growth of a movement that prizes the local provenance of food. Locavorism is the commitment to a diet composed as much as possible of foods from one’s own bioregion. To be a true locavore is to find a route to reconnect with the forests, fields, and waters that sustain us, and, in doing so, become a steward of our chosen swath of local landscape. No matter your wealth or your location, there are ways you can join the movement today.
Start a Garden!
Not too long ago, 80% of humans labored in food production. The global industrial and information revolutions have changed that in just two centuries: nowadays farming is a largely mechanized process that constitutes only ~2% of jobs in the United States. Yet the instincts and satisfaction of working with plants is still in our blood, and fulfills a spiritual yearning as well as the obvious dietary benefits of cultivating fresh, organic, vital food.
If you live on acreage where there is room for a garden, it is easy to get started: all that you’ll need are a few tools, some organic mulch or compost, a little wire fencing and a lot of sunlight. Add in the seeds or cuttings of your favorite vegetables, fruits and roots, and two weeks of labor can turn into years of satisfaction.
But for most city dwellers, the real benefit of growing food is found in the sun, the camaraderie, and the renaturing that a multiplying network of community gardens provide. In NYC, 596 Acres has helped to transform dozens of disused lots into thriving micro-farms. Usually, community gardens open registration for new stakeholders around early March, before commencing planting around the spring equinox. A quick search should reveal the one nearest to you, and from there you can either contact the manager digitally, or go see it for yourself. And if your neighborhood is bereft of the options… it might be time to ring up a few friends and start one — that’s how prosperity begins.
Fish Your Next Dish
For at least 40,000 years, humans have been fishers. Though industrial fishing methods have done major damage to fish stocks in oceans worldwide, and effluence has made much of the life surrounding urban or industrial centers unsafe to eat, travel 50 miles in the right direction from any given point and you are likely to find water that is both clean and rich in aquatic life.
Learning to fish is a great way to build friendships, practice patience, deepen understanding of natural cycles of life, death, and predation, and secure a non-industrial source of protein.
Hunting and Foraging
The most direct way to connect with your bioregional ecology is to venture out of the streets and the fields and into the wild, where there is a thriving, conservation-minded world of hunters, trappers and foragers who use their knowledge of the landscape to derive much of their diet. The act of hunting is primal, brutal, and not for everyone. But before you dismiss it as immoral, consider this: the animals that you hunt have always been subject to predation, and live lives infinitely more natural and right than the billions of animals raised for their meat on feedlots worldwide. Since the expansion of human habitation has come with the dramatic reduction in predator populations, animals like the white-tailed deer and common rabbit have multiplied in a way that is damaging ecologies worldwide. By playing the role of predator, not only is the hunter or trapper connecting with one of the essential human activities and adding a uniquely rich input to her diet: she is also doing a service to the wild landscapes of her region.
Foraging has become more popular as more people realize the nutritional and medical bounty hidden in the brush. Even in city parks, plants and mushrooms are growing that have major health benefits. Be cautious when foraging and do not consume anything you pick without first consulting with an expert. But if the will is there, a day poking around the right parts of the woods will yield you medicines, herbs, spices, and edibles that can be a great supplement to your diet.