01 December 2007


The holiday season is, whether we like it or not, concerned with food. Food is present at most festive events, publicized in every other advertisement and specialized to fit the holiday mood. Each culture has its own way of interpreting food into their holiday traditions.

Though food by itself is not enough in the context of the clichéd holiday cheer. Is it the crumb of a particularly delicate holiday cookie that imparts the unmistakable glow surrounding the moment of pleasure? Or is it the atmosphere in which it was enjoyed that we glean our sensory memories from? No matter what holiday or celebration one takes part in, there is a community gathering involved. Whether lively conversation rings through the hall or calm reflection hangs in the air, the images have at their origin something decidedly universal: family, unity, kinship.

There is a point to this statement that has to do with something not confined to the approaching winter months. It also has to do with food and sharing, with finding common ground and fostering dialogue. At its most elemental, it is concerned with communication. I am referring to the modern dilemma of where our food comes from and where our food should come from: where ones ‘good life’ may end another’s only way of life. I feel it is necessary to point out this difficulty given my previous discussion of local farms in the United States. Has the ‘localvore’ been pitted against the global marketplace do-gooder? With ethics and politics now extended into the realm of cuisine, sitting down to a meal can become a statement in and of itself. So, how would one define a ‘good meal?’

I previously wrote about one model of a ‘good life.’ In visiting Sea Breeze Farm, I was lucky enough to not only sample a product made in close proximity to where I live, but to experience the land and the process itself that go into making it. This (paradoxically luxurious) ability to eat locally has turned into a movement. In fact, the act has become such a desire in the United States that the New Oxford American Dictionary chose the word “locavore” as their 2007 word of the year. The Oxford University Press Blog explains: “The ‘locavore’ movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locavores also shun supermarket offerings as an environmentally friendly measure, since shipping food over long distances often requires more fuel for transportation.” The blog names the creators of the movement, four women from San Francisco, who “proposed that local residents should try to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius.” This, of course, means forgetting about cravings that call for out-of-season fare. Eating locally also means eating with the seasons.

Though, there is another side to this admired way-of-eating. Choosing to support local farmers means choosing not to support farmers in underdeveloped countries such as Africa. William G. Moseley, an associate professor of geology at a college in Minnesota, recently wrote an article discussing the consequences of the ‘locavore’ movement on farmers in these countries dependent on the agricultural export business. He explains that most farms in Africa use organic methods to grow “local food stuffs” sold in the United States, even though this fact isn’t employed as a promotional device. He proposes that the global marketplace itself is in need of alteration, mentioning African control of “nascent industries” and World Trade Organization “set and enforced rules about basic working conditions and environmental standards” as alternatives to agricultural export.

Here is where the real communication is called for. Here is where, perhaps through the optic of the current holiday season, the common grounds for discussion must be found. One of the most pressing issues of today’s world (and indeed, it has always been a pressing issue) is how to best relate to the other, and in doing so begin to bring about the social change that is needed in the fight against such things as poverty. Food and the environment are intrinsically linked. We are beginning to realize that the environment and how we eat is more connected to those abroad, globally, in third world countries and struggling farmers than first meets the eye. More generally, the environment will and does affect us all – one of the few truly universal problems for which the outcome is the same for all of us. No one has more control over what the weather will do than the other, no matter what level of ‘world’ they live in.

Below are links to the article by Moseley and the blog of Oxford University Press.

"Change Global Marketplace Rules"

Word of the Year

I have also provided a link for the locavore movement’s website. A simple google search will yield various local chapters, though they do not yet exist in every state. Also, Oxfam America, a non-governmental organization fighting poverty and injustice, is about to release their climate change campaign and has information regarding poverty and the environment.

Oxfam America
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