Being in the big city has its benefits. For one, you get a much more accurate feel for the zeitgeist than you do in places like, say, Boulder. There seems to be a collective disdain for stagnation in NYC, a sort of mass attention deficit issue, and when things change (which is constantly) you see the markers of that shift show up on billboards, buses, film crews, people’s bodies in the form of clothes and tattoos, hear it blaring out of headphones on the subway, smell it wafting from the carts of street vendors, and taste it at the constant barage of trendy new restaurants and, now, the farmer’s market. Which has exploded so much in this town that at eight am, the main farmers’ market on Union Square is so crowded that attempting to push a stroller through the masses feels like an act of child abuse.
Living in Boulder, which has been saturated with health-culture for decades, I’m a little bit embarrassed to say that I wasn’t aware of how much other places around the country were exploding with consciousness around issues of healthy, sustainable eating and the politics of food transport. Three years ago, going the the Union Square Greenmarket was not an experience akin to taking a stroll through Times Square.
I couldn’t be more thrilled. Not only is eating local food a good starting point for collectively becoming less dependent on fossil fuel, but it creates healthy bodies. And healthy bodies are much more capable of creating positive change in this world than tired, weak, disease-ridden ones. Eating local foods means than you are inevitably eating more seasonally harmonious fare than you would be if you got all your food from Whole Foods. And being in harmony with the seasons has everything to do with healthy digestion and a strong immune system. You know how there’s not very much produce at the farmer’s market during the cold winter months (provided your market stays open throughout winter)? Well, that’s actually a hint that we should be eating less-no fresh produce! Eating sugar and potassium-rich fruits and veggies in the winter weakens the digestive tract, stops the body’s production of vitamin D, and greatly decreases our calcium absorption. Not to mention it makes us cold! So, feast on the plenty of summer while you can!
But let me tell you what has me concerned about this “locavore” trend: actually, it’s the trend part of the equation. This was brought to my attention recently when, in conversation, someone told me that eating Organic was “so out,” had been replaced with Local. “People are tired of organic,” I was told, “it’s been on people’s tongues for so long that now we don’t care about it. We’ve moved on to something else.” I was confused. Why can’t we have both? Trendy or not, I still don’t want pesticides in my food. And the fact that it was locally grown doesn’t cancel out all those harmful chemicals.
The task at hand is not one of building trends around the healthy, sustainable options and poo-pooing big agribusiness and farm policy. Because really, trends come and go. It is their nature. In the late sixties we had hippies and some of them actually thought for themselves and decided that all was not well with the world, but many—the majority, I suspect—were in it for the acid and the clothes and were simply riding the spirit of that time. You can tell because the change in this country instituted by the sixties and seventies is largely cosmetic. Aesthetic. Not completely, but largely.
The task at hand has to do with educating our kids to think for themselves. In a case of extreme capitalism, such as we have, it is crucial that we follow our hearts and then vote with our forks and our dollars from that place of knowing what is right for us. Not because someone else, a trend or an advertising firm, says its so. If we don’t exercise the independent-thinking muscle, even the good things—local, organic, fair trade, sustainable, etc.—will be corrupted and taken advantage of.
And, by the way, I have to chuckle at the term “locavore;” another sign of the trend-factor here. Eating locally is not like being a vegetarian: it’s a social responsibility and something we all must work towards. I don’t mean this in a preachy way, I just mean that if we are to continue living on this planet—if we are to be graced with this miraculous possibility—we must do certain things and eating locally is one of them.
That said, eating locally has it’s challenges. I have to admit I am spoiled from supermarket shopping and need a guide to tell me when certain things are in season. Did you know that apricots grow in the early summer? Bon appetit!