Becoming a locavore, a domevore (eating domestically – y’all already know what a locavore is), is becoming more and more important as each day passes.
Melamine contaminated feed, E. coli contaminations, salmonella outbreaks, adulterated foods, prion diseases, growth hormones – these are just some of the horrors we face at the supermarket. No matter how responsible the stores try to be, these things creep through. Most originate in factories where foods from many venues are mixed together and a small contamination becomes a huge one. Even the best food factories are plagued with bacterial infestations. No matter how clean and sterile they get the mass equipment, it only takes one small batch of contaminated food to damage the rest.
And we aren't even talking about the GMO foods that are (in my opinion) responsible for the increase in food allergies.
So much food gets wasted when it has to be transported to the mass-production food factories – from spoilage during transportation to resistant E. coli contamination. Let just a minute amount of food be caught in an inaccessible gear or in a rivet or tight corner, and it can provide contamination for months. 76 million Americans get sick from bad food each year no matter how responsibly they try to eat. There are 5,000 deaths a year from eating contaminated foods.
It is a massive problem, as massive as the number of people who are born and hungry and need to eat practically every day.
The earth is fertile enough to feed all the people currently living on it, and fertile enough to feed twice this number. The way we manage it is bad, though – from wasting good croplands for sprawling homes by implementing strict lawn laws, to wasting the food itself: contaminating food, picking food before it’s ripe to transport it thousands of miles away to big processing plants, making food expensive.
We’ve become acclimated to getting fresh tomatoes in January and strawberries in December, to having exotic fruits like bananas, papayas, and avocados available every day. We expect to see fresh asparagus in the produce section year round, along with lettuce, radishes, celery, and fresh herbs.
There are ways to change this destructive food pattern. They aren’t expensive or time-consuming and practically everyone who wants to can participate to their benefit. We don’t even have to give up our coffee and tea and fresh year round tomatoes to do this.
It will mean changing our shopping habits and our perception of what constitutes food. It will mean re-thinking what convenience foods are. It will mean enjoying a more flavorful and healthy diet. It will mean big food manufacturers must adapt or go out of business.
How will we have our food and eat it too?
We become locavores and domevores – the bulk of our food will be local or domestic, bought from CSAs or farmer’s markets or local buying co-ops. When we buy imported foods and spices, they will come to us through Fair Trade arrangements that improve lives across the globe and through strict regulations regarding contaminations to nourish us at home. Our kitchens will be filled with foods that nourish us and that we love to eat.
CSAs are growing up and becoming more versatile for the consumer. They offer the traditional share, whereby the customer pays an annual sum to support the farmer, collects a basket of the harvest each week during the growing season and spends a couple of hours a week working at the farm year round (not all CSAs require working at the farm but it does lower the cost of the food and increases your knowledge about it). CSAs now offer the basket share alone with no farm work expected, and they offer farm debit cards, where the customer loads a card with a pre-set amount, then shops at a farmer’s market-type set up to pick and choose the produce they want until they spend their debit card out – as opposed to taking the potluck of the share baskets. These CSAs are also beginning to offer preserved harvests – canned and frozen goods, grains (whole and ground), and even meat from free-range, organically fed animals and eggs from free-range chickens, ducks, and geese.
Local buying co-ops offer locally grown produce and meats, and products made by local people from local materials. You can place an order online once a month, select your pick up location, and pick it up at a convenient location a week later – already bagged. If you pay for it via PayPal (and many are set up for this), then all you have to do is dash in and pick up your order once a week or once a month – and pick-up sites are often conveniently located.
Farmer’s markets have changed, too. Many large companies are now setting up an area for a farmer’s market inside their office complexes so their employees need only go to the lobby to shop on their lunch hour. Some farmer’s markets are now setting up in central downtown locations one day a week so downtown employees can take advantage of shopping there on their lunch hour. They are still open in their traditional locations on weekends. This gives many people the ability to shop locally and conveniently.
Even grocery stores are beginning to see the advantage of buying locally grown produce, either organic or conventionally grown. Shoppers are asking for better quality food at lower prices, and food grown in China, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, or Brazil travels a long, expensive way with the quality of the food deteriorating all along the route. Contamination is always a concern – the longer the food travels, the more opportunities there are for spoilage and contamination. With the price of gasoline rising so rapidly, the less distance the food travels, the less expensive it is – and the fresher it is. A lot of food is cheaper on the coasts than in landlocked states because sea transport is cheaper than trucking.
Food that is grown, harvested, and transported less than 100 miles is fresher, tastier, and less likely to be cross-contaminated with other foods. Food that is canned or frozen or butchered in smaller facilities also enjoy a lower cross-contamination rate. And nothing beats the freshness of walking out to your own garden and eating what you pick fresh that day.
Not everyone has a green thumb when it comes to growing food, which is why we have the alternatives of CSAs, farmer’s markets, and even the local and organic options of some grocery stores.
We also have the option of supporting neighbors who do have green thumbs. We can petition our city governments to ease the regulations and laws which restrict and, in some cases, prevent urban food gardens from flourishing. We can organize community gardens in our neighborhoods and share in the harvest. Cities can set aside public lands for food production, allotting each household a plot. This is a successful program in some European countries (I’m most familiar with the German program).
Schools can use part of their grounds as school gardens the students help maintain – and they can eat their harvest in the cafeteria – from public grade schools to universities and vo-techs. If we all get in the habit of growing and harvesting our food locally – at school, at work, in the dorms, at home – then we will have better food, healthier bodies, and brighter minds.
Businesses can encourage hydroponic food gardening indoors and landscape with edibles which their employees can harvest and/or enjoy in the company cafeteria. We should insist that a large portion of public landscaping be devoted to edible landscaping. Rooftop gardens should become the norm in cities – from edible gardens on the tops of office buildings to high rise apartment complexes and hotels. Cities have favorable microclimates that can result in longer growing seasons. The south sides of buildings protect from cold north winds, overhangs shelter tender plants from hail and heavy rains, and in the south, from the hottest summer sun. At the same time, the heat stored in the buildings allows earlier planting in spring and later harvests in fall. The companies that care for the tropical plants in the indoor atriums, lobbies, and office buildings can just as easily care for vegetable gardens and dwarf fruit trees. The natural lighting that is good for plants is good for people, reducing SAD and increasing health and productivity – a bonus for everyone.
Apartment complexes might consider encouraging their tenants to make use of the grounds with edible gardens and to plant fruit and nut trees instead of merely ornamental trees.
It will take a new look at how we live. It will alter some of the fundamentals of our lives, and yet, we’ll still have plenty of time to watch movies, play games, cruise the internet, visit with friends, and do the work that moves the money around and lubricates our society. Cities can be lush with locally grown food. No one will ever have to go hungry if there’s food for the plucking practically everywhere.
Agriculture can move from the countryside to the city with high rise hydroponic farms that use solar energy and city greywater to grow the extra food the city needs. We could still enjoy tomatoes in February and asparagus in September and strawberries in December – but they’d be locally grown tucked around our cities and in the farm towers.
I’ve seen plans for these farm towers and they look very good from an ecological point of view and from a sustainability point of view. These towers could have floors with tanks for growing fish, and chickens could run free on other floors. There could even be beehives in the towers to help naturally fertilize the plants and to produce honey and beeswax and more. Exotic foods can be grown in climate controlled environments augmented by natural sunlight and soil so we needn’t depend on vast supply lines to bring them to us – we could probably walk to the nearest farm tower and buy them right there in the tower’s farmer’s market, where it need travel no more than 30 stories to get there. It would take 150 such towers, 30 stories tall, to feed all the inhabitants of New York City if we depended upon the towers alone. With widespread urban gardening – rooftops, atriums, lobbies, courtyards, school grounds, balconies, curbsides and medians, abandoned lots, and allotted garden plots as a moat around the cities – that could be reduced to less than 100 such towers.
By 2030, some people predict 87% of North Americans will live in cities, making it imperative that we also grow food in the cities. The 13% of Americans living in the countryside and wilderness areas won’t be enough to feed to safely feed the 87% living and working in cities. We need to start planning now how we will eat in 20 years. Monsanto’s answer of patented genes and terminator technology limiting people’s access to food is not the way we need to go, not if we want to eat in 30 or 40 years. We need more food diversity and open farming, not the restrictive farming practices advocated by such companies as Monsanto.
With urban gardens common and accessible to people, I can see a wide variety of new jobs directly relating to these urban farms. There will be companies that contract to care for interior gardens in the office lobbies and atriums – and who will harvest the food and set it up for sale in tiny farmer’s markets? There will be businesses devoted to trading foods between the buildings, and we’d need ricksha or bicycle wagon couriers to run the food around. There’ll be more street food vendors around cooking ad selling the city harvests. There will be businesses specializing in urban composting and greywater recovery. We’ll develop neighborhood specialties in restaurants. I’m sure the bland burger box restaurants will still exist, but when people talk about the great inside-out cabbage rolls they got at the little diner on the corner of Alpha Lane and First or the fantastic putanesca sauce on freshly made noodles being sold in the restaurant inside the bank building, only the timid will still eat at them.
Rather than plucking their own, a lot of people will still buy them, already bagged up and waiting for them, from street kiosks. It will be faster and fresher than traveling to a Big Box store and wandering down miles of aisles just to grab some apples and potatoes. For some people, convenience is worth the price they pay. They aren’t looking for value for their dollars so much as they’re using their dollars to buy value.
We’ll still import some foods – spices, coffee, tea, chocolate – because I just can’t see living without them. And I'm sure there are others who feel the same way.
If the population forecasters are right, we’ve got very little time left in which to accomplish this change in attitude – a generation or two whom we need to start raising to be locavores. Starting the gardens and getting the food growing won’t take near as long as acclimating the people to doing things this way. We have to start them young: in the home and neighborhood gardens, the schoolyard gardens, and the office gardens.