The Local Food Revolution

At the YES! office, we have lunch together almost every day. It’s not a requirement, but most of us find we enjoy our work day more when we gather to share a meal, exchange film picks, family challenges, stories from travels, and of course opinions on current events. Visitors often join us at the lunch table with updates on their work in Boston, New Delhi, or Prince William Sound.

Food connects. Over a meal, co-workers become friends, strangers become companions, intimacies are shared, we renew our spirits and our bodies at the same time. Young people are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol when they share regular meals with family. Food not only connects us with other people, it links us to traditions—our own and those of others we come to appreciate through the flavors and aromas of the cuisine they share.

Food also connects us to our environment. We benefit from the nutrients plants derive from sunlight, soil, air, and water.

But, until recently, our understanding of our connection to the environment was eroding. We absorb directly and indirectly the byproducts of the agro-industrial complex: pesticides, artificial hormones, bioengineered organisms, antibiotics, and the preservatives used to maintain the appearance and texture (if not the flavor and nutrition) of food during long periods in storage and transport. Our ad-stimulated diets now include fat and sugar overloads that are creating epidemic levels of obesity and chronic illness.

Our food habits poison not only our bodies but also our rivers, soils, forests, and climate. By raising animals in overcrowded feedlots far from fields, we transform manure from a valuable fertilizer into a pollutant. Nutrient-rich runoff is killing our rivers and creating a large “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. The demand for cheap meat spurs the clearing of rainforests for cattle. Meat production accounts for a whopping 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. When managed organically—in a way that restores our connection to the land—farming can instead store carbon in healthy soil and help solve our climate challenge.

The same system that fosters obesity among some is contributing to hunger for others. Local farms producing for local consumption are displaced when trade policies and subsidies favor exports. Foreign aid too often involves the dumping of subsidized foods on unwary countries, driving down prices and undermining local farming, thus further severing the connection of people to the land and to sustainable livelihoods.

But change is coming to food. As the global economy unravels, and as the implications of peak oil and climate change sink in, interest in alternatives to the current food system is growing. People are reconnecting with the land and with community, and rediscovering diverse, local, and organic practices. All over the world, people are standing up to the agro-industrial complex and calling for “food sovereignty”—the right to nourish and strengthen their families and communities, sustain their culture, build health, and protect biodiversity.

A new generation of farmers is going local, opening farmers markets and bringing fresh foods to urban “food deserts.” Schools are growing their own fruits and vegetables. Cities and towns are adopting food-friendly policies. Farmers and ranchers are turning to land management practices that protect and restore ecosystems.

Food is an area of life where we can each live the revolution now. No need to wait. Grow your own, and share the abundance with your neighbors.

Sarah van Gelder wrote this article as part of Food for Everyone, the Spring 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is the Executive Editor of YES! Magazine. Photo of Sarah van Gelder
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