Sunday, December 20, 2009

Locavores

I guess you could call me a locavore...I do try to eat local foods seasonally, but I find that I am so often at odds with just about everyone else that defines themselves that way that  I avoid using that term to define myself.   I once sat next to someone I just met at Fridays@SELMA (where you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a self professed locavore) and confided that "it's not like I am a real locavore or anything".  This woman asked me why I thought that I wasn't - she had read my blog and certainly thought I fit the bill, but I was quick to set her straight.  This got me thinking about why when you put me in a group of locavores, one of these things is not like the others and I am certainly the thing that doesn't belong.  Here's why I don't fit in:
  • Cooking is a major hobby to me, and I understand most other people don't love it as much as I do.  Locavores don't get this.   It came to light for me a few years ago when I was taking some training for camping with the Girl Scouts, and I was matched up with another woman and we were handed a can of chicken broth, some frozen vegetables and a box of barley and were told to make soup for lunch out of it on a propane camp stove.   My partner confided to me that she had no idea how to cook, let alone fire up a propane camp stove, because her family eats carry out food exclusively.  Every day!  So I had to show her how we could put together something edible with the ingredients we were handed if we could get an onion, garlic and some spices from the camp box.   I was totally shocked that she had never seen barley before, or didn't know how to cut up an onion.   She just never learned how - her mom did all the cooking when she was a kid.   I really loved this story in the NYT Magazine by Michael Pollan that talks about the demise of cooking in our culture.  The average American spends 27 minutes on food preparation per day.   That's it!   Perhaps the best thing we can do to encourage eating locally is to help more folks learn how to cook.  
  • I hated Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.   Yep, it's true, I didn't like this book, and I adore ever word Barbara Kingsolver has ever written.   I think the book borders on whiny and is sanctimonious.  Of course, Barbara can do what she did in AVM - eat locally for a year.  She's a best selling author and is rich and doesn't have to go to a job every day.   If the only book you've ever written by Barbara Kingsolver is AVM, I encourage you to read another book she wrote that certainly inspired me to want to get back to nature - it's fiction, though, and it's called Prodigal Summer.   Sadly, I think AVM made Barbara Kingsolver far more famous than even being Oprah's book club selection for The Poisonwood Bible.   AVM isn't her best work...so if you read it and loved it, try Prodigal Summer and tell me what you think.
  • Locavore types are always fantasizing about starting some food related business without looking at the practicalities of things.  My mind is always drawn to that side of things - I can't help it, I am an engineer.   It's what I do for a living - try to figure out how things might not work out and address them.  To non engineer types, this makes me a real buzz wrecker!  I hope my locavore friends have forgiven me for these transgressions.  Here are some conversations I have recently ended prematurely by asking practical questions.   The "I'd love to raise fingerling potatoes to sell at the farmer's market " discussion was stopped in it's tracks by asking about whether the MSU Extension Agent thinks about the market for fingerling potatoes in our area.  The  "I want to quit my job and spend a year at the Culinary Institute of America and become a chef" discussion was ended with my simple inquiry "Have you ever worked in a restaurant before?"  Then,  I am still shamed about my behavior with the "It's my dream to own a fancy bakery in Ann Arbor" chat that was halted by my recitation of all the fancy bakeries that already exist in this town and pondering if another could possibly make a go of it.    Sorry folks!  If you really want to start a local food business, you need to think more about the business end and less about the food end. And I know that's not very fun.  And for God's sake, don't quit your day job.  Do it in addition to your day job.  When you own your own business, it's gonna be 24/7 job, so you might as well get used to working that second shift now.  Good jobs are hard to find in this state - love the one you're with!   And I don't want to see you in that homeless commune (see item below) in a few years.
  • My understanding of Michael Pollan's "eat less, spend more" philosophy is different than other locavores.  In his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto Michael Pollan reminds us that eating locally and seasonally really is an elitist discussion, but somehow, that thought is lost on many preaching the gospel of eating locally.   What he is saying is that those of us that can afford to eat locally should do it, but for many people, it's out of reach.   Why?  It costs more to eat locally, but for some reason, that point is often lost on the locavores.  Here's an example - if you are working 3 part time jobs and taking care of your grandbabies because their momma is on crack, and there are no grocery stores in your city and you have to buy your food at what we call a "party store" here in Michigan (liquor store),  your version of "local food" might be a frozen pizza and a bag of Doritos.    If you are mentally ill and living in the homeless commune near M-14 like the guy who I see every day begging for money on my way home from work at the Jackson Road exit, perhaps eating locally might not be your top priority.  From volunteering at Food Gatherers, I learned that one of the greatest things you can donate to a food drive is protein rich foods in pop top cans.   (think Campbells Chunky Soup or Dinty Moore Beef Stew).  The homeless don't often have can openers.  I honestly hadn't thought about that.  
So, I guess I'm a locavore, but I hope that my locavore friends will forgive me for being different.   I think together, we can do some great local food things. 

7 comments:

TeacherPatti said...

This is why we get along so well...I agree with most of what you said.

I hated AVM mainly b/c that broad is rich and doesn't have to go to work every day. Well shit, sign me up! I could get a ton of shit done if I didn't have to go to work (okay yeah fine I don't go to work in the summer but I have to catch up on the stuff that doesn't get done when I *do* have to go to work)

Next, I fear too many rich housewives entering the locavore movement. I was involved in the "feminist" movement until I realized that I am not really a feminist and that the movement is made up of rich housewives who don't have to work and thus have the time to whine about perceived injustices. I fear that women who spend their husband's money and then preach about being "local" will take over this nice little movement (if you can call it a movement)...but I guess at least they'll be cooking something. (Don't get me started on the broads who just use their husband's money to buy take out...really, don't)

You hit the inner city nail on the head, MK...perfect example and one that is repeated all over the city of Detroit. The rich housewives and other "upscale" folks just do not understand this, for the most part (you & I & our food friends are probably upper income but I think we get it or at least try to). Or if they do, they do what white people always do--try to solve things for the black folk. But their idea of solving is so far away from what the "black folk" need so as to be in a different universe. I would also like to add that some of the grandmas raising grandkids don't or can't drive (like the grandma of one of my kids who doesn't drive and is raising her 11 y/o crack baby totally blind cognitively questionable granddaughter...woman got other things to worry about other than whether or not her lettuce came from a farm that uses sustainable practices in its sustainably built hoop house).

SlowRunner said...

I loved Prodigal Summer and AVM. I get the point about the elitist tone of AVM... and Barbara Kingsolver could have included more references to the fact that her income allowed her to make local choices much more easily than the average consumer. That said, I enjoyed the year of the trials of eating locally and it struck a chord with me.

Wendy said...

I don't quite understand your beef with the locavores, even after reading your post. I consider myself a locavore, and while I did love AVM, I recognize that it was an experiment that most people won't be able to replicate. I do know how to cook (you can check out my blog at www.thelocalcook.com ), and I have no desire to start a food-related business. I do, however, try to buy locally grown produce and foodstuffs. I am acutely aware that not everyone has that choice, and it's unfortunate that there are people who have no access to fresh food or even more than one meal a day. I advocate for food justice issues, both internationally and within the U.S.

Perhaps my perspective is different because I don't know any rich housewives :-)

Mom said...

Just thought I'd chime in say thanks for the comments. I was thinking about taking this post down because I was afraid that people wouldn't understand. I do love the idea of more people eating locally and am very, very grateful that I can afford to do it. But I also realize that many people don't have the resources to do so, and it seems that by admonishing folks to spend more buy local just isn't going to do it for most people. They just don't have money to spend! What can we do to make local foods more accessible to all? I think first is a return to the kitchen is a start.

TeacherPatti said...

Wendy, I should add that I don't either--not personally. :) But that's what I grew up with and that's what I was around until I moved out to Ann Arbor. You will know them when you see them, esp at the Ann Arbor Art Fairs--fancy hairdo, Starbucks in one hand, cell phone attached to the ear, kid in fancy pants stroller (being ignored btw), huge ass ring on her finger, acting very entitled and nasty.

Anyway! It's the general attitude that I hate...I purposely make sure I really don't know anyone like that! Ugh! I hate entitlement!!!!

TeacherPatti said...

Before I forget, Wendy--love your blog :) Very cool!

Next, to answer MK's question...I don't think there is anything we can do re: getting affordable food to folks. We would need an entire societal shift. For starters, work hours would have to change to allow people more time to plan meals. For that to happen, we'd need a labor surplus so that people would feel comfortable taking time off from their jobs. (We would also need to stop the grandparents raising grandbabies thing but I don't dare give suggestions for that as any time I do, people misunderstand.)

Next, we would have to infuse cash to business or nonprofits to get local food into the inner cities. The reality though is that many businesses do not want to do business in the 'hood--and from one standpoint, I can understand why. My friend worked at a grocery store in Flint and they had a very high % of theft and had to have armed security guards to protect against gang warfare that cropped up from time to time. Why deal with that when you can open up in the suburbs?

People would also have to start rethinking how they spend their money and resources and--and here is where I get into trouble--stop breedin' if you can't feed 'em. If you are not married and have multiple children and a minimum wage job, please tell me how you can afford $3 eggs and $5 milk? The answer is that you can't. (Yes I know there are exceptions but I'm talking reality here). I teach in the inner city and see this pattern repeat, repeat, repeat.

I don't mean to sound pessimistic but there are no simple answers and unless society shifts big time and quickly, I don't see things getting better for our friends who can't afford what we can.

Joel said...

I'm so glad you wrote this. While it's easy to appreciate fresh, local food of known provenance, it's self-delusion to pretend that its constant consumption isn't a semi-luxury that's available to most of the people some of the time, and some of the people most of the time -- but definitely not to most of the people most of the time.