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Thinking Local

I know I tend to rant a lot about car use — but that’s only one, obvious, cause of climate change and peak oil. Others are not so obvious, but if you stop to think about them for a few minutes, they make good sense as well.

Something that’s been gaining popularity lately is the idea of eating local, which often overlaps with the idea of eating organic food. Globalization has created a world of crop specialization, both internationally and within countries. For example, Florida grows oranges; the Canadian prairies produce wheat and cattle; California grows strawberries. This makes sense, to a point — oranges don’t grow well in Canada for obvious reasons — but in many situations we ship our food ridiculously long distances for economic reasons, rather than practical ones. This is where we can make changes.

I read a sad article on the weekend about apple growers in Ontario being pushed out of business by imported fruit. When I was a kid, my family would always go on an apple picking trip in the fall. The farms were everywhere — all you needed to do was pull over at the side of any highway, pay a small fee, and then wander around and pick all the apples you wanted.

Nowadays, however, the bulk of the apples sold in Ontario grocery chain stores are imported from the US. Juices and drinks are made from apples grown in China. Meanwhile, Ontario farmers watch their apples rot on their trees, or plow their orchards under and sell the land for other more profitable uses.

This is a senseless practice in many ways. It is silly to ship heavy items thousands of miles when they can easily be grown locally, as it both wastes oil and destroys the atmosphere. And, more selfishly, I think few people would argue that an apple that has spent weeks in a cargo hold tastes better than an apple that was picked from a tree only the day before.

A fellow Toronto blogger is attempting an admirable feat: to go one full month while eating only locally grown food. Toronto is, surprisingly, a decent place for this. We are surrounded by some of the best farm land in Canada (though suburbia is fast paving it over) and there are a number of great farmer’s markets in the downtown core, along with many upscale organic specialty stores and chains catering to those who can really afford to eat well.

Finally, a fantastic article called No Bar Code provides great insight into a “beyond organic” farmer named Joel Salatin in the United States. He is almost militant in his support of organic, locally grown food — so much so that he refused to ship a single chicken to the author of the article, because he felt that was not a sustainable practice. Salatin also attacks the idea that organic food is more expensive than commercially grown food: as he points out, the cheap sticker prices mask other costs, like damage to the environment, diseases, and health care costs that come from eating junk food and low nutrient commercially grown meat and produce.

Like other sustainable practices and products, as more people begin demanding locally grown, quality organic food, the prices will drop. In the meantime, your food will taste better, and often be better for you. Sounds like an easy sacrifice to me.

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