From Too Many Chefs -

June 4, 2006
May 2006 Eat Local Challenge: Conclusions

So May has come and gone and the challenge is over. I'm afraid I wasn't as energetic as I could have been seeking out new sources of local food. And I think the people at the market think I'm seriously nutty. ("Eet's that woman who always asks where the food comes from...quick, hide!") But I feel like the challenge was worthwhile on a number of levels.

1) I will no longer blindly buy food that is marked "organic" either at the farmer's market or my local supermarket. I've discovered that many of the vendors at the former simply pick up their products at the market at Rungis and have no idea where they come from. And most of the supermarket organic produce comes from South America. I had already noticed that the quality wasn't as high as the normal stuff and this in addition means I'll no longer be buying the stuff.

2) I've really enjoyed the dialogue it has engendered. Barrett has his contrary position and Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries beautifully refuted activist Pete Singer's bizarre attack on eating local. The various arguments made me rethink my own position instead of just blindly accepting that local=good. That said, I still feel that local=better than most other options. I don't buy into the theory that we should support farms on the other side of the world by buying their produce: there are other and more effective ways to support them, including helping them find a market within their own borders. Most of the poorest countries seem to me to stay that way through bad governance rather than an inability to sell their vegetables in Europe and the US.

3) I found that I could pat myself on the back for some practices I already had in place: a) I rarely buy junk food, so there was nothing to eliminate there b) the stall I buy vegetable from at the market stocks 95% their own produce and they are located about 90 miles from Paris. (We still fall down on this and order from Domino's a couple times per month...something we should change but I don't see it happening. It's just too convenient.)

4) It pushed me to finally properly stock my terrace garden and I am delighted with it. I am going to be eating locally all summer long and loving the green gorgeous look of our city garden. I have always hesitated to buy my plants from a bog-standard plant store because the whole point of having a wormery on your terrace is that you know the food is completely organic. Thanks to the Eat Local Challenge, I've been regular in going to the market each week and so didn't miss the window of opportunity when organic vegetable plants are available.

5) I rediscovered the joy of French regions: the pride that every little departement has in its own local cheese or dish. The down side of this is that for a month I deprived myself of my favourite Auvergne cheeses and sausages. The up side is that I rediscovered rillettes du Mans and how much I love Brie. I also cheated slightly by eating many goat cheeses from the Loire valley.

At the end of the day, however, did the challenge actually change my habits long-term? Aside from the Venezualan organic vegetables, not really. I've always tried to eat food that tastes good and is in season and this means you almost automatically will be eating local food. If melons are not yet in season in the Paris area (still waiting for them with mouth watering) you know that the ones in the market must have come from the south. I may have fudged a bit in the past, but I've always been inclined to wait until the height of the season to gorge myself.

When are cherries going to finally be in season here? When?

I've started buying my flour at the farmer's market and it comes from a mill about 75 miles from Paris, so that has changed. I've been wanting to find a good bread flour and as they also sell very good bread I figured this was a good place to get it. I was right.

I've increased my dependence on the stall that only sells their own produce from the Paris region. I love the fact that they are a small producer and the woman who runs the stall is extremely nice to boot. In Paris, even at a touchy-feely organic market, this is not a given.

So a few tweaks in the shopping habits but no earthquake changes. I have always known that I'm lucky in that I have all the benefits of an urban setting (great public transportation, restaurants and museums) combined with fantastic fresh produce. Although I can see why people rail at France for its farm subsidies, I glory in the results.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at June 4, 2006 1:51 PM

I still like my foreign mangoes.

This isn't the place for discussion, but one could ask about what a third-world country has to offer the global economy if not agricultural products?

Posted by barrett on June 5, 2006 at 3:34 PM

Good for you.

I'm not sure I was addressing "what a third world country has to offer the global economy". Frankly, they are quite rightly more into figuring out what to do about the local economy. I agree it's not the place for discussing it and deserves a lot more thoughtful discussion than I've given it here. I just wanted to raise the idea that exporting food doesn't have to be the only solution to extreme poverty.

Posted by Meg in Paris on June 5, 2006 at 5:11 PM

The issue of third-world agriculture and global trade is a complex and tricky one. Since I do still buy imported foods like rice, (I just got my shipment of fair trade jasmine rice from Thailand, so I have to try it out!), tropical fruits, citrus fruits and stuff that just plain old doesn't grow here, like dried porcini, I don't feel too bad about not supporting both local farmers and third-world farmers.

What bothers me is the way that our government in the US gives an unfair advantage in the global marketplace to our own corporate farms, and screws over smaller third-world farmers by doing subsidies on commodity products and water, supporting petrochemical pesticide companies that also sell seeds with terminator genes to these small farmers. -That- really bugs me.

What it comes down to is this--I like my food to be fresh and sustainable, and I like to support the little guy. Hence my rather non-standard view on buying locally and how to go about it.

Posted by Barbara on June 5, 2006 at 7:37 PM

Thanks, Barbara: I was hoping you'd chip in and present a coherent comment that shames mine.

So...yeah...what she said! : )

Posted by Meg in Paris on June 6, 2006 at 2:34 PM