Tag Archives: Buy Local

Food Snobbery: a response

Apparently Laura over at Starling Fitness didn’t take kindly to my post yesterday about food and community. I got that impression when she entitled her post Food Snobbery.

Let’s deal with her last paragraph first:

Try going hungry for a couple of days, Kate. Even “the food you deserveˮ will taste like a godsend after that.

Setting aside for the moment that this is a simple straw man argument (because of course that any food I eat after three days of hunger will seem like a godsend), explain to me exactly how eating at Applebee’s or getting a loaf of Wonder Bread from Safeway helps the local farmers, the local economies, or even regional food diversity?

The answer is easy – it doesn’t, regardless of how hungry I am.

Let me explain the simple economics of franchises. The dollar I spend at a franchise ends up somewhere else. If I eat at an Applebee’s, my money spent there ends up in Overland Park, Kansas. If I buy my groceries at Safeway, my money eventually ends up in Pleasanton, California. Regardless of how wonderful these communities may or may not be, it benefits me in the long run if my dollars ends up in local banks here in Seattle where they can be reinvested into my local economy, instead of Kansas or California, where I’ll see little to no local economic long term benefit.

Now, if a community decides it has no problem in letting a Starbucks (as an example) into the area, instead of investing their resources and later patronizing a local coffeehouse, that’s a communities right. Just don’t get angry when your money comes back into Seattle, making local upper management at the headquarters here all that more wealthy. Because one dollar spent at a Starbuck’s is one less dollar spent at the local coffeehouse. Over time, what that means is that one less local business will exist, and one less chance of a local business person re-investing in the community that gave them their success.

This doesn’t just happen with coffeehouses, but with restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, farms, etc, etc.

If the citizens of a community don’t understand this basic concept, they’re going to have less influence on the types of food found within the community. If they don’t take the time and effort to change their infrastructure, then they will have to settle for what others from outside of the region determine which products should be sold into their community. And once those products are sold, their money will end up profiting a company hundreds, if not thousands of miles away.

Asheville, North Carolina is but one of many places in this country which are starting to understand this. They realize it’s not just about the restaurants, but their entire food infrastructure, from farm to table and everything in between. They are getting a decent return on their investment with a diverse amount of restaurants and markets, and keeping many farmers and local entrepreneurs in business. They are getting the food culture they deserve.

Conversely, if a city is peppered with Chili’s and TGIFriday’s, and Albertson’s and Safeways, and there’s minimal to no effort being brought forth to change that, then they are getting the food culture they deserve as well.

Food and Community

I’ve been thinking about this post for over a day now, and I’m still not sure just exactly how to word it.

The trip to Asheville, North Carolina was busy, way too short and, most importantly, very enlightening. A city of approximately 75,000 people, and when those in the suburbs and surrounding county areas are considered it ups that to 200,000 plus. And if I remember one fact about the city, it’s this:

In the downtown area there is only one franchised restaurant. Most every other eatery in the area (and there’s a fair amount of them) is an independently or locally owned operation. Not only are there no McDonald’s, Wendy’s or KFC’s, there’s no Gordon Beirsch, Chili’s or any other nationally recognized restaurant.

This fact is even more impressive when the fact that Asheville’s second largest industry is tourism is taken into account. When the tens of thousands of visitors enter the city and see the vibrant restaurants, cafes and bistros, only one of them has a recognizable brand name.

And as I was taken around through the neighborhoods to talk with various food entrepreneurs and advocates, one thing became very clear to me. A community gets the food culture it deserves.

Those involved in the food in Asheville have worked hard to lessen the influence of big business has had upon their community. And don’t be fooled, big food has a strong presence in the area, especially the further away one is from down town. But there is a strong, concerted effort to mitigate their influence.

Whether it’s a local non-profit designed encourage local food entrepreneurs, the farm advocate who’s working to connect family farmers with new markets, or the restaurateur who proudly proclaims their belief in local and sustainable food products, Asheville is a city where the independent food community, not only thrives, but in many parts of the county is regarded as an equitable alternative to the McDonald’s, Safeways, and Conagra’s of the world. There are cities with populations much larger than that of Asheville’s who don’t have this level of integration into their community.

Part of this is certainly due to Asheville’s size. When you have less people to feed, it’s easier (i.e. cheaper and quicker) to change and adapt the infrastructure in place needed to get food to the people.

But the key component to change the infrastructure is to have a requisite amount of passionate people willing to put in the time and effort to make those changes. The less people involved, the more the current status quo stays in place.

What Asheville has demonstrated to me is that a small city or town doesn’t have to be beholden to mega-food corporations any more than cities like New York, San Francisco, or even Seattle have to be. But it does take work and passion. Lot’s of it.

A community gets the food culture it deserves, whether it’s one where Applebee’s and Albertson’s dominates, or one where local restaurateurs work with local farmers and consumers spend their money in a way that ensures that their dollars are re-invested in their community. Asheville has clearly chosen where it wants fits in this spectrum.

Jones Soda and the Seattle Seahwaks

Some may see this as a little story, but I’m not one of them.

Every few years, major contracts are hammered out that state which companies can provide food or beverages at major events throughout the country. Everything from hockey games to state fairs negotiate and sell rights to companies to have their products sold at these events. It should surprise no one that representatives from Coca-Cola and Pepsi are almost always involved, and it’s almost impossible to find any sodas other than one represented by these two companies being sold at concert venues, sporting arenas or even major high schools.

So when the Seattle Seahawks announced yesterday that neither Coke nor Pepsi will be sold at their stadium, it’s a big deal, especially for a higher profile team in a very high profile sports league. In their place comes relative newcomer and Seattle institution Jones Soda (the folks who sell the Turkey Flavor sodas around the holidays).

Jones is not new to event sponsorship, having been part of the skater culture for the past several years and being the “official soda” of several events. But getting a part of the NFL pie puts them onto a new level.

But the reason I really like this deal is that it may be a step back to food regionalism. Seeing Coke and Pepsi, as well as Budweiser, Starbucks, McDonalds, et al, being sold throughout the country homogenizes our culture. I don’t think that this is a good thing.

I’m of the belief that having regional diversity in our national marketplace is a very good thing. My thinking may be a bit “pie in the sky” but regional diversity can be a way of promoting civic pride. All you need to do is get a person from Kansas City and a person from Texas to talk about barbecue to understand that. Heck, thick about what Rolling Rock Beer meant to the folks in Western Pennsylvania before Anheuser-Busch bought them out.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, dreaming my Utopian dreams. Congratulations to Jones Soda, for pulling off a major coup.

What’s in it for me?

I have various search terms logged into various blog readers, and sometimes it comes back with peculiar stories and ideas that need to be said. That is how I came across the following items.

Item one:

The writer of Dethroner, Joel, had recently talked about trying to lose weight, and gave advice along the lines of “Buy pre-packaged foods” and “Eat less than 1,500 calories worth a day”. A commenter, by the name of Grady, followed up by saying “Youâ??ve lectured about how there are things you have to admit to yourself if you want to be successful losing weight. Youâ??re going to have to admit to yourself that you must eat fresh, minimally processed food regularly if you want to be healthy.”

To which Joel responded with the following:

Some of us have lives, jobs, stresses, and realities we face every day that make switching from our unhealthy lifestylesâ??and we know theyâ??re unhealthy; our bodies testifyâ??straight away into a wholly organic, hand-prepared, completely healthy lifestyle. The thought of purchasing and preparing every last bit of food that goes into our bodies is daunting and serves as a bulwark in which we can hunker down with our insecurities to inaction, stocked as it is with cheeseburgers, chocolate milk, and the echoing rejoinders of self-righteous, preening princes like you.

Item two:

There’s a recent Metafilter discussion about the benefits and challenges for eating local, including the following comment:

I can’t keep up anymore…

Are we all supposed to move to the large urban centers because there won’t be enough oil for everyone to have cars and drive all over everywhere?

Or should we all move out to the country because there won’t be enough oil to ship all the food all the way to the urban centers?

Or, should Topeka or Des Moines become the new NYC?

Should I never eat bananas because I don’t live within 100 miles of where they are produced? I’m 500 miles landlocked no matter which direction you go… should seafood be forbidden in the country’s interior?

Instead of expecting the entire world’s population to return to an agrarian lifestyle, finding more efficient ways of transport and cheaper/renewal fuels MIGHT be a tad more productive. These neo-agrarian dreams are just that… dreams.

Item three:
From an article in Adage entitled Organics Fail to Yield Cash Crop for Food Giants:

It’s been enthusiastically embraced by marketers, blessed by Wal-Mart and touted as the holy grail of growth for an industry desperately in need of it. But after a stupendous start, organic foods are looking suspiciously like a sensation sizzling out.

All of these items have a current theme in them which bears looking at. In essence, if advocates of Slow Food, Organic Food or any of the other food movements which have popped up wish to have their movements evolve into the mainstreams consciousness, they’re going to have to answer a question that will be asked of them repeatedly. To wit, “What’s in it for me?”

Before the advocates shrug off the query as insensitive and too chock full o’ self-interest, it’s best to re-examine it and understand that it is a fair question to ask. There are many reasons for people’s food decisions, but chief among them are the effect of the purchase on two valuable components of the purchaser’s resources – time and money.

That “organic food is better for you” or “eating local is better for the environment” and the plethora of societal-improvements that may or may not occur if these ideals moved into the mainstream are certainly compelling reasons for some – Enough so that it allows these movements to get to where they are today.

However, mainstream society often doesn’t work towards societal-improvements. They work towards what’s best for themselves. That often means that they’ll spend three dollars on industrial ground beef instead of 5 dollars per pound of grass fed ground beef, saving themselves two dollars to use elsewhere. It means that they’ll eat a Budget Gourmet for dinner in place of making it themselves in order to allocate the 30 minutes they have saved on a more enjoyable task.

If your food ideals are such that they require a sacrifice of time and/or money, how do you convince an individual with limited time and/or money that those sacrifices are worth making?

Technorati Tags: Food Politics

Eat…er…Drink Local: Rockridge Orchards Hard Apple Cider

There’s two main points that I wish to get across with this post.

Firstly, Farmer’s markets are often more than simply vegetables and flowers. Last week at our market there was fresh meat, pastries, cheeses and lo and behold, hard cider.

Secondly, Not every thing that can be purchased at the Farmer’s market will be of top quality. Lo and behold, the hard cider.

I wanted to like this drink, for a variety of reason, but cheif among them was the fact that it seems nearly blasphemous to criticize foods that are local and purchased directly from the farmer. After all the work that the producer has done, to say “meh” to their products seems a tad mean.

But when I drank the cider, “Meh” is exactly how I felt. It was grainy and a tad fizzy, but after that, it’s mostly watered down.

I’m torn here, because I want to say something nice about Rockridge Orchards. Their ciders, of the non-hard variety, are quite tasty and flavorful.

But the hard cider? Meh. But I’m still pleased that I can find items like this at Farmer’s Markets.

Technorati Tags: Eat Local, Cider, Hard Cider

Eat Local: Woodrings’s Rose Petal Jelly

For the “Eat Local” challenge, I’ve chosen to focus on items that I can buy at my local Farmer’s market. I’m rather lucky here in West Seattle, as the farmer’s market is right down the road from me, and held every Sunday between April and December.

Fresh cheeses, meat, pastries, produce and yes, even jams and jellys are available. It was here that I picked up this product – Woodring’s Rose Petal Jelly.

One of the many areas that farmer’s markets excel is in the local Jams, which are made from the local fruits and veggies as well as with cane sugar rather than the dreaded HFCS. Woodring’s is no different. Along side of the Rose Petal Jelly were items such as “Cherry Butter”, “Huckleberry Jam” and “Marionberry Jelly”. Finding items such as these at a local supermarket is very unlikely.

The Rose Petal Jelly tastes sublime, partially of rose and a very nice and complimentary lemon taste. It’s delicious alone or on a cracker. It’s simply wonderful heated with slices of apple and a bit of shallots, and then placed upon thick, tender pork chops.

My own take on the “Eat Local” challenge is that we needn’t sacrifice foods but instead substitute them instead. Jams are the best example of this. Because what you find in your supermarket aisles cannot compare to the joy of farm jam.

If interested in Rose Petal Jam, you can order it from Woodrings by calling 1-800-848-2554. They’re sold by Food Concept’s Inc, out of Monroe, WA.

Technorati Tags: Food, Eat+Local, Jam, Jelly, Farmers+Markets

Eat Local Resources

Foreign Agriculture Service (select the HS-6 data sets)

National Agricultural Statistics Service

Imports Analysis (.pdf file)

If you have any more, please feel free to let me know or write them in the comments.

(Thanks to Ben!)

Technorati Tags: Eat Local, Food Resources, Food References