Eat Here: Reclaiming homegrown pleasures in a global supermarket
Posted: 15 October 2004
Author: Worldwatch, Washington DC, 2004. Free to download (see below)
Parents, chefs, environmentalists, food business executives, and concerned consumers everywhere are demanding locally grown fare, according to this new book by the Worldwatch Institute.
According to the author, this shift in eating habits not only delivers superior taste, but is better for people's health, the livelihoods of small farmers, and the global environment. It even makes a nation's food supply safer by reducing the risk from malicious or accidental contamination.
"Eating local is the most inspiring and significant change in the way people eat now," says author, Brian Halweil. "People everywhere are turning to farmers markets to protect themselves from mad cow disease, heavy pesticide use, agro-terrorism, and urban sprawl. They want to know who grows their food and where it comes from."
There are many signs that this practice has gone mainstream. Just a few years after the first farmers market opened in Bath in late 1997, the United Kingdom now boasts over 300, with an estimated $100 million in annual sales. The number of farmers markets in the United States has doubled to more than 3,100 in the last decade. At the global level, the largest organised movement to preserve the world's distinctive food cultures, Slow Food, is growing explosively and now counts over 80,000 members in 104 nations.
In Eat Here, Halweil argues that while this push for "food democracy" is surging, its long-term success will depend on moving local food beyond farmers markets. "Farmers markets aren't enough to secure 'local' a viable space in the food market," says Halweil. "Local ingredients need to show up in school cafeterias, on restaurant menus, and on supermarket shelves."
Fortunately, some large food companies are already embracing an allegiance to place, he says. And Italy, several regional governments passed new laws obliging local authorities in over 500 municipalities to include organic and locally produced ingredients in their school menus, as way to reinforce the traditional Mediterranean diet. They have also incorporated nutrition, cooking, and food selection skills, as well as farm visits, into their curricula.
In Norway, the Touring Association is developing a line of foods made exclusively from local ingredients that will be available in the nation's extensive network of camping huts.
Local food can even accommodate the fast food model. Burgerville, a chain of 39 fast food restaurants in America's Pacific Northwest, buys the bulk of its ingredients from farmers in Oregon and Washington. And in India, the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation, which sells a full line of dairy products under the Amul brand, had sales of over $575 million in 2003 and provides 2.3 million local farmers a living wage.
"There's no reason that big companies can't source local ingredients," says Halweil. "When more and more customers demand it, companies will jump over each other to feature farmstead cheeses, heirloom tomatoes, and other products raised nearby."
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