What is local?

   What is local?

   Is it a locally-owned restaurant that serves coconut from thousands of kilometres away?

   Is it a business that sources its products from elsewhere, no matter how far, in the name of profit?

   Or is it an individual producer who raises their own animals, grows their own vegetables or otherwise creates from their own products, such as a cheese or yogurt at a dairy farm?

   I prefer the third option because it truly gives me an indicator of where my food is coming from, how it is being produced. I have a history of health issues and knowing how the food is raised is more important than simply an abstract ideology. I want to know how it is raised because of the problems attached with certain methods of raising that food.

   I’ll eat organic when I can because pesticide use is not simply unnecessary, it is lazy. Food was raised for centuries without chemicals, but when it became easier to simply spray something with a chemical or pump it full of artificial steroids, less labour was required. With less labour brings less overall cost and an increased profit. When profit became the reason for food production, that was the beginning of rampant health problems. People became grossly unaware of what they ate.

   When I talk to a farmer, I talk to the person. A person of integrity. When a person of integrity is asked a question, they answer without hesitation. If someone hesitates in any way when answering a question, there’s a reason for it. They do not have all of the information about their product. If you do not, as a producer, know everything about where your product came from, you are not local to me. Yes, local has been used to describe all of the aforementioned queries I started this blog with, but for my own personal definition, if you didn’t raise it 100%, whether you’re sourcing your product from a farm 50 kilometres or 5000 kilometres away, you’re sourcing from elsewhere. When you source from elsewhere, you have another set of hands on that product to muddy it. You do not know for certain if that animal was treated less humanely than you would have. You do not know if that grain was not sprayed with a chemical you may not have. The only way to be certain is to buy from someone who does 100% of their own products.

   It is as much about the human being and their values as much as the product they raise and sell. Food is inexorably attached to the philosophy of the individual.

   The most common excuse for sourcing from elsewhere is: My farm doesn’t provide enough. I’m always running out of product. Your customer base will understand when you are out of something if they genuinely realize how difficult it is to raise that animal or grow that vegetable. If you want to grow your farm, there’s room for natural growth. Hiring more staff, rearing more animals, growing on a larger plot of land.

   I understand that a farm is like any other small business. The bills have to be paid. Any extra staff involved have to be paid.  When that drive for money replaces a means of production that made your product unique, then your product is the less for it.

   If your customers do not understand this idea, then they are not the customer base you want. Those customers may as well be buying from a large grocery store.  Some customers are genuinely uneducated when it comes to food because more than a generation of children have been brought up to be ignorant about food. From freezer to microwave, many were raised. No knowledge of cooking. No knowledge of what some vegetables even look like.

   Recently I’ve witnessed on Twitter, people with renewed interest in the seasonality of vegetables. Learning to cook with things like kohlrabi or kale are heartening to someone like myself who has cooked with everything from A to Z in the vegetable world.

   I was lucky enough to have parents who cared about food. We had a large vegetable garden growing up and were always taken to farms to source whatever we did not grow. Talking to the farmer was a natural thing to me. Cooking was always an important part of my upbringing. The food was predominantly Hungarian because of my father’s lineage, but being Canadian we were also influenced by external cultures around us.

   I spend much of my time learning about food, whether it is its nutrition or alternate means of preparing it. I try to impart that knowledge to whoever is interested. I realize the detail in which I do go into certain preparations are more than many wish to partake in, but it comes from a place of passion.

   That is what local is to me. Passion at any cost.

  

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10 years

     The words were warbled. Gradually the haze of unconsciousness cleared and several familiar faces were saying over and over again in that warbled haze, “It works!! It works!!”

     I had awoken from a kidney transplant on the morning of July 2, 2002. It seemed only moments, between the constant stream of nurses, doctors, physiotherapists wishing me well or monitoring urine flow or blood pressure, before my mum was wheeled in a wheelchair by my brother Andy. I was shocked considering it was mere hours after she gave me a kidney. My first words were, “You should be still resting! You just had an organ removed!”

     My brother piped in saying, “Are you kidding she was asking for a newspaper to read as she was being wheeled out of surgery.”

     I started talking and as the rate and timber of my voice increased, my mum said, “That’s why I did this. You’re back to normal. Listen to you. You’ve been cloudy for all this time and now your eyes are so much clearer. You’re the old Stephen.”

     I was suddenly struck at how clear my thoughts were. How I could speak more clearly. Over 20 months in the hospital to that point seemed to suddenly hit me all at once. this is what I was waiting for. Waiting through a heart transplant. Waiting to see if the kidney function returned in my original kidneys. Waiting to gain weight after losing every kilogram possible and still live. Waiting for a liver to heal. Waiting to swallow. Waiting to eat. All the focus on getting through each day finally reached its pinnacle when my mum pointed out my renewed clarity.

     I think of her every day because of that gift she gave ten years ago. I think of her every day because of her legacy of unconditional kindness. I think of her when I can stand because for the longest time I couldn’t. I think of her when I walk. Or eat. Or cook something she would refer to as “fine eating,” knowing I could do none of it now if it wasn’t for that gift 10 years ago today.

     I also think of her every day because of the suffering she endured several years later. A successful battle with breast cancer.  The strength within her eventually stripped when cancer returned in several areas. Her own body withered. The unconditional kindness that was there throughout her life never diminished even as she faded to a point where she couldn’t speak anymore. I think of her every day. After the last of her physical strength was gone and she died last September, I awake every morning ensuring I quietly thank her for every day she gave to me. How she still gives, inside of me everyday in the emotional sense as a mother’s love, but in the physical sense, that part of her still lives inside of me. Thank you, Mum. I’ll take care of you now.