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.