May 31, 2012 -
Don’t buy food from strangers.
We are unsettled by the fact that we live in a country where the handful of corporations that control our food supply have a 3-P sustainability equation of profit, profit, profit. People and planet are rarely invited to the table unless, of course, they add to the profit. This is clearly problematic as you parallel the rise in factory-farmed, GMO-laden foods to pollution (surrounding factory-farmed areas) and obesity rates (across the nation).
Is it our job at Spice change this system? No. We feed people for a living. But you can expect us to step on our soapbox to criticize it every so often. And take focused steps to circumvent it whenever we can.
Many of us (particularly those reading this blog) are hip to the local food scene nowadays. It’s become part of our everyday vernacular, and our way of life. It’s just something we do, a choice that we make, a daily habit that doesn’t take much thought.
But the closer we are to it, the more we forget about why we buy local in the first place. We start to take it for granted – these abundant resources that surround us. So let’s first stop and ask the question – what defines local to you? We can “buy local” from one of many agri-corporate farms in Northeast Ohio. But what good does that do? Cut down on transportation costs? Reduce a carbon footprint? That’s a start. But we take it a step further by pledging to purchase local, sustainable food. To us, how the food is grown is just as important as where.
What makes local, sustainable agriculture so much better for us, beyond the obvious good for you/good for the economy rhetoric? Why’s it worth shelling out a few extra bucks from our already pinched pockets? Why should we take time out of our day to drive out to the farmers markets when the grocery store is right up the road?
Here are a few reasons why sustainable is better.*
1. Health: Cleaner food is better for you – that’s common sense. But more and more health benefits are being found in sustainable foods. According to New York Times bestselling author Jo Robinson, for example, grass-fed beef has two to six times more omega-3′s. Studies also show that many vegetables loose nutritional value the longer they travel and sit on a shelf. Fresh food fuels life.
2. Taste: Spice dinner specials are often made from ingredients that were harvested that same day. Sure, our chefs have a little (OK, a lot) to do with the flavor profile, but at the core of the dish, you’ll find that fresher food really does taste better.
3. Animals: Sustainably raised animals are treated humanely and are permitted to carry out natural behaviors such as rooting in the dirt and pecking the ground. Factory-farmed animals are crammed together in unsanitary conditions, where they suffer horribly and are often sick, even if they are pumped full of antibiotics. Enough said.
4. Environment: The EPA reports that the waste generated by animal agriculture has polluted over 35,000 miles of river in 22 states. A single hog excretes up to 17.5 pounds of manure and urine each day. Put 1,000 hogs together, and that’s six million pounds of waste each year. On a factory farm containing 35,000 hogs, over four million pounds of waste are produced each week, and over 200 million pounds each year. Whereas on a sustainable farm animal waste can be a tool, in factory-farm amounts it becomes a major pollutant.
5. Workers: The workers on sustainable farms are paid fair wages and treated with respect. To us, that’s worth paying a few extra cents for a bushel.
6. Rural Communities: Sustainable farms are an integral part of the community, where money made on the farm is filtered back into local businesses. Since factory farms are vertically-integrated, farm materials are bought within the corporation, rather than at the local feed or hardware store, which pulls money out of the community.
7. Fossil fuels and energy use: Raising animals on factory farms takes a large amount of oil – to grow and harvest the crops that feed the animals, to fueling the ventilation systems and electricity in the barns in which they’re held, to the transportation costs to move the animals the long distances they travel. This increases our dependence on foreign oil and foreign countries. Many of our small farmers such as Monica out at Muddy Fork Farm have invested in wind turbines and passive solar heating to fuel growth.
7. Family farms: The majority of sustainable farms are run by family farmers who are hardworking, genuine people who work all hours of the day and night to bring us fresh food. Spice has spent a dozen years seeking them out, understanding their growing cycles and subsequently purchasing hundreds of thousands of dollars to support their efforts. You can too, by choosing restaurants that purchase from small family farms, asking your grocer for more sustainably produced foods, or simply heading out to a farmers market and buying direct. Growhio has a great local food guide to help you find sustainable farms in this area.
To sum it up, one of the many reasons why we sometimes pick on companies like Monsanto (we know you’re listening, big M!) is because their products are the primary drivers behind a grow big or go home (or go bankrupt) mentality that is ultimately negatively impacting our health and our economy.
And that’s, in a nutshell, why we buy small, local and sustainable. Why do you?
Editor’s Note: This post takes excerpts from SustainableTable.org, an excellent site filled with pages of down-to-earth (no pun, really!) information; fact sourcing for this entry can be found there or by request.