I knew the idea of local eating had penetrated when I quickly ran into a grocery store while visiting my Mom, and this older couple came up to me and asked “Honey, could you read where it says where the plums came from? We’re trying to eat local but neither of us brought our glasses.” If I can’t get in and out of a supermarket in 3 minutes without running into someone trying to eat local, I know we’ve gone mainstream.
And how wonderful is that? It is great for the small farmers, great for people eating better food, great for the environment - and people who have begun to think about where their food comes from can start to think about wider issues.
There is, I think, a typical order of things for people who discover local eating - it doesn’t apply to everyone, but I think it begins this way. They start with a CSA share, the farmer’s market or maybe a home garden. The first venture is to find local produce during the growing season to use in day to day meals. Next they start thinking about eggs, dairy and meat, if they eat them.
And if people do these things, they begin not just a shift in where their food comes from, but in how they eat. Instead of thinking “Wednesday is spaghetti night” they are looking into their CSA baskets and thinking “What can I make with peas?” This means also a shift from a kind of cooking that assumes that you can always get everything you want to one that is genuinely seasonal.
Often people are enticed by the food and serious about it - and sorry when the season ends. And thus, the question begins to arise in peoples’ minds - what do we do when the CSA season ends? Sometimes the CSA itself raises these questions, when it sends large quantities of some exuberant producer - and eaters are forced to ask “why would they send me six months worth of garlic - and what do I do with it?”
Then, if they eat meat or eggs or dairy products, many people seek these foods out locally as well. And they begin to be aware that even animal products have seasons - that milk is flush when grass is lush and that eggs naturally proliferate and are cheap in spring, and pricey in winter. Even meat has a season - autumn, when it is time to use precious reserves of hay is a good time for butchering, and of course, the time when hunting is permissable.
And if they take it seriously, the next step is to start looking for grains and beans - particularly for the budget conscious, who can’t afford large quantities of local meats, and for vegetarians. This is easy in some grain producing areas, and harder for many of us that aren’t close to them. Finding producers of staple foods can be as easy as buying a 50lb sack of potatoes in the fall, or as difficult as mail ordering from far away. And as part of this shift in priorities comes the awareness that it is less expensive, more efficient and more environmentally sound to get all one’s bread flour or cornmeal or rice in one fell swoop, directly from a farmer.
In short, Food Preservation and Food Storage are logical steps in locavore life. Many new local eaters haven’t made them yet - and some people haven’t quite made the intellectual leap required. But the truth is that if we want to eat sustainably, and build the kinds of food systems that we’re going to need in the future, one step is getting the idea of eating locally while in season, but the season ends and either we’re back to eating mealy, oil-drenched supermarket tomatoes, or we’ve begun to think about how to keep the links going all year around.
Food Preservation and Food Storage are two slightly different things. Food Preservation is home or community level preservation of locally produced foods - it includes freezing, canning, pickling, lactofermenting, dehydration, root cellaring, preservation in salt, wine and sugar, smoking. The idea is to preserve at home or at local food processing facilities the foods you will need during the season in which they are not available.
Food Storage involves the bulk purchase of staples (and also sometimes purchase in smaller quantities of an additional reserve), ideally from local or distant farmers, and bought direct. To minimize energy costs, it is easiest to buy larger quantities - a bushel, 50 lbs, 25lbs at a time. Right now we use an increasingly costly, environmentally destructive and unsustainable just-in-time delivery system to get food to our store shelves, and then private cars to get it to us as we need it. That can’t last - our (now large) homes have to take the place of the supermarket in many cases for a host of reasons. The best way to ensure that you have food that is safe, available and secure is to preserve your own (and support community food preservation efforts and local small producers and preservers) and to buy staple food direct from farmers or through coops whenever possible.
It is possible to eat mostly local all year round, even in the harshest of climates - but eating that way is fundamentally different than eating out of the supermarket. Eating a mostly local diet, based on staple foods and local sources, with preserved foods added is really, deeply different than the way the average American eats. Not only different, but radically better in a host of ways - nutritionally, flavor wise, environmentally, and depending on how and what you eat, often cheaper than processed diet - almost certainly cheaper when health costs are calculated in.
But local eating and CSA support is just a start - we have to begin to think in terms of this fundamental change in diet, and in terms of food storage and preservation as fundamentally integrated into local eating.