Ok, this one is off-topic. Or maybe not. It all comes back to buy local.
Yesterday I got my new edition of Garden & Gun. Yeah, yeah, get the jokes out of your system. I know it sounds ridiculous, but this is a magazine I really like. Think “Southern Living”, but for men. And the kind of women I find interesting.
Lots of good articles in this month’s edition. But the one that caught my attention was the one I mentioned in the title of this post: Lousiana’s Last Shrimpers (click HERE to read it online). I was captivated by the story, and thought about all the parallels I’ve seen just in my adult life: US steel, NC textiles, and of course, food of all sorts.
The gist of the article, as you might have guessed, is that Louisiana shrimpers are getting killed by Asian competition. Hardly news, I suppose.
But it makes me angry.
This fall, in our sad and tragic (on so many levels) presidential election, both of the leading poseurs (err, I mean “candidates”) made a great show about how they would “stop rewarding corporations who ship our jobs overseas”. That statement is ludicrous on so many levels, but most obviously because politicians have no power over this situation whatsoever. Companies, mine included, respond to customers, not to government. They tolerate government, they influence government, they take advantage of government, but they respond to customers. So at the end of the day, the only power resides with… YOU. You vote with every dollar you spend. Do you think if every shrimp consumer walked into their seafood purveyor, and asked for gulf shrimp, and turned around and walked out in disgust when presented with a Thai alternative, that Thai shrimp would threaten the very existence of Louisiana shrimpers? Of course not.
I also hear it with many of the wanna-be local foodies I encounter (no offense to the many, many genuine local food advocates we know), who think that eating local was invented in 2008 (nuevo-locavores?) . By them. They talk a good game about wanting local food, but when it becomes even a little more inconvenient or expensive to eat that way, bam, ideals are out the window. Back to Whole Foods they go.
Take a stand, people. We ran out of eggs this week. What am I supposed to do, buy some from the grocery store? I don’t think so – the answer is to go without until Saturday when I can buy them at the Market. I stand in a freakin’ parking lot every two weeks to get raw dairy from a farmer in South Carolina because my government chooses to stifle my freedom by making it ILLEGAL to buy it in North Carolina. Ridiculous. My kids are sick of eating kale and sweet potatoes (ok, maybe not sick of sweet potatoes) because that’s what’s in season and grown by our farmer friends. You know what I tell them? Tough shit, suck it up or be hungry. Tomato, squash and watermelon season is coming, and you will appreciate it more when it gets here. You’re not getting asparagus from Peru in March just because Harris Teeter stocks it.
It’s fair to question whether I’m being hypocritical when it comes to coffee. I say not, and here’s my thinking. First of all, coffee doesn’t grow here, with the exception of Hawaii, and they can sell all they grow for all the money and not meet the total US demand. So my buying coffee from the rest of the world (in addition to Hawaii) is not hurting my countrymen. I feel the same way about bananas and pineapples.
It’s also fair to question whether it’s sensible to avoid local food because it’s more expensive. I think if the disparity were so big that it was the difference between being hungry and not, then I have to say buy the alternative. But I think the flip side of that question is important, too – what are you going to do with the money you save by buying that Thai shrimp that grew up in its own sewage? Buy a bigger TV? An iPhone? More collectables? Then I think you need to examine your priorities. Yeah, I know that my neighbors work at Best Buy, own McDonald’s franchises, and service BMWs. But whether we care to admit it or not, having a local agricultural community is more important to our health and safety, and long-term well-being, physically and mentally. Job One, as they say. And our way of life, candidly. It’s as much about safety, security, culture and community support as it is about food.
And it’s not just shopping, it’s restaurant choices, too. I was talking to one of our restaurant customers last night who told me that the last two weeks were the worst they have ever experienced in the history of their restaurant. Yet when I drove by Carraba’s the place was asses and elbows. That’s sad on so, so many levels. Everyone I talk to tells me they want downtown to be relevant, and likes to have small businesses with personality in their community, yet when it comes time to vote with the wallet, they choose MSG-laden foods of unknown origin over small, fresh, locally sourced and competitive priced alternatives. Why? Main roads, habit, uniformity, etc etc… all shitty excuses.
Yes, being committed to a local food system is sometimes difficult and inconvenient. I admit it. I wouldn’t even argue too much if you told me it was more expensive, although I could show you that for our family it isn’t. But dammit, anything worth doing usually is difficult. So stop paying lip service, and put your money where your mouth is.
Buy local. As local as possible. If that means from your neighbor, great. If it means from a neighboring state, ok. If it means buying from a fellow countryman, better than not doing so. But be committed. With every dollar.