by Tim Lawrence
The 100 mile diet is just one way to practice a locavore approach, there are different ways to look at locavore
Here are four different views I can think of as starting points:
1. The Shelf view
2. The Waste view
3. The Field view
4. The Wild/Hedge view
The Shelf view
This is where most of us start, what is on the shelf in the shop and the kitchen. We are all consumers and we will always need to consume food to keep living. We live in a consumerist society, so most of what is on our shelf in the kitchen comes from the shelf in the shop. Most of what we think of as local food is defined by what is local on the shelves in the shop. This can be very limited; some fruit and veg depending on the season, dairy and meat, local booze, and maybe preserves. The amount of local food in any type of shop can vary massively. A few examples:
• My corner shop has a surprising array of local cheese (cow, sheep and goat!) and a pleasing selection of local cider and beer….and that is about it.
• The local baker’s has one british loaf amongst its range…and a bunch of local preserves. The are literally made round the corner with local as possible ingredients …is the sugar: beet or cane? I don’t know.
• The neighbourhood organic veg shop doesn’t seem particularly interested in local produce but there are plenty of fresh coconuts in the fridge... surely, local matters?
• Co-operative supermarkets in the Forest of Dean have a surprisingly good section of local produce, but none of the Bristol ones do.
• The new ‘green’ motorway services near Gloucester seem to be building up a good network of local producers to supply them, showing what can be done when local is prioritised even in a setting that maybe seen as ironic.
Going Local Going Green’s findings is that there is more local produce available from our region than the shelves in shops in Bristol would suggest. There could be a lot more local produce on the shelf, especially if we all asked for it.
Well, of certain types of food anyway.
Good luck finding local nuts, seeds, cereals, grains, oil, mushrooms, seaweed, herbs, even fruit for most of the year. Indeed, milk and cheese and booze may be your only year round regulars on the shelf.
Why aren’t these types of food available?
The Waste view
What do I mean by the waste view?
To be honest, I am not entirely clear myself- it is something I have yet to get my teeth into in a concerted way!
I am thinking of skipping, Fairshare (charitable skipping!?!), waste reduction, feeding kitchen scraps to pigs and poultry (illegal!?!), reducing packaging particularly of the petrochemical (vacuum wrap etc.) and tincan varieties – all elements of Freeganism.
Most of the this food will not be of local origin but in my view it all becomes local when it becomes ‘waste’ both as food and in terms of ecological impact – future fertility or pollution-toxicity.
Again, the types of food available skipping vary from day to day and place to place. One of the issues though is the nutritional value of what is available, much of what is thrown out is highly processed with dubious chemical additives, or in slang ‘gack’. This might not be so good for the local ecosystem that is our body -some shops clearly have better quality skipcontents though.
By all accounts, the waste view is clearly of importance if we start thinking local food in terms of a systems approach socially, ecologically, and economically.
How true is waste not, want not?
The Field view
The view from the field is different again.
A lot more food is produced locally than is available on our local shop shelves, much of leaves the area in articulated lorries. Our horticultural and agricultural landscape has been transformed to meet the vagaries and demands of a national-global food economy, our landscape has been industrialised by monocultures and factory farms.
Regional specialities have come to dominate the landscape on one hand or virtually disappeared on the other, farm diversity to meet local sustenance needs is something of the distant past. ‘Cheddar’ and cheese/dairy dominate local production (some of which is available on shelves), along with arable cereals (wheat and barley). Much of these cereas are not available locally (well, not for humans anyway) as they go into a massive processing chain before reaching shelves somewhere or are fed to livestock. Our local plum, apple, and perry have nearly all been ripped out, undercut by the cheap imports preferred by the supermarkets (and consumers?).
Our region has the soil and climate to produce nearly all of our staple and nutrient food needs in terms of variety, yet this potential and diversity is not apparent in our fields. Our countryside is a factoryside, the economic pressure to industrialise our countryside has been and is intense.
A local example:
When running a course for small local growers on exploring the issues involved in growing to sell near Glastonbury earlier this year, we went to the local for a meal and pint. At the bar, one of the locals got chatting to me and asked me where I was from and what I was doing in the village. He then went on to tell me about the local farm business he had just sold as he was getting old and his sons did not want to take the business on.
He had been a chicken farmer, raising 3lb chickens to for roasting. He reared 4 batches of chickens in a year, which may not seem a lot but:
How many chickens do you reckon he reared in each batch?
280,000 – yup, two hundred and eighty thousand, no typo.
That is over a million chickens a year.
He said that is what people wanted, in other words, what the supermarkets wanted to buy.
He said he made a 9p profit on each bird.
He claimed to treat them as well as you could given the circumstances.
Can any creature be treated well given these circumstances?
My skin crawled, I nearly threw up on him.
Yet, wasn’t all he was doing was being a good businessman?
Isn’t he carefully following the logic of the system?
Strangely, he wouldn’t divulge the name or location of his old farm….
If these chickens were all sold as ‘local food’ in Bristol, would you feel good to buy them?
The logic is the same in dairy farming, indeed, we have a lot of dairy farming round here because of the logic of specialisation and industrial scales of economy.
Yo! Even our regional organic yoghurt ‘family business’ flagship is a serious industrial business…Not that their products are necessarily even local as they supplied by OMSCO a national network of producers.
I am not saying any of this to judge or condemn the producers (although we all have a responsibility for the ethics of our decisions), but more to point out the pressure brought to bear on producers to industrialise. I am sure many of them would prefer to be less mechanical and monocultural, and to be able to treat their animals, land, plants, and selves better. I hope so anyway.
The industrialisation of agriculture in pursuit of economic growth and profit has seriously undermined the social and ecological fabric of our countryside upon which it depends. The lush temperate nature of our island and region may mask and/or soak this up for longer than other less forgiving habitats but not forever.
I don’t want to lose perspective either, many of our local farms are tiny and still treat their animals well in comparison to the giant feedlots of Northern America and other countries. The pasture here is lush enough to keep the amount grass in the local feed higher than in many parts of the industrial world but let us not mistake it for the rural idyll that many of us would like to see Somerset and Gloucestershire as.
At this point, I want to restate:
Our region has the soil and climate to produce nearly all of our staple and nutrient food needs in terms of variety, if not quantity.
We could do this without industrialised agriculture, indeed, smaller scale mixed farms that provision local consumers are arguably much the best way to this in ecological, economic, and social terms alike. Agroecology, Permaculture, and Community Supported Agriculture schemes are but a few of the approaches that are actively trying to promote such shift. Rather than looking at growing and raising livestock as a factory production line that operates in a mechanistic way (this in, that out) they look at the whole system which is much more complexity, both in terms of variables, and feedback loops, that needs to be diverse and balanced. This seems much closer to the reality of how sun, rain, temperature, plants, humidity, animals, insects, fungi, micro-organisms and people actually function and relate. Not to mention being more interesting, beautiful, and healthier.
The challenge for producers is:
How to facilitate such a shift at plot level and still make a livelihood?
• the wider infrastructure and culture needed to achieve this is all but gone, and
• the drive to monoculture and the exploitation of living systems for profit is more intense than ever.
The view from the field offers glimpses of the potential for greater diversity and healthier sustenance, yet these are cracks in a landscape dominated by global capitalism…
Let us also look beyond the field, in the hedgerow and outside it’s enclosure, as this is often overlooked and undervalued.
The Hedge and Beyond view
Rewilding our view
This year I have been going round different parts of our bioregion according to the seasons to learn about wild plant medicine with the herbalists Becs and Annwen. A few of us have also been learning about foraging wild food from Ffyona Campbell which has a similar approach of going to different parts of our bioregion according to the seasons. It has been an eye opener, in the sense that it taken some blinkers off that I didn’t even notice I had on.
View from the land, river, and ocean up
Some of our common wild plants and their roots, bark, leaves, flowers, nuts and fruit have what it takes to keep us really healthy, they are all around us.
Sure, you have to go to different places according to the season but going to the beach at mid-summer or the woods in autumn or a spring flower meadow isn’t unappealing, is it?
Going to find the habitats for these wild foods and medicines opened my eyes to the biodiversity that still exists in the southwest, and has given me a new vision of how our home/bioregion/kith could be. It has given me a way of imagining a better way of eating and living from the land, river, and ocean up -from the fungi, mollusc and microrhizae up, not from the human/machine down.
I am not arguing against the shelf view or the view from the field, rather that what we imagine is affected by the lenses we look through and we need to be aware of this. More pointedly, as a grower I came to see the blinkers of a consumerist (shelf) view of local food limited my understanding of both the problems and possibilities for a local food economy. Similarly, learning about wild medicine and food has started to take off some of the blinkers of the productionist (field) view. It is liberating to view reality from multiple views and hold them in creative tension.
Shared risk and shared harvest, seasonality and diversity
Of course, one could use an awareness and knowledge of wild food and medicine for personal and/or short-term gain. Alternatively, learning from the Community Supported Agriculture principles of: shared risk, shared harvest; and seasonality and diversity, we could develop a more restrained and sustainable of use of our wild friends. In doing so, there is the possibility that we could learn from nature, our local plants, animals, insects, soils and waterways, a better way to share our common habitat.
Is being a locavore something that is defined more by the relationships one has with other inhabitants of a shared habitat than by an abstract concept of ideology?
On a comparative note:
How does going 'organic' look like from these four views?
How well does 'veganism' incorporate these different view points?