A couple of months ago, I went to an event called "Food Fight" hosted by the San Francisco Professional Food Society. It was an afternoon full of people who are committed to making their mark in changing the food industry.
The keynote speech was by Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute. I wish that I could afford to duplicate her speech and send it out to all corners of the nation -- it was a powerful argument for local and non-corporate food purchasing. There is such a focus on the bottom line for corporations that the amount of food that is moved from place to place is astonishing.
Using California as an example, Ms. Mittal cited:
> 20% of Californian table grapes are sent to China. China is the world's largest producer of table grapes.
> Half of all processed tomatoes that California exports go to Canada. At the same time, the U.S. imports $36 million of Canadian processed tomatoes yearly.
> California exports brussels sprouts to Canada and imports brussels sprouts from Belgium. > $70,000 of California pistachios are sent to New York, then travel by ship to Italy, while California imports $50,000 of pistachios from Italy.
> The US imports $19 million of Canadian cherries a year, while Canada is the second most important destination for California cherries.
In his book Eat Here, Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket, Brian Halweil points out that local crops bring more dollars to the local economy than imported crops, stating:
"A study by the New Economics Foundation in London found that every £10 spent at a local food business is worth £25 for the local area, compared with just £14 when the same amount is spent in a supermarket. That is, a pound (or dollar, peso, or rupee) spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. The farmer buys a drink at the local pub; the pub owner gets a car tune-up at the local mechanic; the mechanic brings a shirt to the local tailor; the tailor buys some bread at the local bakery; the baker buys wheat for bread and fruit for muffins from the local farmer. When these businesses are not owned locally, money leaves the community at every transaction."
Imagine the multiplying effect on our own communities and even more so on developing countries!
So what do we do with all of this information? We can continue to spread the word, and talk about the importance of buying local. When purchasing food, we can look at where it is coming from. We can ask ourselves if there are any local, in season alternatives to buying imported food. We can vote with our forks (or our pieholes - as my mother would say).
Unlike so many things that are out of our control in this world, this is a decision that we can make daily, several times a day. Even if we all made the decision to by 10% of our products locally, that would begin to make a huge difference in our communities -- and maybe more importantly, it would begin to send a strong message to our government and to the large corporations that these are issues that we care about, and that it is something that we are going to pay attention to.
* Special thanks to the Oakland Institute for providing Ms. Mittal's speech. For more information, or to sign up for email updates, see The Oakland Institute website.
Photo Credit: Me