Yes, you eat locally, but “How much local food do you eat?” It’s a real question and given the fact we are all staring down the barrel of California’s gun- one worthy of asking and answering.
Eating locally is hardly a new concept. In a food world seized by fads and the constant change and shift of ideas- what to’s and what not to’s, eating locally has managed to sift to the top and stay, shedding its buzz for real Buzz. The reality is most of us are eating locally on some level: squeezed between the realms of occasional and practice. And the benefits to eating locally? They are real, not just talking points- but a doctrine of healthy, sustainable living.
As farmers we are the original stakeholders in the local food movement. For years, we have sat patiently on the sidelines- seeds sown, awaiting roots- knowing the potential for impact on our farms and patiently waiting for the return on our investments.
Fast forward to now. The Big One in California we have long feared, it turns out is here. Not a coast away, but right here on our plates! If you are reading this, most likely you do not reside in CA, but it hardly matters- we bear equal responsibility for creating the crisis that now threatens our food system. Yes, the Mcmansions sprawling across the desert with their lush green lawns are gross and hard to look at, but even if they were all to disappear, California would still be in deep ****. The real story about the water crisis in California is about the Central Valley which consumes 80% of California’s surface water; represents only 1% of the landmass in the US, but produces 25% of the food we eat!!
The news of California’s drought has been profound. We all knew it was coming, just like we all knew strawberries in January might not be the best idea. And still we eat …along with a whole slew of other tasty out of season goodies that instead of filling us, should give us pause. And as we all brace for the impact of California’s drought, the question of eating locally is front and center: no longer a matter of idealism, but a matter of necessity.
Let’s put meat on the table.
If you are evaluating your local food diet and considering your protein consumption, here are some numbers to ponder. According to the Vegetarian Calculator, the average person will consume 7,000 animals in their life time: that’s 11 cows, 27 pigs, 2400 chickens, 80 turkeys, 30 sheep and 4500 fish. Huh? “But, I’m not average” you say …and we hope you’re not! On average, we eat too much meat in this country. Shocking- hardly the kind of thing you expect your mortgaged-to-the-hilt meat farmer to utter, but it’s true. We advocate higher meat quality consumption. The bottom line is, accepting these numbers (or even half of them), over a lifetime one’s meat-eating habits add up.
When you consider your personal protein consumption, the numbers seem daunting and hard to visualize. But consider how much meat you eat in a week? …a month? …a year? As a farmer the numbers are equally daunting. How much of your local meat diet are we raising? If we fed 100 average meat-eaters over a lifetime that would be 700,000 animals: 1,100 cows, 2,700 pigs, 240,000 chickens, 8,000 turkeys, 3,000 sheep and the fish- we’ll leave that to our sea faring friends.
That’s a lot of meat! And realistically evaluating the numbers would require many follow-up questions the least of which includes the number of people our farm actually feeds.
The take-away from this discussion is the gap. The gap between the theory and the practice of eating locally. As the new California reality sets hold, we all have a responsibility to shrink that gap. We’re dreamers, and believers, but also practical. The gap will most likely never be filled, at least in our lifetimes. But a small shift -say 1% …5%, even 10% would have seismic impacts on local agriculture here on the east coast and farms like ours.
So we are asking the question again: How much local food do you eat?