As we walked into Lent this year, we decided to try being locavores for 40 days- only eating food grown within an hour of where we live, preferably on small farms. There were a number of threads that came together that led to this idea:
One is that I had just read Barbra Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, where her family living in the South East of the USA on a small farm decided to grow as much of their own food as possible, and only buy the extra from a 70 mile radius. The book is a memoir about all the things they learned during that practice.
Another thread was that Capetown, one of our biggest cities, was due to run out of water just after Easter (it may be pushed back until August). It is accepted this drought is due to climate change. And, like all natural disasters, it is the poor who will suffer most. The rich can afford to ship in large containers of water, or to move. The poor (and, and come Day Zero, even the not-so-poor) will join the long lines of people collecting their allotted water for the day and experience all the social unrest that goes along with that.
While locavoring does not have a direct impact on the amount it rains in Capetown, learning more about how much fossil fuel is used so that we can have out of season fruits and vegetables whenever we like and eat meat at every meal has given me pause. And while the food is a small piece of it, the bigger piece is trying to reject the idea that I deserve to have whatever I want whenever I want it. The same consumeristic instinct that renders it unthinkable that I would not have bananas in the middle of winter is what drives all of our massive industries to expend fossil fuels, create massive waste, pay low wages and more.
Kingsolver says in her book, “the conspicuous consumption of limited resources has yet to be accepted widely as a spiritual error, or even bad manners” .
So we thought locavoring would limit our choices, make us more aware of where our food comes from, and we hoped that the discomfort of not being able to get exactly what we want when we want it would help us think about how these same consumeristic tendencies we have play out in other areas in our lives.
We’re reading Wendell Berry poems (the patron saint of small farmers), and going to our farmer’s market, and praying for rain while we pray the Lenten prayer, “we have no power of ourselves to save ourselves,” as we eat our way towards Easter.
We’re now in the middle of this thing— and going into it (after reading Kingsolver’s stories of eating zucchini for weeks because that was all that was in season) I thought we were going to tighten our belts and do a bit of Lenten suffering. Then, once we started, I realised–we live in SOUTH AFRICA! Lent falls in late summer, and our farmers market is bursting with tomatoes, leafy greens, as well as squashes, plums, nectarines, and— yes, bananas. We’re close enough to the coast here for that. (My sister in Northern Indiana checked what was locally in season for her: I believe it was just apples and broccoli).
So— our food choices have not been that limited by eating locally.
Secondly, even if we don’t go to the farmer’s market, our local grocery store uses local suppliers for almost all their produce. You can buy the store-chain-brand of things, which are shipped in from a bit further away (and more pre-packaged), or you can buy the local version, and they are sitting right next to each other on the shelf. I can easily tell that this lettuce comes from Frosties farm just down the road, and this rosemary was grown fifteen minutes away. We also live smack in the middle of farm country here… we’re surrounded by dairies, so all of our milk is local as well. (I did try buying the “straight from the cow that lives a happy life” milk at the farmer’s market, but was too freaked out about disease to drink it unpasteurized, and pasteurizing your own milk is no fun).
Third, buying locally is super tasty. As Kingsolver points out, “Breeding to increase shelf life also has tended to decrease palatability. Bizarre as it seems, we’ve accepted a tradeoff that amounts to: “Give me every vegetable in every season, even if it tastes like a cardboard picture of its former self.”
Fourth, the biggest area that has changed is we’re trying to be super conscious about our animal products— making sure they are living happy lives. We don’t eat much meat anyway, but we’ve been very thankful for a Farmers market where free range eggs, pork, and chicken (and cheese) are easily available. While I’ve heard the USA is the worst when it comes to factory farming animals, I’m pretty sure South Africa isn’t far behind. Besides that, we’re currently in a massive Listeria outbreak (the worst ever in the world), and all processed meat from our major meat supplier (particularly the cheapest kind) has been recalled.
I was reminded again how our wealth, which we often use for conspicuous consumption and that causes so many ill effects, can also buffer us from these negative effects. The poor people in South Africa who eat polony as a cheap source of protein are also more at risk for falling ill because of depressed immune systems and have less ability to get adequate healthcare. The rich (who don’t eat polony anyway) have the ability to be treated quickly and effectively.
We haven’t been as strict as we could be. We’ve eaten pasta. I’ve had tea and cake a few times at restaurants. We’ve used olive oil. It’s been a little stressful on a Friday night wondering what to eat (the market is on Saturday). Sometimes I’m tired of making bread myself. I miss cereal. I haven’t quite figured out how much of everything I need to buy in one go… it’s strange not just popping out to the grocery store whenever I want. It’s strange not sitting down at the start of the week and planning my menu, but instead seeing what’s available and working from that. We broke down one very hot day when our car broke down in 100 degree heat and bought Coke.
If even these very small limits are irritating, it makes me wonder- how deeply entrenched in my heart is this idea that as long as I have the money in my pocket, I deserve what I want when I want it ?
We won’t locavore forever. (There are actually some decent arguments from economists about how some larger produce exchange networks can be useful for the world in some cases)… but that’s the purpose of Lent. We don’t fast forever- but we learn something from the fast that changes our hearts.