The local food system focuses on reducing the distance from farm to table and keeping people informed on how to find nutritious foods to put on their plates while supporting local urban and traditional farms to reduce one's environmental footprint. "The way we eat reflects how we are taking care of the planet." – Alice Waters.
Every year, more and more supermarkets, convenience stores, grocery stores, and fast-food places are placed strategically in low-income areas. Still, the quality of food is not the same in comparison to locally grown food. Researching ways to gain access to locally grown foods is increasing, but we still have a long way to go. We as humans should never have to choose between eating food vs eating for a healthier lifestyle. The government needs to support more sustainable locally grown food so that this type of food insecurity can be advocated for addressed to enrich local communities. A great example of this would be Afri-Can Food Basket, whose mission is to provide leadership in urban agriculture and foster collaboration to advance food justice, health, and social enterprise in the African Canadian Community. (Afri-Can FoodBasket, n.d.) They are promoting a stronger community through food education while actively teaching urban farming, thus creating a well-informed autonomous community.
The 100 Mile Diet Change Report
The benefit of eating local foods is the primary reason why I wanted my family to partake in this diet. "In a local food system, production, processing, and consumption may take place within one village or even one farm." (The University of Iowa, n.d.) Since the diet required a 100-mile distance for locally grown produce, this included more local urban farms and traditional farms. Including not only your transportation but the time needed to travel to get your produce. You want to make sure you are not travelling too far to find fresh produce since driving adds to your carbon footprint and food miles. What I did was find places that were close to each other. The White Feather Country Store was 1.7 km which was 2 minutes away from Linton's Farm Market and 20 minutes from home. The Durham College Whitby Campus, where the Bistro '67 is located, was 5.2km, about 7 minutes from my home making it more accessible and sustainable for me to check out these markets before travelling further outside of the Durham Region.
In the planning stage of this diet, I thought it was essential to set a budget, so we decided that $200 was more than enough for five days, especially since we are a family of 4 with only one of us bringing in a biweekly income. Our family is not middle or low class; we are somewhere in between most months. We both understand what it means to grow up in a home where your food options are limited—having used food banks in our younger days and repetition of our family meals we know how to work with what we have to have more food. We were able to have five pantry items that we could use throughout the five days; since I was doing all the cooking, I felt it was important to have salt, pepper, olive oil, ketchup, and butter. Items that could help pull the natural flavours of each produce and are very versatile as pantry items.
My husband Jaleel and I spent just about $185 on produce and $40 on gas, and $10 on sustainable produce bags, freezer bags and a colander to wash everything before consumption. We decided to visit family and friends who created their own gardens in their back yards which gave us many herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, and kale as a part of this experience. The first thing we did
was blend up all the spices with water and place them in a small jar for marinating meats and vegetables. With an array of herbs, raspberries, jalapenos, tomatoes, and a few edible flowers in our backyard, we felt that what we had gathered was enough. Unfortunately, after precutting all our produce, we quickly realized that it would be more appropriate and feasible if both of us did the diet without the children. If we drove further out to find locally grown wheat like Brant Flour Mills, which was a 3-hour and 19-minute drive, I might have been able to include the children. The 100-mile diet was not affordable or feasible for us because of the budget that we set out. Our children still enjoyed our fruits and the bread we made using a sourdough starter kit. We bought from the Durham Colleges Field to Fork Restaurant and a CSA bag for $30. CSA Stands for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) which is a production and marketing model where consumers buy shares of a farm's harvest in advance available for pick up or delivery. The CSA bag is an excellent opportunity to purchase locally grown produce for a fair price; the only problem is you don't have the option of what goes in your bag or box. When you compare this to going to no-frills or supermarkets, you get less from your local grocery store and sacrifice quality for quantity when you belong to a low-income family. The fact that you can not choose what goes into your CSA bag would have been a significant challenge. Feeding the kids what we had would lessen everyone's food rations. I don't particularly appreciate seeing food wasted and my children going hungry, but that stems from my relationship with food at a younger age.
As we are a young black family, it is crucial that I mention that I am privileged to know where to get food in times of need without sacrificing my health as a pastry chef. Through research, education, and life experiences, I have made it a point to pay attention to my community in all the cities I have lived in to learn what my resources are. That's why in doing the 100-mile diet, I was prepared on where to go. In doing this challenge, what caught me off guard was my nightly reflections while drinking Chinese mint tea leaves growing wildly from my mother's back yard where the mental conversations I had with myself tried to restrain my sweet tooth. Questions and statements: "Tanya, are you still hungry or do I want a snack right now out of habit? I don't feel for cabbage anymore. I should have meat for dinner tomorrow." It made me appreciate food a lot more, not to mention I could taste all the flavours of everything I consumed, and they all had seeds in them, which is important because seeing seeds in foods at the grocery store is becoming less and harder to find. Why is seedless more delicious and so heavily displayed in every store within the black community? The Black community makes up the largest group of the working poor and has the greatest representation in low-income neighbourhoods. In these low-income neighbourhoods, food deserts are more likely to exist, making the possibility of purchasing affordable and healthy foods even more difficult. (Roberts, 2020) See Figure 1
Figure 1 - One Page Food Journal
The 100-mile diet is not as accessible as it could be for low-income and average-income families because there will be some sacrifices and mental preparation that come with this local food diet. Instead, I would recommend combining this local food diet with the food bank items as a way to ease into this local and sustainable lifestyle and at the same time, growing your own food at home and exchanging with neighbours who also farm outdoors and or indoors to enjoy the experience of eating local foods. Many of us have internet access, and if we do not, it is accessible at our local libraries. Research to see what is in your area before you decide to go outside of your city. By checking your city's website, you can find local food banks, farmer's markets, fresh markets, local farmers, fairs, and farms. If you are an average-income family, this diet could work if you do the same and set a budget and work within your means of seasonal produce. Having my list of what was in the season helped us navigate and utilize the most out of our money which is why we were able to purchase a tub of local cookies and cream ice cream from Kawartha Lakes and local beer from the All or Nothing brewery. By shopping for in-season produce, you are helping to cut down on your food miles. "As produce travels a shorter distance to reach your local market when it's in season. Of course, what's in season will change depending on where you live." (Prescott, 2018) In July, the produce in season follows cabbage, carrots, celery, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, lettuce, okra, summer squash, Swiss chard, tomatoes, and zucchini.
"All over the world, food is a defining characteristic of cultures, and for Native people whose roots have been established in particular geographical regions for thousands of years, physical bodies became adapted to those places from where their food drives. Food is the conduit between people and places that ensures cultural longevity and personal physical vitality. When food sources are disrupted, health and culture are disrupted, trigging a cascade of sociological repercussions." (Whitaker, 2019). As people become more knowledgeable about local food, they begin to understand why it is crucial that we support locally grown foods and see that representation of our own people teaching us what they know and their experiences on how they gain their understanding. Jaleel and I decided it was important for us to bring the kids along so they can see and learn that food comes from farms. They learned about why seeds are essential in plants and, at the end of it, decided they wanted to plant sunflower seeds that they purchased with their own money. The diet impacted my whole house, and we found the adults in the household wanted to come to the farm as well from some juicy peaches and corn because of the sweet flavours and aromas once they hit the grill. I noticed its impact on my husband well because we sat down and had almost every meal together except for the days he had work. We also discussed how we were feeling after each meal and why we thought we had gained more energy ( we believe the diet mixed with our high water intake on those days.) The days he had lower energy coincided with the days he had less meat, but I also did not increase his protein intake to match the day before. My overall experience felt very limited for me; although I enjoyed the diet, I found myself worried if it would all be enough on some days or other days, my concerns are he would eat this? I don't eat like everyone else in my household; I prefer more plants and creative ways of eating, which felt very limiting to my creative personality. We need more local food stores that carry local brands within a 100-mile radius. The prices should also reflect the community it is in; paying $8 for a half-pint of wild blueberries is not feasible pricing for low-income or middle-class families. As a chef myself, I want to respect the pricing of these hard-working farmers and helpers to support a more sustainable food system. Still, I also want to feel a sense of pride, leaving the parking lot knowing I purchased the healthiest and safest local foods for my family and friends while supporting my community.
Food insecurity needs to be tackled by the Canadian government. We need to keep implementing more community-supported programs for low-income and average-income families to increase and support healthy eating in 2021. Just like the Canadian food guide has evolved over the years, how we support local and small businesses that support and or add value to our communities, the government needs to find better ways to help support communities directly impacted by food insecurity.
The more individuals research the benefits of local food and the importance of having access and the knowledge on local food that is fresher, tastier, and has more nutrients than food that has travelled for days over a long distance. The impact it has on the environment often has less packaging helping to reduce our ecological footprint. Farmers are good stewards of the land. They are taking care to preserve it for future generations to come and its benefits on your community as a whole, more food that is grown, processed and packed within your region—creating more jobs and connections for your family, friends and neighbours. People can slow down and build a better relationship with what is on their plate. The bond between people, food, and land could increase if local communities adapted to the 100-mile diet, even for just five days. My advice would be to plan but make it fun by trying new fruits and vegetables and reducing meat intake during this time. We often have large meat portions and scarce representation of vegetables and fruits when eating what is in season adds so many health benefits to our bodies.
I would improve my experience by doing it for a week but without all the limited pantry items. Although I could work around it, it was hard to taste the same type of flavour continuously when I know my world is full of spices. Local foods could become more accessible if they were supported and advertised more to ensure the demand fits with what is available. It may take some time, but people will want more locally-grown restaurants, cafes, and farms in the next ten years. They will support fewer of these local grocery stores that are only there because of the convenience of having access to food at any time versus having quality food nourishing us and the planet.
Food security exists when all people have physical and economic access to adequate amounts of nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate food to maintain a healthy and active life. The goal for every citizen should be to push for a society that finds it important to address food insecurity so that no one ever has to worry about where their next meal comes from. Suppose you could change the world by simply changing your diet to a more locally-grown diet. In that case, your mindset will shift to what is needed, supporting our communities to ensure we all have access to healthy foods while giving back to our environment and land so that it too can nourish and replenish back into our bodies. Our traditional foods are a pillar of our culture, and they feed much more than our physical bodies; they feed our spirits. – Valerie Segrest (Whitaker, 2019)
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