Do you eat local? Think again.

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10 Jun Do you eat local? Think again.

I don’t normally get on a soapbox but this video deserves 2 minutes and 46 seconds of your attention. It’s not funny. It’s not cute. It’s just very eye-opening.

I saw a raw version of this video during the Hellman’s information session I attended a couple of weeks ago. During the viewing, I gasped out loud when I heard the ratio of homegrown to imported pears.

Denial immediately set in. I told myself all sorts of soothing things. The biggest comfort? Living just outside the farm-rich Kitchener-Waterloo region most of my food was local. Pears must be one dramatic exception. Yes, that’s it. They picked the one item that would grab me by the collar and shake me.

But the researchers for this video must have been psychic. Part way through my mental placating, the narrator dropped another bomb. On average, meals in the K-W region, despite being surrounded by farms, travel more than 4000 kilometers to get to the table. And pears alone don’t make a meal.

Busted.

The video is now up on YouTube, with fancy graphics in place, but the information is no less unsettling the second time round. In fact, I’m a bit more disturbed since I’ve absorbed more of the data. While they use Canadian statistics, I’m sure the numbers aren’t all that different for the US border states. And what would the numbers be for countries with a short growing season and little arable land?

In the interest of full disclosure, I remind you the information session was hosted by Hellman’s, who paid for my hotel, transportation, meals and beverages. The presenters tell me the numbers used in this video came from a wide variety of impartial sources and were meticulously vetted before going live. Based on the thoroughness of their legal department in allowing for reciprocal links, I believe them. I also want you to know I’m under no obligation — legal or implied — to mention or promote this video.

After seeing this, Andrew pointed out that we don’t know where the flash frozen fruit that stocks our freeze all winter comes from. We just assumed that the local company we buy from sells local berries. While I’m not about to give up mangos, lemons, coffee and coconut, I realize I’ve been taking a lot on faith and need to ask more questions before dropping produce in the cart.

To help with your local purchase choices, Hellman’s lists in-season ingredients by province on their Eat Real, Eat Local site. Your Farmers’ Market website or Greenbelt Fresh can also provide information about seasonal and local produce. If you live in Quebec, SOS Cuisine is an outstanding source for seasonal food. I’m not sure what sites exist for US readers, but if you know of any, please post the link in the comments section and I’ll set up a link section listing local food sites for both countries.

Or you could take matters into your own hands like BBS did. He writes:

The Essex County Federation of Agriculture recently published a Local Foods map. It’s limited in some ways as they only published those sources who paid to be included in the map. Nevertheless, it’s a good start. They published 20,000 hard copies of the map for distribution. I took the locations they had listed on the map and created an Essex County Local Food Map using Google Maps. Every location listed on the map was also invited as collaborators. Initially the map drew around 2 to 3 thousand views, which then drew the interest of the Federation. They have since included the map on their website and the views are now over 21,000.

I’m currently working on filling out enhanced profiles for each of the locations. As well, several other local food enthusiasts have joined up and we’re planning a second free online version of the map that will include all the local food sources that we can find.

Google Maps is a great free resource that can be utilized anywhere to create your own local food map. Hard copy maps are great, but they can be expensive and time consuming to create. This is a simple free solution that can then be shared online through blogs, websites, Facebook and other social media sites. If anyone is interested in setting up or promoting their own local map online, I’d be more than happy to help.

Almost forgot –here’s a quick and rough example of how you can also use Google to create your own free site to help promote your map.

I know I recently wrote about eating local and many of you, like BBS, weighed in on the topic, but I’m curious, does a video like this drive home the reality better? Or do we just need to keep talking about the topic to keep it in the front of our brains? Or have we talked about it so much you’d eat Chinese garlic to shut me up?

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28 Comments
  • Ruth Daniels
    Posted at 10:40h, 10 June Reply

    Great post and I think we need to keep talking about it or things will never change.

    It's easy to eat local in the summer…lots of local produce around. So how come so many grocery stores are still buying imported food???? If we don't nag them – we'll just "get what we've always got".

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 11:23h, 10 June Reply

    This is certainly informative, but where are the suggestions about what we're supposed to do during the winter months? We're not all fortunate enough to live in climates where it is temperate year-round. (I live in Central Illinois, USA, in your same time zone.) Our farmer's markets won't have much to offer at all for at least another few months, and by that time my own tomatoes and other vegetables will be coming in. I can get great local apples and peaches, but not until later summer/early fall. Our one grocery store in town does carry some organically raised produce from a local university-sponsored farm, but again, the season is short. I do can alot of my produce for the colder months (mostly tomatoes), but we're realistically talking half the year here when it's just not possible to buy local, probably even longer.

    In the winter I do adapt my cooking, using more dried beans for soups and such, and use more frozen vegetables, and I do have a source for locally fed and raised beef, which I try to buy as much as possible, though the price is higher. But what about lettuce and spinach? Fish and seafood? Where are we supposed to get those? There seems to be a great disconnect between how we're SUPPOSED to eat and what is actually available to many of us at any given time.

    Anyway, you made some great points, and I actually DO try to keep it in the front of my brain as much as possible. Let's ALL move to California and/or Italy! 😉

    ~ Peggasus

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 11:34h, 10 June Reply

    Ruth, I've found nagging helps when a local alternative is available. Our Zehrs now has a local source for garlic, although they still stock Chinese.

    Peggasus, thanks so much for the detailed and well thought out response. I hear you and totally agree! There is indeed a huge disconnect between what we are supposed to eat and what we can get our hands on. The system is broken in many places and the fix won't be fast or easy.

    I admire you for eating as seasonally as possible. You aren't alone in your struggle. I'm going to look at some solutions over the summer and post as many seasonal recipes as possible — no more poached pears in the dead of winter. But I just know I'll be buying organic California spinach in January because I crave a fresh salad. The question then will be where to draw the line.

  • The Diva on a Diet
    Posted at 12:47h, 10 June Reply

    That video is really well done. Quite an eye opener and I would like to see one for my neck of the woods (NYC).

    My thoughts are much the same as Peggasus and struggle with the same issues. I try to eat local … but I live in the North East and I'm not about to go all winter without a salad, ya know?

  • The Diva on a Diet
    Posted at 12:47h, 10 June Reply

    That video is really well done. Quite an eye opener and I would like to see one for my neck of the woods (NYC).

    My thoughts are much the same as Peggasus and struggle with the same issues. I try to eat local … but I live in the North East and I'm not about to go all winter without a salad, ya know?

  • cheryl
    Posted at 13:57h, 10 June Reply

    Charmian, I love videos like this because they take a complex issue and drive home the important statistics in a clear manner without dumbing the information down.

    Peggasus seems to be doing everything right, even though she, and other folks in cooler climates, may feel they're not doing enough. I personally don't think we have to aim for an all or nothing solution. Every little bit of local purchasing helps. And you shouldn't feel guilty about eating a spinach salad in January.

  • BBS
    Posted at 20:48h, 10 June Reply

    By all means, keep writing, blogging, talking and using every social media tool that you can. A quick Tweet when you find a great local food source can inform many people. A video camera, a visit to your local grocery store and YouTube and you have your own local food video. I think the more people discuss the issue, the more demand that is displayed, then the smart merchants will recognize an opportunity and look to fill it.

  • danamccauley
    Posted at 20:59h, 10 June Reply

    Andrew makes a good point. While wonderful berries grow right here in York Region (I live walking distance to the former UPick that was Southbrook farm), I know that when I looked at the package of Europe's Best frozen raspberries in my freezer one day that they were product of CHile. And, I noticed that the company is from Quebec….talk about confusing!

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 14:21h, 11 June Reply

    Thanks for weighing in. I'm hoping to increase awareness, not guilt.

    Diva, I can't do all winter without a salad either. I'd just like to eat local lettuce in July. I think the key is in striking a balance.

    I hope to address the issue of what to do in the winter months as the time approaches, but in the meantime, eating local should be easy this time of year– and it's not necessarily a snap.

    Cheryl, thanks for your thoughts on the video. I felt the same way but can't assume everyone is like me (which is a good thing in many ways!)

    BBS, I actually tweeted about your Google Maps and someone in BC responded.

    Dana, I'll be looking for locally flash frozen fruit from now on. Too bad Southbrook moved. They're now in Niagara, if I'm not mistaken. Love their raspberry wine!

  • Dorothy
    Posted at 18:50h, 11 June Reply

    Hi Christie,

    I love the videos that you have added to your site. However, the Bitchin Kitchen comes on every time I visit you! Needless to say, as you continue to post, it will take some time to scroll down to shut it off. can you disable the automatic play feature, or do you have an idea what I should do?
    Thanks!

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 20:06h, 11 June Reply

    Dorothy, thanks for the note. I thought it was just because my Mac launches things automatically. I've pulled a version of the video from YouTube and it should only launch when you click the "play" button.

    This fix works on my computer. Hope it works on yours too! Thanks again for alerting me to the issue.

  • theasiangrandmotherscookbook
    Posted at 18:46h, 14 June Reply

    This was an eye-opening post and video. It hits home a lot harder when figures are explicit and stark comparisons made (the 1 locally grown vs 700 imported pears was a shocker!). I truly believe in eating as much local as possible but growing up in Singapore, a tiny island where land was so precious that any available square footage was taken over for development, about 95% of the food I ate growing up was imported albeit from neighboring countries not so far away. But it reveals a fact that is often ignored: it's easy to eat local and eat organic when it's readily available. I'm lucky to now live in California where we have farmers markets running all year round but it's harder to do when you live in different climates.

  • Cheryl Arkison
    Posted at 11:10h, 17 June Reply

    Funny how we can convince ourselves how hard it is to not eat local in the winter. Um, what did people do 100 years ago before a global food market and transportation system? They survived, but the food wasn't as good. We've just gotten very comfortable and used to oranges in winter, and even those bland white strawberries.

    On a different note, the marketers have caught on, so let the greenwashing begin. I still kind of giggle at the Oasis commercials where they go on and on about being a Canadian company. Hello? You're still selling orange juice!

  • Cheryl Arkison
    Posted at 11:10h, 17 June Reply

    Funny how we can convince ourselves how hard it is to not eat local in the winter. Um, what did people do 100 years ago before a global food market and transportation system? They survived, but the food wasn't as good. We've just gotten very comfortable and used to oranges in winter, and even those bland white strawberries.

    On a different note, the marketers have caught on, so let the greenwashing begin. I still kind of giggle at the Oasis commercials where they go on and on about being a Canadian company. Hello? You're still selling orange juice!

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 23:19h, 17 June Reply

    Interesting comments, Cheryl. Previous generations ate local food all winter — but they did the canning / preserving at the peak of the season. They also ate a lot of root vegetables, which likely got rather boring. I'm not totally against eating imported foods in the dead of winter. But I think it's ridiculous to eat imported fruits and veggies when they're in season here.

    The term "Greenwashing" is new to me, but I've seen evidence of it and shake my head. Labeling is helpful but it's not a substitute for common sense.

  • Pierre Lamontagne
    Posted at 12:05h, 18 June Reply

    Hi Christie,

    Thanks for letting your readers know about SOSCuisine.com and our Eat Local Menu
    for Quebec. I just wanted to point out that we have an

    Eat Local Menu for Ontario
    too. We design it each week to help locavores
    make the most of the fresh seasonal produce and other food. To do so, we base
    ourselves on the crop availability information that is provided to us by our
    Guelph-based partner, the Ontario Fruit &
    Vegetable Growers Association
    .

    They are present each week at the Toronto Food Terminal, and update the

    availability info
    directly into our website to reflect the variations in
    harvesting dates caused by weather conditions.

    Bon appetit!

    Pierre

  • One of the Woodside Joneses
    Posted at 12:53h, 23 July Reply

    Thought I'd mention that the green beans we had for dinner last night were definitely local: some still had the blossoms attached.

    How's that for fresh?

    Jill

  • One of the Woodside Joneses
    Posted at 19:52h, 23 July Reply

    Just a picture. Your pix are getting better and better by the way. I thought I'd post my veggie pic here in the 'grown local' section. I've taken so many pix but not posted any in my photo pic blog!! Thought this topic would be a good excuse. You are keeping me on my toes photo-wise Charmian.

    http://woodsidejonesespix.blogspot.com/2009/07/vegetable.html/

    Jill

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 10:18h, 24 July Reply

    Thanks Jill. I'm working on it!! Loved the cucumber photo you posted. I have GOT to grow a veggie patch next year.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 16:42h, 02 September Reply

    Hi Christie,
    "The presenters tell me the numbers used in this video came from a wide variety of impartial sources and were meticulously vetted before going live."
    Correction: The one bit of data I checked–Nova Scotia blueberries–was an egregious misuse of data (dishonest really). There is nothing like the declining production trend the video claims. Check it for yourself: http://www.gov.ns.ca/agri/marketing/statistics/agriculture/table23-2008.pdf

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 08:51h, 03 September Reply

    Thanks for commenting, Anonymous. I'll look into where they got their numbers and hopefully get back to you via this comment section.

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 15:08h, 18 September Reply

    Anonymous, I have an answer for you. The 2008 stats weren't available at the time the numbers for this video were vetted. The 2008 crop was a massive rebound year (41,500 M pounds)– the best in 5 years. So, given your numbers, which include 2008, the video is incorrect, but it was as accurate as it could be at the time.

    Also 2003 was another bumper crop, which skewed the drop. If you look at the numbers from 2003 (best year) to 2007 (worst year), it shows a HUGE decline.

    2003 –58,600
    2004 — 37.750
    2005 –34,886
    2006 — 33,796
    2007 — 27,000

    Without the 2008 numbers (41,500), this drop is alarming.

    Let's hope that 2009 is as good as 2008 and the trend has been reversed.

    Hope this answers your question. It certainly makes me feel better since I love blueberries and would hate to think this crop was in danger.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 19:05h, 30 September Reply

    Hi Charmian,

    The link to the Nova Scotia agriculture statistics provided in the post above gives ten years worth of data. The 2003 harvest was clearly a high anomaly. Anyone using that year as a starting point for a trend was deliberately cherry-picking data in a way that discredits their message. A far better metric would be the cultivated area shown in the table—which is slowly but steadily increasing. Don’t worry. Contrary to the misleading message of the film, you should be able to get your hands on lots of yummy blueberries in the future.

    Cheers,

    Dan

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 08:15h, 01 October Reply

    Thanks Dan. I appreciate you taking the time to read my answer and respond (and so civilly, too!) I am incredibly relieved to know the blueberry crop is not ind danger. Thanks again for your intelligent and reassuring response.

  • Heather Stubbs
    Posted at 10:07h, 09 January Reply

    Hi Charmian,

    As a public speaker, I’m preparing a talk called “City Girl Meets the Little Red Hen” — mainly about my move from Toronto to the southern Ontario countryside and the joys of keeping chickens and growing an organic vegetable garden. I’m delighted to have found this video, and plan to include discussion of the locavore movement in my talk. I appreciate the comments you have posted here. Local farmers are now my neighbours, and it has broadened my viewpoint considerably.

    I agree that eating fresh vegetables and salad is problematic for Canadians in winter — perhaps more coleslaw with Ontario cabbage and just cutting back on California lettuce. What is astonishing is that even in summer, with beautiful, fresh, local salad ingredients available, people still buy California lettuce!

    I also applaud recent changes in by-laws to allow keeping backyard chickens in urban settings. Hurray for Vancouver for rescinding their ban on urban chickens! I hope more Canadian cities follow their lead.

    Obviously we seek balance. I happen to like coffee, pineapple and spices. Things we can’t produce here in Canada. But, every individual purchase makes a difference. I heard a lovely quote: “If you think one individual can’t make a difference, you’ve never been in a tent with a mosquito!”

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:19h, 12 January Reply

      Great quote, Heather.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to post such a thorough comment. I’d love to know about your chicken raising adventures. I’m a bit leery on it myself — more about the humans than the chickens — and would love to hear some first-hand accounts on this topic.

      Good luck with your talk!

  • samuel
    Posted at 21:47h, 01 March Reply

    I want to be critical for your own good. Because I like your site.
    This video has lots of information but not the ones I expected to find.
    It is a professional video and it means nothing if we in fact import more food items than we export. It would help your readers immensely if you picked on which specy of food grows “naturally in Canada — sure depending on what Province we live in” and how to get those specific producuts to consume. Example — I live in Quebec and love tomatoes…what specific months should I look for to buy them….so I can consume to my pleasure and taste. Other vegetables recommended etc.
    That kind of info would be much more appreciated. Voila.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 08:54h, 02 March Reply

      Samuel, you’re absolutely right. What is in season varies from province to province and even region to region. The video was to raise awareness but didn’t offer a lot of concrete solutions.

      Since I posted this video, SOS Cuisine has expanded their site to include all provinces. And this site gives you the kind of information in-season produce information you’re looking for. I’ll post more on this later, but in the meantime, here’s the link.
      http://www.soscuisine.com/

      Thanks for your constructive criticism!

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