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Confessions of an Omnivore
While grocery shopping, I have often struggled with the decision to buy organic or buy local. Yes, the organic is better for farms’ environments, farm workers, and for consumers’ health (at least in the short term). But if the organic food is shipped in from Argentina, what are the costs in terms of fossil fuel consumption and emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases? This question on the origins of our food has implications not only at the grocery store, but also in our work at the Foundation. We cannot ignore food production when we are talking about communities’ futures, and there are lessons on sustainability that farms can teach those of us working in the planning field.
Having read Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, I was thrilled to see that he had a new book that dealt exclusively with food and where food comes from. The Omnivore’s Dilemma addresses the question of what we, as omnivores, should eat. Our dilemma is that, since we can eat pretty much anything, how do we determine what is good to eat and what will kill us? Pollan’s book discusses with humor and detail the “natural history” of four sample meals as a means to explore this question. Pollan also looks at the omnivore’s dilemma by questioning the larger effects of our food choices on the world around us.
I came away convinced that, while local organic food is the best on all fronts, local food (organic or not) is in many ways superior to imported organic food. His description of an almost completely self-contained small farm that is supported by the local economy is a glimpse of a model for community sustainability. In an era of globalization, the local farm where consumers literally see where their food comes from, start to finish, ensures best practices for raising and harvesting both crops and animals. The transparency of the process is vital for the farm’s customers to feel as though they are getting food that they can feel good about. Likewise, transparency in the planning process leads to processes that citizens can feel good about. Providing community members with the opportunity to know exactly where the community’s plan for the future is coming from and offering them opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way is the best way to get sustainable plans for the future.
While we will always need a few things from outside our communities, farms that cater to local needs and are in sync with the local environment should be considered our best resource—both for food and for examples of sustainable systems and processes.