When my family decided to eat locally for one year, we were moved into the project by our heads, but kept there by our hearts. We knew our country’s food-production system had been hijacked by agribusiness, which is motivated by profit rather than health, flavor, security, or the health of farming communities. Re-engaging with all of those values felt right to us—and tasted wonderful. By the time we finished the year, we couldn’t imagine returning to jet-lagged vegetables or feedlot meats.
We missed a few things—wild-caught Alaskan salmon, for instance—but we didn’t miss processed foods. We made all our own bread; no high-fructose corn syrup crossed our threshold. It’s true that we invested time in our meals. But every family, if it’s a healthy one, invests time in family culture and values. For us, a lot of this happened through attending to the sources of our sustenance. We were still able to exist as a pretty normal American family. My youngest is a fifth-grader, so our diet is kid-friendly: homemade pizza every Friday night, for example.
Local eating is not about what you’re giving up, but about what you’re getting: a thoughtful culture of food in your family, a sense of belonging to your neighborhood and your landscape. And fresh, healthy food on your table. We live on our own little farm in southwestern Virginia, so we grow a lot of our own produce. But anyone who lives near food-producing land can do this—and that’s most people in the United States.
Here’s my best advice: Start in early summer. Find a farmers’ market near you (www.local harvest.org can help) and make it part of your shopping routine. In the grocery, read labels. You may be surprised by how many foods are grown or produced in your own state. If everyone in the United States ate just one meal per week based on organic, locally grown ingredients, that would save our country over a million barrels of oil every week. And it really couldn’t taste better.
Barbara Kingsolver, co-author (with husband, Steven L. Hopp and daughter Camille Kingsolver) of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (HarperCollins, 2007)