Sunday, March 6, 2011

Eating local strengthens body and region

Eating local strengthens body and region

The Industrial Revolution drove people off farmland and concentrated them in cities. Farmers became factory workers, disconnected from land and food source. This process has continued to the present day.

The geographical, social and cultural gap between farm and consumer has created an entire generation of people who don't understand the consequences to our health, economy and environment. We have forgotten that food is literally life, and we really are what we eat.

Vancouver Island imports more than 90 per cent of its food, and most of this bears little resemblance to the plant or animal from which it is made.

We want fast and we want tasty. We don't care where it comes from, or whether it's good for us.

Meat comes wrapped in plastic -it has no relationship to the muscle of a oncebreathing animal. Food comes from a box or a can -it is difficult to trace the biological origins, even if you read the label.

The industrial food machine has produced abundance, but the problem is that every stage of processing destroys the nutrients. Foods are engineered for maximum shelf life, becoming sterile and lifeless.

Processing vegetables and grains breaks down the complex carbohydrates into simpler sugars and removes the fibre that would have slowed the absorption of those sugars.

The result is a spike of sugar in the blood, which the body then stores as fat. If the sugar spikes too frequently, the cells of the body develop difficulty absorbing the sugar, and diabetes is the result.

Too much fat causes inflammation. Inflammation causes vascular disease. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer can all be traced to the processed foods we consume.

Even minimally processed fruits and vegetables are imported from gigantic monoculture farms and suffer from being grown on nutritionally depleted soils, then picked unripe and refrigerated for days to weeks before arriving at the supermarket. We sometimes forget we live on an island and rely on extensive transportation systems to get our food to the stores.

The globalization movement claimed location was irrelevant. However, climate change and rising energy costs have made location very relevant indeed. We still need international trade; not everything grows in every climate, and I want my morning coffee and occasional treat of dark chocolate (preferably fair trade). But can we really reduce greenhouse gas emissions and continue to run refrigerated food trucks across the country?

It is easy to feel insignificant, like "I can't make a difference," but our entire society changes direction as a result of individual choices. It all adds up.

I don't believe in absolutes: such thinking only leads to overwhelm and inaction. The 100-Mile Diet is a beautiful ideal, but it is unattainable, if not undesirable, for the majority of people. It is not necessary to exclude all processed foods; it is not necessary to buy all your food from within a defined area. The solution is to simply try to eat more whole foods and make an effort to buy local whenever possible.

The local food movement is strong on Vancouver Island. As more people make the choice to buy their food locally, there will be more incentive to produce food for that market, and as the market grows, it becomes more affordable and easy to choose to buy locally, which grows the market further. The farm markets in Nanaimo and across the Island are showing record growth with each passing year.

In economics, growth equals prosperity -the local food movement could literally grow out of this global recession. Eating local food improves the health of the individuals, the economy and the environment. It is a win-win-win situation.

We are in the midst of another agricultural revolution. This time, the paradigm is shifting back to local small-scale organic farming. People are reconnecting to the land within the confines of the city: lawns, rooftops and empty lots are being reclaimed for growing food. In Victoria, "pocket markets" are creating a niche to sell the surplus produce of the smallest garden. Factory workers are, in essence, becoming farmers once more.

Fifty years ago, Vancouver Island farmers produced 85 per cent of the Island's food -we can get there again. The local agriculture revolution will strengthen the health of our bodies, communities and Mother Earth with local, environmentally sustainable food.

Chris Semrick is a registered respiratory therapist and an executive member of the Nanaimo-Alberni Green Party Association.

No comments:

Post a Comment