Did you know that humans have 98% of the same DNA as chimpanzees? I bet you did. But you probably didn't know we have 40% of the same DNA as a BANANA. That's right. From about our midsection down, we are pretty much made out of the same stuff as bananas. Hard to believe, but think about it: proteins, starches, water. It makes sense. And with this information, it's kind of a no-brainer that if we truly are what we eat, we'd want to protect what we grow. That's why this summer you should support local agriculture and shop at the nearby farmers' market, not Whole Foods.
One of the scarier truths about the environmental and "farm-friendly" movement is that much of its good will gets lost (and sometimes reversed) in the marketing process. Farm-fresh cheese can be called as such, but flown in from France, which is an oxymoron. To keep it fresh, it has to be refrigerated, then flown quickly in a jet across an ocean, then packed in ice in a truck that's sped to the loading dock of another truck station, and then onto the shelves of the store. By the time the cheese has gotten to our cracker, tons of energy has been wasted all in the name of "Farm Fresh."
Stephen and Rebekah Hren, authors of The Carbon-Free Home (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008), are both actively involved with renewable energy, natural building, and edible urban gardening. They're also pretty good at providing staggering statistics about how much energy it actually takes to feed people these days, and why this model of consumption is not necessary:
How did things get to such a sorry state? As with many things, our move toward convenience has come at the cost of our independence. Where at one time many families grew some of their own food and knew the grower of any other food they consumed, now the grower of our food is on average 1,500 miles away, and oftentimes much farther...
Exporting produce thousands of miles away ensures that the nutrients locked in that food can never be returned to the soil from which they came to cycle through again. This deficiency ensures the missing nutrients must be replaced by fossil fuels or other fossil accumulations that are being rapidly depleted, such as phosphorus.
When we consider these facts in the context of peak fossil energy and global climate disruption, then it's not surprising if our first reaction is some good old-fashioned fear and loathing. Not only is our food system consuming unsustainable amounts of energy...it's also over-consuming our water and topsoil resources at a prodigious rate. Can there be any hope of rectifying a situation that has gone so awry?
...Fortunately, the same path that brought us down into this fossilized abyss is the same one we can take back out. By gradually re-localizing our food production we can return to an agricultural system that is much less energy intensive. If there's one good thing about a system being so grossly inefficient and out of whack...it's that dramatic improvements can be made very quickly once we realize the need to turn around.
First and foremost, local farmers need our support. For real, though; not just with hip graphics on a tote bag. And while many places—including Whole Foods and local co-ops—have developed business relationships with farmers and choose to stock their shelves with small-scale farmed goods instead of conventional chain brands, it's still way better to buy directly from the farmer. This is why farmers markets are the grocery stores of the future. Primarily, these markets cut out the middleman, which means the farmer makes more money and gets to pocket their commission (there's a small fee to join a market, but nominal.) This supports farmers' growth, their sustainability, and their capabilities of steering clear of pesticides and other fix-it-quick schemes that ruin food quality in the name of easy cash. Second, it saves us money! The mark-ups in markets are a total atrocity. Buying straight from the farmer more often than not is a better deal financially, and the food is fresher, tastes better, and is better for you.
Our social responsibility lies not only in our intentions, but our actions. Sustainable food consumption should be a top priority in the future of social systems, and supporting local farmers is number one in that mission.