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home : health : health May 26, 2018

3/13/2018 6:28:00 PM
Every bite matters
By Sarahlee Lawrence

Food is a daily essential of our lives. We all make decisions about what to eat. These decisions implicate us in the real cost of that food - socially, environmentally, and economically. Not to mention that our choices impact our health slowly, for better or worse, with every bite.

When we walk into a grocery store we see aisles of food, colorful, unblemished, and convenient. A cornucopia year-round. Look a little deeper and its just a sea of labels, eye-catching branding on one side and a long list of ingredients on the other. There we are, fighting the monkey in us that reaches for what appeals aesthetically or what we are craving at the moment, and force ourselves to read the ingredients.

Hmmm, there are a bunch of ingredients that I don't recognize or can't say. The mind flips through some information about diets, cancer, health benefits, field laborers, soil erosion, chemicals. What do these ingredients even mean? And where is it from? It doesn't even say where its from because we can't seem to pass a law that requires that little piece of information be labeled - let alone whether or not it is genetically modified.

These are processed foods, with multiple ingredients. So, head over to the vegetables and meats. Already a step in the right direction, since these qualify as whole ingredients, instead of processed, pasteurized, preserved, enriched products that lurk at the center of the store. Still, more branding. Maybe some organic labels. But where is it from? How far, really? 150 miles? 1,500 miles? Another continent? The recipe in hand calls for ginger, sweet potatoes, and bell peppers. Chile, China, California. Only one option for each. Grab it and go.

But isn't there anything in the grocery store that was grown locally? 80 percent of the time, no. But Central Oregon produces a full array of vegetables in the summer, and stores tons of roots and meats in the winter, plus grows hardy greens in passive solar hoop houses.

Try this: "Grocer, please direct me to where you display locally grown foods." There may be nothing. You may have to decide if California is local to you. Grocery stores working with Agricultural Connections, who works closely with growers, distributes to grocery stores around the area. Ask if the store works with them, or a local farmer directly.

Same goes for restaurants. What on the plate is grown in Central Oregon? Do they use any organic produce? Have salad, because that's what you get every time, but put some chicken breast on top. Where did that come from? Where did its food come from? And what happened to the rest of the animal when you just keep ordering the breast?

You can't even ask these questions because it makes you feel bad.

It's too much information and suddenly you feel like you can't even trust the information. It is such a job to filter through it all. Paralyzing, in fact. You are right when you feel like making a small decision about food takes the same bandwidth as a huge decision at work. So you save your energy.

When we make our choice at the grocery store or restaurant, we become a part of the story of each ingredient. Complacent entitlement drives an industrial agricultural machine that is mechanized, fossil fuel-dependent, genetically modified, and consolidated, pushing small farmers off of their land and animals into confined feeding operations. The objective is profit and efficiency - as opposed to flavor, nutrients, well-being, soil health, and thriving communities cultivated by small diverse farmers.

In our community, we have a few people raising food. Driven by passion, with an earnest faith in and affection for their land, these people understand our inescapable bonds to the earth and each other. When you feed yourself and your family with ingredients cultivated by a farmer you know, you actively support the stewardship of land, a more complex living soil, beneficial insects, open spaces, independence and neighborliness.

If this is turning on lights for you, the closest you can get to your farmer is through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. When you invest in a farmer, they commit to growing for you as their number-one priority and your dollars stay almost entirely in your community. A thriving local economy benefits everyone. Check out Seed to Table, Mahonia Gardens, and Rainshadow Organics.

If you travel, aren't adventurous with your food, or want more flexibility, commit to shopping at the summer farmer's market every Friday. Change the way you shop. Go to the market first, see what is in season, support multiple farms, and then do your meal planning for the week. Make it part of your routine.

If a narrow window of time on Fridays doesn't work for your schedule, head on out to the Rainshadow Organics Farm Store, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m Tuesday through Saturday, May through October. There, you can tour the farm that raises a full diet; vegetables, meats, fruits, grains, honey, and dairy. They also offer preserved goods such as tomato sauce, all kinds of pickles, hot sauce, apple sauce, jams, herbal teas, fermented foods. And even lunch. 95 percent from the farm. 100 percent organic. They offer all of these things to their community as a way to share their agrarian way of life.

It feels like a gift to them and they feel obligated to share.

When you find yourself at any other grocery, know your farms and ask the grocer for meats, grains, vegetables and fruits that are locally raised. If you do not ask, they will not know that consumers want local, organic food. You thus remain enslaved to what is available from thousands of miles away, devoid of nutrients and flavor by the time it reaches you. It is time to ask yourself why you want what you want, when you want it, no matter the cost to communities of humans, plants, and animals, let alone the quality of the food.

Buying local food is an active and tangible way to be a part of the solution. When the world feels overwhelming and there is nothing you can do... buy local food. Contribute to the well-being and viability of your town by supporting young people passionate about farming. They need a food culture that supports them as small farmers. They will be able to host more children on the farm, hire more employees, cultivate biodiversity and soil health, while ensuring food security.

Sarahlee Lawrence is the owner and proprietor of Rainshadow Organics

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