I have a rant inside me, but I’m going to tone it down and let out only the rational, level-headed part of the discussion.
I had a comment recently from a beloved reader who thinks the Eat Local Challenge is elitist. Because poor people can’t afford to participate.
First of all, a poor kid could get a scholarship to Yale, and then she’d be part of the elite, but she’d still be poor. So “elite” may not be the word my reader was searching for.
In fact, any form of obsession with food – at the level we participate in blogwise – is elitist, so I guess I’ll have to cop to being elitist myself.
But that’s no reason not to participate.
Last year – in fact, I think it was August, during 2005’s Eat Local Challenge – the New York Times ran an op-ed stating just that: eating locally is elitist. I don’t remember all the arguments, although I recall some flawed reasoning along the lines that poor people are somehow ennobled by their honest, primitive diets.
Reality check: Poor people eat terribly! Poor people are no longer growing kitchen gardens. Poor people don’t have chickens in the back yard. They spend their money – or their food stamps – at the same stores you and I shop at (or prefer to avoid). And in those stores, they buy processed, overpriced crap.
If poor people want to eat a healthier diet, and if they can’t afford to get themselves to a farmers market or roadside stand, they still have the option of buying fresh, nutritious food at their cruddy chain supermarket. Some of that food might be local, a lot won’t.
But, see, I’m not ordering anyone to join the Eat Local Challenge. It’s voluntary.
You can watch me while I do it, you can laugh or you can snort, but it’s just a neat experiment that I find very educational (and rather tasty).
I will never claim that I’m doing it because I can afford to – I was unexpectedly “relieved” of my job three years ago, and at my age, I’m not bubbling to the top of any headhunter’s short list. So money is not easy at my house.
Eating locally, judging from my experience last year, boils down to eating very simply. No imports. No extravagances.
OK, sure, the local eggs are more expensive. But they’re so fresh and delicious you don’t want to stuff yourself with them. One or two will knock you silly, and you’re done. Organic produce often fetches higher prices, but again, the food is so satisfying you don’t want to shove vast quantities in your maw, the way you might with tasteless, lifeless food that has been trucked in from hundreds (thousands, even) of miles away.
That’s the educational part about ELC – and that’s the blissful reward.
I am so grateful for my reader's comment, and for the conversation I hope this post will generate.
(By the way, the farmers markets in San Francisco accept food stamps, and I have observed many a shopper participate, especially at the Heart of the City market at Civic Center.)
Was that level-headed enough?