Confused about food? You’re not alone.
by Luke Snow
We’ve all seen the term “local food” used in marketing. Google it and you’re likely to see area restaurants fill your screen in place of Farmers’ Markets and the farmers themselves. Everyone from grocery chains and big box retailers to franchised and locally-owned restaurants want in on the action of local food, but are they purchasing from area farms or just playing a marketing game?
So, what is local food? When we see the term used in marketing, the typical first thought is that it must have been grown or raised within a given geographic region. Dig a little deeper and most believe it also involves food that was regeneratively or sustainably produced. As with most confusing food marketing descriptors used today, local food is no exception. In fact, there is no universally accepted definition for the term.
Today, food isn’t easy. For many, eating something truly good for us has become too confusing and scary and that, my friend, is by design. Under the guise of honesty, clarity or transparency, food companies are keeping us wondering through creative marketing tactics.
Let’s follow the money. Multinational food corporations, agrochemical giants, and pharmaceutical companies all profit from the toxic, synthetic chemical, intensive food production models that were developed following World War II. These chemical-dependent giants still dominate the system, but they are stuck in the old failing models of enormous single-crop (monoculture) farms and confined animal production facilities. Feeding the world? Too big to fail? I don’t think so. Neither have concern for our health or that of the environment, which today, most would argue, go hand in hand. In a race to see who can dominate, they intentionally fabricate confusion around food and perpetuate a disconnect between our nutritional requirements and where and how our food is produced.
We see Non-GMO labels on food packages that do not contain food crops that have ever been genetically modified. The term “natural” on foods that are heavily processed and downright dangerous to consume. Farm Fresh? What does that mean?
Obviously if we’re looking at a fruit or vegetable, it was grown on a farm. But fresh? If most of the produce found in grocery stores travel 1,500 miles to your plate, is it fresh? Eggs? What does “all-natural”, “free range”, “cage free”, “farm fresh”, “pasture-raised”, or “no-hormones” mean? We see gluten free labels on products that don’t contain cereal grains such as wheat, barley or rye that contain the gluten. And, no added sugar labels on foods that are laden with, you guessed it, sugar. This tiring, ridiculous list goes on and on and on.
The single largest impact that humans have on the planet is agriculture and nature is fighting back against the systems that aim to control it. Chronic illness, cancer, herbicide resistant weeds, insecticide-resistant insects, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and permanent dead zones in our lakes and oceans are just a few examples of the direct results of the industrialized food system. Let’s not forget about E coli, mad cow disease, salmonella, and many other terrifying food safety related health problems that we didn’t know could exist 40 years ago. These are all signs of a failing system and consequences of a model more concerned with profits than doing the right thing.
The conventional, industrialized agriculture model is failing us and we know it. This tipping point is our opportunity to vote with our dollar and change the system. Spend your money in a way that speaks to a world you wish to see. Take the time to research and know the production and business practices of the companies you buy from. Sounds difficult and time consuming? Make it easier on yourself.
Who doesn’t love a farmers’ market? The opportunity to talk directly to the producer and determine whether they’re honest and deserving of your hard-earned money is perfect. This kind of transaction gives the food we consume meaning. We know how it was produced. We feel good about financially supporting the people we buy from and the fact that our money stays local, means we’re helping our city and state economy as well. For us, this is about a more honest, self-reliant food system that is in direct contrast to the conventional, deceptive industry that is more concerned about profits and keeping consumers ignorant.
My wife Amy and I are advocates for food that is grown or raised in harmony with nature and even better, close to home. We believe that now, more than ever, regeneratively grown and raised local and regional food production and our ability to access it has never been more important. We own FarmShop, LLC, a company focused on short-chain, local food logistics. We work to fill unique and necessary gaps between the soil and the table; improving access for consumers and producers. FarmShop also owns and operates Old Town Farmers’ Market, Wichita’s downtown, year-round Market. We are working with area organizations to improve the overall food system and are partnering with municipalities to develop Markets that better serve their communities as well. If you know your farmer, you know your food. There are no tricks here! In our opinion, food production should be a net benefit to the health of our environment, our economy, and ourselves. We care about food miles in relation to local food, but we are just as concerned about how that food was produced.
These inherent problems surrounding food and health has created a fast-growing locavore movement across the country. One of my favorite recent food quotes is: “I’m not an environmentalist, or a doctor, or a nutritionist,” by chef and author, Dan Barber. This quote has an underlying meaning; when you work in or around sustainable or regenerative agriculture, we regularly find ourselves in discussions on the topics of climate change, habitat pressure, chronic illnesses, and health because the work we do is a piece to a much larger puzzle. For most of us, we enjoy having these conversations, and we feel good about our ability to help even if it’s just as a sounding board. Food is emotional and personal. Our health is even more so. When someone feels comfortable enough to open up and ask questions or share their experiences, amazing connections begin to happen.
Purchasing from knowledgeable, like-minded people is safer, easier, and makes you feel good both physically and emotionally. It takes the fear and confusion out of food and improves everyone’s quality of life. We hope you’ll join us in realizing a better, safer, more meaningful approach to the ingredients you choose to put on your plate.
Luke Snow and his wife Amy own Farm Shop, LLC. Learn more about how they’re promoting local food at farmshopllc.com