Anyone who watches modern cooking shows has heard the same phrase uttered time and time again, "Use fresh local ingredients,” but how many of us actually do? Furthermore, one could ask, in this day and age, why should we? We have an excellent international supply line for all sorts of foods and for the right price, we literally want for naught all year round. To this there is neither a single, nor easy answer; but when you stop to analyze the situation, you will find yourself asking, why more people don’t purchase and use local foods. Some of the reasons for using local ingredients revolve around the environment, health, community support, politics and economics. In discussion, many of these topics cross and intersect with each other. The reasons for not using local ingredients are convenience and cost effectiveness. Since our culture has a fixation for money and personal economics, let’s talk about that today.
The argument given by the largest segment of our culture is that times are tough, and we need to stretch our household dollar as far as possible. California produce is less expensive than the local stuff, so in the name of our budget, we have to purchase the less expensive variety.
First, I never really understood how products shipped across borders or half way around the world can possibly be less expensive than local products, especially when you consider that the further away the food comes from, the more expensive the shipping costs become. By the time tomatoes get here from southern California, for example, twenty to twenty five percent of the price you pay is for freight alone. This has huge health and environmental impacts, which we will discuss in later articles.
Secondly, most people have no problem spending more on a fair trade and organic cup of coffee so some nameless, faceless farmer in Costa Rica can make a livable wage. Why are these same people so adverse to giving their neighbours and the people in their community a livable wage? Yes, the local tomatoes may cost a bit more per pound, but when you spend the money in your community, it tends to stay in your community. If you buy your produce directly from local farmers on a regular basis and form a good relationship with those farmers, do you not think they will come see you in your place of business when they require your services?
Also, the local produce you purchase is usually picked fresh that day, instead of being picked under ripe, spending the better part of two weeks in transit and in warehouses sucking up carbon monoxide before it hits the grocery store shelves. Since it is picked fresh, local produce will have more nutrients in it, and with more nutrients in the food, you need to eat less of it to feed your body properly (oh look, a health and economic benefit).
One final point on the financial end of things – how many of us like spending higher fuel prices? I didn’t think so. When you purchase food that has been shipped from out of the province, or even off Vancouver Island, you are supporting higher gas prices, since you are in essence supporting a transportation system that consumes vast amounts of diesel and gasoline on a daily basis just to put food on to your plate. It is a common economic principle that if the demand for something decreases, the price also decreases. So the next time you are shopping for food, ask yourself, where is this food from, and how will this effect my life and the life of my family?
Chef Sean O’Connell has over 17 years of cooking experience in some of it’s finest establishments. Sean and his wife, Jessica, run Equinox Cafe and Catering in downtown Duncan, a restaurant that focuses on locally grown and produced foods. www.equinoxcafe.com