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Cooking the frog

09/13/2007

By Robin McDermott
 
Put a frog in a pan of cold water and gradually raise the heat to boiling and the frog will cook itself to death because it doesn't notice the incremental change in temperature. Like the frog who met its demise with the gradual increase in the heat of the water, the change in the U.S. food system has been in a slow boil since the 1950s. Had someone told us back in the 1950s that by the turn of the century:

• Most of our produce in Vermont would come from California and places around the world;

• We would spend as much energy transporting food around the country as we spend on personal transportation;

• Less than 3 percent of the farms in the country would produce 62 percent of all agricultural production for the U.S.;

• 70 percent of processed foods in U.S. grocery stores would contain bioengineered and genetically modified ingredients;

• Meats, fruits and vegetables would be treated with chemicals and radiation deemed safe by the government to "protect our health" but without any evidence that it is safe to our long-term health;

• 3,000 acres of U.S. farmland would be lost to development (aka suburban sprawl) every day;

• And, that you can get fresh asparagus any time of the year that you want it we would not have believed it.  Yet, here we are today unable to feed ourselves and totally dependent on a system run by a handful of corporations.  

When Bush appointee Tommy Thompson left his position as Secretary of Health and Human Services in 2004, he said, "I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not, you know, attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do, and we are importing a lot of food from the Middle East, and it would be easy to tamper with that." We have put all of our eggs in one basket with the industrial food system, but few of us have a good understanding of how that can affect our lives down the road.  
 
The Eat Local Challenge that will begin on September 17 and run through September 23 is an opportunity to see what it would be like if we did get all of our food from close to home.  For the challenge, we define "close to home" as within 100 miles of the Mad River Valley. The idea of the week is to help us reconnect with local farmers and food producers and in the process develop some new food buying habits that extend beyond the challenge week. We hope that a byproduct of the challenge is that people also learn about why it is important to support our local food system for our health, our local economy, and our future.
 
Sometimes people will tell me that it just isn't realistic to return to the days when communities used to supply over 50 percent of their own food so why bother with the challenge. I have to admit that if I lived in New York City I would agree with that, but here in the Mad River Valley we can supply a lot more of our food that we currently are. Just because it can't be done in New York City, does that mean we shouldn't do it here in the Mad River Valley. If we wanted to live the city life, we would be living in the city. But, here we are, living in what I believe is paradise, and we can do a better job of providing our own food, so why shouldn't we?  
 
Wendell Berry once said that, "Eating is an agricultural act." Many of us have come to The Valley because of the beautiful farms. Who can't smile when you drive past Dave Hartshorn's farm and see the rows of corn, berries, and tomatoes or when you spot a herd of Hadley Gaylord's "oreo cows" with their faces buried in a deep patch of grass? It is a sign of the times that it took someone like Wendell Berry to remind us that what we see out in the farm fields in the Mad River Valley will eventually feed and nourish us.  

But this is why it is important that we preserve valuable agricultural land like the Kingsbury Farm and other farms throughout The Valley. As much as we like to look at these tranquil sites, ultimately they will be able to provide us with more of our own food. Think of our little community as a system and it is easy to see that buying more of our food from local farmers and producers will help us keep The Valley scenic and rural, and keeping The Valley scenic and rural will enable us to feed our own community.
 
I love the Eat Local movement because it is a non-partisan cause. There is something about eating local that will appeal to everyone whether your hot button is global warming, peak oil, delicious food, rural life, supporting our neighbors or boosting the local economy. So regardless of your hot button, I hope that everyone in The Valley will give the challenge a try for at least a meal. Remember, it is a challenge and that means you might need to change the way you eat for your challenge meals.  I can attest to the fact that the first meal is the most difficult; it becomes much easier and more delicious after that.  
 
Thanks to the support of community businesses and organizations, it should be easier than ever to eat locally next week. Local stores are stocking their shelves with local food for the challenge week and 17 restaurants and inns are gearing up to provide breakfasts, lunches and dinners to Localvores. Schools throughout The Valley are going to be offering students local lunch options and our farmers' booths will be overflowing with the bounty of the harvest season this weekend at the farmers' market. We have over 200 recipes for local fare on our Localvore website and there will be several events during the challenge week focused on local food including workshops on growing and preserving food and potlucks that make it really easy to have a delicious meal without a lot of effort. There really isn't a reason not to take part in the challenge.

Most important, the Eat Local Challenge should be fun and educational. So, sign up today and let's show the rest of the country that the Mad River Valley does care about where our food comes from.

For more information on the Eat Local Challenge or to sign up to take the challenge, go to www.VermontLocalvore.org or call Robin McDermott at 496-3567.

Robin McDermott lives in Warren.
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