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It’s the Local Economy, Genius: In HER Opinion

Last week’s first September shower delivered the final, undeniable signal that summer is at last ceding to fall.

Urbanized as we’ve become, something deep in our visceral memory senses the seasonal change; a nostalgic briskness in the air energizes, while the lengthened morning darkness pulls us back under the covers for one more snooze. Not so long ago, when we were more in tune with natural cycles, we tasted fall’s arrival. As golden nectar plums gave way to Fuyu persimmons, sugar snap peas to Satsuma tangerines, and white nectarines to butternut squash; anticipation of the coming autumnal attractions helped us to mark the seasons’ passing. We savored each delicacy all the more for its transitory nature.

Yet a stroll through any major supermarket today obscures all notion of seasonality. Produce aisles offer an unnatural cornucopia of frankenseason fare; strawberries in the dead of winter, kiwis, mangos, and coconuts flown in from thousands of miles away, burning copious amounts of “cheap oil.” and harvested prematurely to withstand the journey. All so that we may satisfy our culinary cravings year round.

What price do we pay for this? And are November nectarines really worth it?

From here to eternity…to your plate

Most of our food today travels an average of thirteen hundred miles before landing on our tables; 50 times farther than it did 20 years ago. And while access to a wide variety of produce throughout the year is admittedly an enjoyable luxury, it’s one fueled by the ready availability of federally subsidized oil. Not only does shuffling produce around the country (and beyond) require massive fossil fuel inputs; the chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and heavy machinery used in conventional agriculture similarly depend upon a steady stream of petroleum.

That this foul affair will soon come to an end is by now an acknowledged reality. How exactly it will disrupt our societal infrastructure remains to be seen. One thing is certain: restoring local economies will become less of a quaint “feel good” notion, and more and more a critical necessity.

Saturday morning, do you know where your farmer is?

“Local” has quickly joined “organic” as a mantra for sustainable agriculture in the 21st century. Responding to the environmental, economic, and particularly the health benefits of organic agriculture (i.e. toxin-free food) consumers increasingly seek the organic label. Yet do the benefits of, say, a bag of organic carrots really hold up if getting them to us uses 1000 times their weight in gasoline?

Eulogizing a return to simpler times, when we knew and chatted with our local bread, tomato, and cheese vendors, has perhaps become somewhat of a cliché; and as with most clichés, for good reason. A short stint this past summer working at the Santa Monica Farmers market with grower James Birch (Florabella Farms, Three Rivers, CA) gave me a chance to experience firsthand our community’s tremendous desire for more personal contact with food.

Week after week, the same customers return, commenting on last week’s wild asparagus or black-eyed peas, sharing recipes, and generally reveling in the market’s communal vibe. These wonderful, spontaneous encounters are completely lost in the supermarket environment, save for the occasional banter with a friendly cashier.

Here in Santa Monica and its neighboring cities, we are blessed with a thriving network of weekly farmers markets, some with a carnival-like atmosphere of live music, prepared foods, and even controversial pony rides for those wishing to engage in some early Sunday morning debate. For local listings, see: http://santa-monica.org/farmers_market.

Ann Gentry, founder of Santa Monica’s famed organic vegetarian restaurant Real Food Daily recommends that we get back to our roots and opt for “simpler eating.” Choosing local, seasonal foods and forgoing some of our whimsical produce desires both promises fresher, superior quality foods, and preserves the long-term sustainability of our agricultural heritage (www.realfood.com).

For gourmet food enthusiasts and aspiring chefs, Ann is preparing to launch the first Real Food Daily Cookbook this coming October. Readers can look forward to a host of carefully selected vegan recipes, as well as insightful commentary on the far-reaching implications of eating seasonally and organically.

Peak oil is upon us; sooner or later we must make the shift. The ready availability of fresh local fare right here in our backyard facilitates this transition, allows us to celebrate fall’s arrival through all of our senses, and helps us to personalize our deepest, most intimate connection to the earth: the sustenance we incorporate into every single cell in our bodies. Are we not, after all, what we eat?FYI: Now playing in Santa Monica, The Future of Food, a groundbreaking new documentary on the disturbing truth behind genetically engineered foods: www.thefutureoffood.com

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