fight slavery, eat locally

Produce from local farms.Maggie and I like to eat.  One of our favorite things is to take fresh produce and turn it into a delicious dinner to share with friends.  When we lived in Glen Ellyn we’d often ride our bikes to the French Market in Wheaton to stock up on summer fruits and veggies.  Now that we live in the city we frequent our Logan Square Farmer’s Market during the summer and the Green City Market year-round.  This is a photo from last fall after visits to the market and an apple orchard.

While books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle have provided us with sensible reasons to eat locally, taste has been our primary motivation.  Local food just tastes better than anything that had to be shipped across the country (or world!) to make it to our table.  No offense Washington, but your apples are positively tasteless after their westward journey compared with our local honeycrisps.  And salad-in-a-bag has nothing on sweet Midwestern winter spinach.

One of the benefits of local eating is the knowledge of where dinner really came from.  We buy corn from the folks who picked it the night before.  The man who sold us our Christmas steaks was the same person who raised and harvested the beef.  As a recent article in Gourmet points out, knowing where our food comes from is more than conversation fodder over dinner.  In “Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes”, Barry Estabrook writes about the tomato fields of Immokalee, FL.  A short drive and a world away from affluent Naples, the workers who provide the labor in these fields could easily be considered modern-day slaves.  Of one such laborer Eastbrook writes,

Lucas’s “room” turned out to be the back of a box truck in the junk-strewn yard, shared with two or three other workers. It lacked running water and a toilet, so occupants urinated and defecated in a corner. For that, Navarrete docked Lucas’s pay by $20 a week. According to court papers, he also charged Lucas for two meager meals a day: eggs, beans, rice, tortillas, and, occasionally, some sort of meat. Cold showers from a garden hose in the backyard were $5 each. Everything had a price. Lucas was soon $300 in debt. After a month of ten-hour workdays, he figured he should have paid that debt off.

But when Lucas—slightly built and standing less than five and a half feet tall—inquired about the balance, Navarrete threatened to beat him should he ever try to leave. Instead of providing an accounting, Navarrete took Lucas’s paychecks, cashed them, and randomly doled out pocket money, $20 some weeks, other weeks $50. Over the years, Navarrete and members of his extended family deprived Lucas of $55,000.

Not all commercial farmers should be lumped in with such shady characters, but there are enough of these stories to take a lot of the fun out of a trip to the grocery store.

With spring in full swing this might be a good time to consider adding some local food to your grocery list.  Almost every town and city has a seasonal farmers market and some of us are fortunate enough to have shops like the Green Grocer that stock local produce and products.  The Local Harvest website is an excellent national resource for markets, farms, and CSA subscriptions.  From my vantage point, the economic and environmental benefits of eating locally are too many to ignore.  And did I mention how delicious fresh, local food tastes?

8 thoughts on “fight slavery, eat locally

  1. David: Check out “City Farm” at Clybourn and Division. A guy named Ken Dunn has been farming in the city for years. He sets up shop on vacant land and hires locals farm the lot. His produce is some of the finest in the city and many of the best chefs from the best Chicago restaurants buy from him. He also sells to the public. Do a search for City Farm Chicago and you’ll get Ken’s website. He does much more than the farm.

  2. David, bravo to you and Maggie! Thanks so much for highlighting this issue. It was a convicting reminder for me. I will say the flavor of tomatoes from one’s own garden can’t be topped!

    I would like to mention that I have a sister-in-law who has rejected a traditional Christian upbringing in favor of her own New Age religious eclecticism, and yet who retains an internal sense of social justice that is very much the result of her traditional Christian roots. She says she would never even consider joining the local Christian Churches she has visited because they so blatantly violate in their corporate policies this kind of ethic of stewardship. This problem of the casual use of cheap disposables (e.g., styrofoam cups), the lack of an ecological consciousness, and a level of ignorance and a certain indifference to the way our consumerist culture exploits our poorer brethren in many of our conservative Christian churches is off-putting to many genuine seekers with sensitive consciences. Again, it shows up the nominal quality of the faith that many have, which properly should extend more and more to every area of life. There is a connection between everything and everyone that many do not recognize, and we don’t realize the negative social and ecological ripples and ramifications of many of our everyday choices. May the Lord help us all to gain ground in this and other areas and bring everything in our lives into subjection to Christ for His glory.

  3. The top chef in the nation was announced through the James Beard award. The top chef is Dan Barber who “was lauded for using his New York restaurants — Blue Hill New York and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills — to highlight the difference seasonal and sustainable agriculture can make on the plate.”

  4. I just finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle last week and have been recommending to everyone I know. I’ve been a regular French Market-shopper but I plan on upping the ante this summer and doing my best to eat locally and seasonally.

  5. Thanks for the comments folks. Keith, Maggie and I spent a Saturday morning last summer pulling weeds for the folks at City Farm. You’re right, it’s impressive what they are doing right in the middle of the city. Growing Power, as pointed out by Cathy, is another urban farm whose produce we’ve greatly enjoyed.

    Karen, your bring up two good points. First, nothing beats a backyard vegetable garden. Or, in our case, a container garden. It’s amazing how little space is needed to grow a whole mess of tomatoes and herbs. Second, I wonder how prevalent your sister-in-law’s perspective about American Christianity is. We often appear rather inconsistent when it comes to the issues we care about.

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