Published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, 15 September 2008.
Eating locally can cut the miles on the food we eat, but it certainly hasn’t cut the mileage on my car. There is no “one stop shopping” for local food, so filling the larder requires some creative logistics and more than one trip. For instance, for a couple of weeks in August, I was a regular at the STC bus depot in Saskatoon. I was there to pick up a relatively rare and coveted commodity: chanterelle mushrooms from the woods near Nipawin. About sixty pounds in all, most of which I resold to family and friends.
For a couple of years, I drove to La Ronge to search for wild mushrooms. Given that I wasn’t all that successful, the STC method provided a lot more mushrooms for a lot
less miles. In the past, I have driven into the country to pick sour cherries at a u-pick farm, but this year, my friend Judith went to France for a month and invited me to pick her cherry tree while she was gone.
However, I did get down Valley Road once to pick strawberries and twice for wild saskatoons. My family owns a piece of prairie on the Saskatchewan River where, after picking our fill of saskatoons, we shared a picnic on a high bluff with spectacular views.
In recent years, I’ve been to a fish farm, a spice farm, a salt mine, a bison ranch, a blueberry festival and a flour mill. I don’t mind driving all over God’s green acres in the pursuit of food. It’s a lot more fun and a lot more scenic than a trip to the grocery store, and it’s great to meet the people who produce the food I eat. There is a growing controversy about food miles and the assumption that closer is always better for the environment. Food that is shipped in large quantities in fuel-efficient trucks might emit less greenhouse gas than something produced locally and brought to the city once a week in an old gas-guzzling jalopy.
On top of that, the distance travelled is just one factor in the equation. Other processes can contribute to the carbon footprint such as whether the food is produced organically (less fossil fuels) or refrigerated for a long time (more fossil fuels). To illustrate this point, a study found that grass-fed lamb raised in New Zealand and shipped to England had a smaller carbon footprint than grain-fed lamb raised in England. Another researcher calculated that it takes less fossil fuel to fly beans from Kenya to England than to grow them in England, in part because Kenyan farmers work the land by hand, not big machines, and fertilize with natural manure (synthetic fertilizers are made with fossil fuels).
So, in terms of the environmental footprint, is it better to buy local greenhouse lettuce in winter or imported organic lettuce grown in warmer climes? I’m not sure, and frankly, I’m not counting.
There are other good reasons to eat locally. Local food is usually fresher, healthier and tastes better. I meet the people who produce my food and ask questions about how it was grown or raised, what’s been added to it, where it was butchered or when it was picked. Every dollar I spend stays in the local economy supporting farm families. It also encourages local processors, which creates jobs in the community, and it builds a sense of interest and pride in what Saskatchewan agriculture has to offer here at home and around the world. And every now and then, I have an excuse to jump in my car, get out of the city and go for a little drive.
If you’re interested in local food and environmental issues, check out the annual Sustainable Gourmet Dinner Oct. 4 in Saskatoon, where I’ll be a guest speaker. Details are available here.
Curried Mushroom and Lentil Soup
1 tbsp canola oil
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger root, minced
1 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp dried thyme
2 cups Saskatchewan lentils
8 cups chicken stock or water
Salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a soup pot. Sauté the onion, garlic and ginger until soft. Add the mushrooms, curry powder and thyme. When the mushrooms begin to wilt stir in the lentils, coating them well with the oil and spices. Cook, stirring until all the moisture has been absorbed. Add the chicken stock (or water). Simmer until the lentils are cooked, about an hour. Add more liquid if the soup gets too thick. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.