As fervent locavores, we attended a panel discussion on Tuesday night at The Museum of the City of New York on the local food movement in large cities ("urban locavores"). Farmers' markets, community gardens, urban farms, and restaurants all play an integral role in promoting fresh, seasonal produce and in supporting local and regional economies. The event was moderated by Gabrielle Langholtz, editor of Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn. Jump below for a few takeaways from the discussion, and then take our survey!
The panelists for the evening included Dan Barber, executive chef/co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Blue Hill; Michael Hurwitz, director of Greenmarket; and Ian Marvy, director and co-founder with Michael Hurwitz of Added Value and its Red Hook Community Farm.
Why are people (particularly city dwellers) so interested in local food?
Eating locally grown food is a way for city dwellers to get "back to the land." Many of us who live in cities don't have the space or resources to grow our own food, and we've been so removed from agriculture — the growing, living, changing life cycle of the earth — that we have no knowledge or understanding of where our food comes from. Supporting local farmers is a conscientious, proactive effort to revive our health, increase our awareness, and support our community.
What's the difference between organic and local?
Initially, buying organic MEANT buying local. If you were interested in fresh, minimally-processed and non-chemically-treated food, you were interested in locally-grown food. Early consumers were only able to get this food by communicating directly with farmers and monitoring the farm conditions and activities. But organic has strayed far from its roots. It's been altered and industrialized, and now "Big Organic" (an oxymoron, given organic's beginnings) has taken organic far, far away from the local community. Organic is more or less one-dimensional now — food grown without pesticides or chemicals. Local is multi-dimensional and holistic, a way of eating that encompasses issues of sustainable agriculture, community, environmental awareness, ecological complexity, and economic responsibility.
Isn't it an elitist movement, and too expensive for the average person?
Food shouldn't be cheap. If it is, it has hidden environmental costs or hidden health issues that far outspend and outlast the comparatively slight savings at the checkout counter. What is the true cost of a piece of fruit that's been shipped 3000 miles when it doesn't taste as good, doesn't last as long, and isn't even as good for you as the fruit from your local farmers' market? The term "foodie" implies elitism, but it's also inextricably bound to being a down-and-dirty environmentalist, a health-conscious consumer, a human rights activist, because, as Dan Barber said, "I've never had a good carrot that came out of bad soil." To truly care about food — and, hence, supporting locally-grown food — means to care about its origins, its production, its quality, the effect it has on the environment, and its accessibility to and for all people.
Tell us what you think!