Monday, March 12, 2012

Step 3 - Define Your Region

Once you become aware of where your consumer goods and food are coming from, it is important to set your boundaries. This definition is entirely up to you. Some people do it by miles, some by hours it would take to drive, and some by their region of the country. For example, I live in Maine, so I define my region as New England – anything within this handful of states is local. Of course, it’s not always as cut and dry as that, and it’s not always possible to buy 100% local, but defining a region at least gives you a starting point, and an identity. Our global marketplace has created a global identity – no longer are we culturally bound to where we live when we can buy clothes from Bangladesh, read newspapers from Japan, and eat mangoes from Brazil. I am definitely not saying to forgo these entirely – that is a whole other discussion – but to understand that when the world is at our fingertips, we have more difficulty appreciating the people, goods and food that is right around us.

This step can be difficult, I won’t argue against that. With the modern marketplace, getting goods from places like China, India and Japan is cheaper for retailers, then getting American made goods. Wal-Mart, and other large box stores, sways the market by demanding lower and lower prices from the manufacturer, forcing them to take their business overseas to factories can offer the cheapest goods. Getting goods made in America is more costly because we have a minimum wage to be paid to workers, and because we have stricter environmental standards. However, retailers are less concerned with the quality of product, and more concerned with the top dollar and satisfying their shareholders. This said, it can be extremely difficult at times to buy goods manufactured within your region. But when you can, it is worth it.

I have spent many a shopping trip flipping over products and weighing my options about which is closer to home – if it’s not available from my established region, I find the closest one. This isn’t just about supporting local business, though, but also about limiting our oil dependency. When items are shipped from overseas, or even the other side of the country, the amount of oil used is astounding. The closer to home the product came from, the less oil – and with our rapid depletion of fossil fuels, less oil consumption is always better, not to mention the effect burning that oil has on the environment and our quality of air, water and soil.

Defining your region for food is perhaps easier. There are several resources online to find local food suppliers, to locate a Community Supported Agriculture share at a nearby farm, or to at least shop at a locally owned grocery store. Supporting your local farmer and food system is one of the most important things we can do as a consumer. Knowing where your food comes from can give you peace of mind in this day in age. Trusting our nourishment to billion dollar corporations that runs beef, pig, poultry or agricultural farms is like taking a giant gamble where the odds of winning are a thousand to one. Food is the breath of life, it keeps us going, provides us with the nutrients and minerals we need, and it keeps our civilization going. Why risk buying beef from a feedlot where cattle are exposed to numerous diseases because of excessive contact with fecal matter and fed high fat diets (including the bones and blood of the cattle slaughtered before them)? Or why eat vegetables grown with heavy doses of herbicides (which have been directly linked to diseases such as Parkinson’s and respiratory cancer), then shipped thousands of miles to storage facilities where they are ripened with ethanol gas?

Knowing where and how your food is grown can literally be a lifesaver. Every day in the United States over 200,000 people suffer a food borne illness, with over 900 being hospitalized, and about 15 who will die (Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, p. 195). Those most at risk are the elderly and children, whose immune systems cannot fight off the poisoning of such bacteria as Salmonella and E. coli. In 1996 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the findings of a survey that tested samples of meat from a handful of meat processing plants and found that 7.5% of the ground beef was contaminated with Salmonella, 11.7% with Listeria monocytogenes, 30% with Staphylococcus aureus, and 53.3% were contaminated with Clostridium perfringens. The testing was done in 1993 and 1994, but the results were delayed two years, so any information they found, although still appalling and interesting to the general public, did not help stop any food borne illnesses that would have (and most certainly did) occur from consuming this tainted meat.

Before you go to the store to buy something the next time, think first about where your region is, what you define as local. Then do your best. If you can’t find something within your region, find the closest possible. Remember that every little bit counts and that doing something is always better than doing nothing.