This summer, I’m catching up with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, which airs Fridays on ABC. In progressive circles, at least, food is a hot topic these days, and one of Oliver’s questions for his viewing audience is one we find ourselves asking often as we deal with the task of feeding our families: Do you know where your food comes from?
I’ve been growing more of my own food each summer for a while now. Though I am by no means more than an amateur gardener, the process of starting seeds, planting seedlings, caring for the plants and harvesting what I’ve grown has been immensely rewarding. I’ve learned a lot about soil quality, planting, growing, and natural pest control. In addition, as it’s often noted, the quality of the food from one’s very first batch of plants is vastly superior in taste to what can be purchased at the grocery store. I heartily encourage those who have the space and time to take up gardening. Seeds are cheap, and seed-starting kits, which are available from nurseries and large retailers such as Walmart and Target, are surprisingly affordable.
However, for whatever reason, many can’t plant a garden, and most of us would have trouble planting gardens which offer the variety of foods to which we’ve become accustomed. Local farmers’ markets are of course an excellent place to turn. Another, which is often overlooked, is an organized cooperative of local producers. Consumers can not only buy seasonal produce through these co-ops, but also meat, dairy products, eggs, breads, jams, soaps, and household/gift items. Some, like the Nebraska Food Cooperative, offer online ordering systems which also enable consumers to connect directly with the farmers from whom they purchase goods, and producers must describe their facilities and methods in order to participate.
Perhaps best of all, making that choice to know one’s food’s life cycle, its producer, and buying locally allows consumers to put money directly into their local economies — into the pockets of their friends and neighbors. It’s even better when government policy encourages the same… I was very pleased to learn that the public housing development in my town gives its residents vouchers in the summer which they can use at the farmers’ market, which seems like a beautiful arrangement in which the local taxpayers receive some of their money back in a very real way. I’m also encouraged to read that, according to Open Harvest Natural Foods Cooperative, the practice of allowing customers to use EBT cards (food stamps) at local markets and co-ops is growing nationwide.
I can’t help but think that has very good implications for the health and eating habits of the poor, provided that they are made aware of their ability to use their funds in this way and encouraged to do so. I’d love to see Jamie Oliver focus on this. It would be a revolution, indeed, if everyone had equal access to quality, affordable food. Couple that with the informed decision-making that Oliver pushes and you’d have one empowered group!