With all of the natural and man-made disasters, our dependence on imports and multinational corporations for food has some serious downsides. Not only is it more expensive, it’s bad for local and regional economies, the environment and our health.
There is something we can do to address the price we are paying for relying on an unsustainable food system. If we buy our food closer to home, reduce the amount of dairy, meat, poultry and fish that we eat will not only mitigate the impact of a broken food system, it will also support our local economies
Those who oppose implementing local and sustainable food purchasing programs for institutions often say that it is far too expensive, but simply put that is not true. Yes our costs did increase, but nowhere near the 600% increase that some critics alleged. When I helped implement at Farm to Table program for Meals on Wheels in Oakland, CA, we found labor costs increased but food costs are generally lower so the overall difference is not as great as often is purported.
The second argument I often hear is that consumers want tomatoes in January, butternut squash in June and oranges in August. Eating seasonally not only reduces food costs, the foods taste better when they’re in-season. Once consumers learn the ecological benefits of eating seasonally and experience the superior taste, it should win them over. We actually found that serving fresh, local ingredients led to more compliments and fewer complaints!
If we think of the foods we produce as an investment in our health, wellbeing and survival, our investment strategy is not working very well. We currently invest 10 calories of energy to produce every 1 calorie of food, whereas at the end of World War II we were investing 0.5 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food. This energy for food production is coming from petrochemicals, which are used for nitrogen-based fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, not to mention the processing of corn, soy and food miles. If these calories of energy were dollars we were investing, our economic system would have collapsed long ago.
Transforming our institutional food services (i.e., HeadStart, schools, universities, colleges, hospitals) to local and sustainable procurement can serve all of our communities with jobs, revenue streams for small and medium size producers, local businesses, reduce our environmental impact and serve good food to all of our population.
— Guest blogger, Jenny Houston
Registered dietitian Jenny Huston is a formally trained chef who has worked with Patrice Boely, Thomas Keller, Alice Waters, Joyce Goldstein, Jeremiah Towers, and Patty Unterman in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City. Jenny is the founder of Farm to Table Food Services in Oakland and currently a member of the Oakland Food Policy Council.
Jenny Huston, MA, CEC, CDM, CFPP
Farm to Table Food Services
Oakland, CA 94606