I have been closely involved in the local food system in Cleveland for the last three or more years and I can’t help but continuously noticing the hypocrisy in it. I’ve brought some of these topics up before at Brews + Prose local food panels in Ohio City and been backed up by the experts, so I don’t feel at all out of place for calling it “hypocrisy”. I’ll just break down some of my observations to give you an idea of what I’m seeing:
1. LOCAL FOOD AS A LUXURY:
This is my favorite point at panel discussions. I’ve written several locavore restaurant reviews on my Cleveland blog and always conclude the same thing: Local food is presented as a privilege, not as a way of life. Why is it that I can visit these “local” ingredient restaurants and spend exorbitant amounts of money on tiny, decorated dishes of vegetables? Why do fancy chefs have to run these “locavore” joints? Why is the trend in Cleveland to make eating local a showy, classy, exclusive trend for those with money? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? The one explanation I got was simple: perhaps the demand is much higher than the resources due to population density. So isn’t the next logical step to educate the public and make serious strides in adding green spaces and gardens to Cleveland? Some co-workers just this week commented on Cleveland’s lack of attractive parks within the downtown area. If these concepts weren’t so foreign, maybe people wouldn’t be so in awe by them and remember that local eating is not a newfangled trend but rather a way of life – the only way there should be!
I worked on a farm on the outskirts of Cleveland as an intern where we grew organic food to deliver to our clients within the city. Sometimes these deliveries were whole plants, but it was usually produce. We grew ridiculous quantities of squash and cabbage as the weather started to cool – so much, in fact, that we started giving it away —— and NO ONE WOULD TAKE IT. Does that make any sense???
3. ENERGY CONSUMPTION:
On the same farm, we also used greenhouses to start nearly every plant and to grow a lot of our basil and winter our plants. We were looking at getting a solar panel array to supply the operation. It was a lot of energy to grow local food. I thought about this again at the North Union Farmer’s Market at Shaker Square. My mom and I were walking around looking at produce and she asked me what they could possibly sell in quantity during the winter months. She’s accustomed to canning and not fighting the Pennsylvania snow once the first frost threatens our orchard. She made the point that a lot of the farmers at the market would probably use green houses to grow crops for profit. I started to think about these two situations – my farm and the farmers at the market – and began questioning how this was a better solution. How is asking all of this produce to be grown in a green house outside of the city then driven to the public in personal cars any better than just bringing a large shipment to an urban store? It’s not like you can buy all of your needs at a farmer’s market like you can buy your food, clothes, and supplies at one Wal-Mart. It’s like how it’s more energy efficient and green for England to import its tomatoes from Spain than to grow them in English green houses…
4. PLASTIC BAGS:
If you try to buy something at the market, the vendors don’t even ask but try to shove your produce into a plastic bag. You have to stop them and tell them you brought a bag. They sometimes seem surprised…but why?
For all of the cars that are parked around the market each Saturday, I have to wonder how many people actually walk to the Square on market day. That makes me wonder how many people here don’t take advantage of the market and why they don’t. Then I start to wonder where the other people must be coming from…and I wonder if they come from the same towns as the farmers who drive here weekly. I would love to do a statistical analysis on the gas consumption caused by market day for this reason.
Why eat local? The idea is it’s better for the environment. My mom points out it’s also better for the farmers, thinking about the dairy farms in our area that are broke because the milk prices are kept at statewide lows. However, I investigated what the promoted reasons for attending are. They consist primarily as “educational experiences” or as ways to get the “freshest” food. How is it educational? Because apparently people don’t realize that apples don’t grow in Region 6 Decembers. It’s been hard for me to realize how little people really know about growing – and cooking – food, especially in urban areas. Even so, I would be promoting how it benefits the environment and the local farmers…because it does, right?
7. FARM SHARE:
The market at Shaker also promotes a “farm share” program…which I absolutely think is hypocritical. Can you believe there are people who live within a block of the market who will not leave the house to buy produce on Saturday mornings? What better things do you have to do on a Saturday morning? No, instead they sign up for “farm shares” so they can have someone do the shopping for them, then deliver a PLASTIC bag of goods each week to their DOOR. Imagine all of the driving that must be done for these personal deliveries. I told my mom this as we walked around the Square and she was absolutely disgusted. Then she looked up to see a woman teetering on a bike whose baskets were overflowing with produce. “Look at that lady in the dress – on a bike!” I thought my mom was going to insult her for wearing a dress, but instead she was making a point. “Even a classy lady like her, at her age, is real enough to take her bike to the market each week to buy her produce. Anyone who could live here and get a farm share… it must just be for show. Those people don’t really care about what they’re doing at all, just what other people think about them doing it.”
That is why I have vowed to do my shopping every week at the market. I’m going to start buying extra and canning it for the winter. I only walk to the market, I only buy on Saturdays, I only use my reusable bags, I freeze extra food that isn’t canned or dried, and I keep as many live plants as I can to grow my own food. I try to pick from the stands that have the most honest practices. In one case, I bought peaches from a stand of senior citizens because I witnessed them breaking their backs to lift, sort, and sell their produce and I knew that they were hard workers.
Is there any hope for the local food “scene”? Is it not full of hypocrisy?
As I sit at Yours Truly at Shaker Square and contemplate whether or not the eggs here were grown on a petri dish, I finish up an article for my column with The Athenian. I decided to share it on this page because my column is travel satire and this blog is, generally speaking, my satire blog. The article I’m doing this week is about tourism in Hawai’i. I have a lot of Native Hawai’ian friends that I met while at AISES National Conference in Alaska last October-November (see my travel blog to read about that amazing trip). These friends enlightened me on the horrible history behind Hawai’i becoming a state. All I can do is spread the word and hope that my satirical quip does their Kingdom justice:
Are you American? Do you find Hawai’i absolutely beautiful? Are you dying to go lay on its beaches, drink pina coladas, say aloha a lot, and maybe even surf or see some sharks? Are you going to show up in a Hawai’ian printed shirt or this cute new outfit that you got just for the beach? Are you wondering if there will be seashells that you can take some home? Maybe you’ll run into some celebrities or see a luau? Can’t wait to wear some leis and start dancing? Or maybe you want to meet a native on the island. You know, one of those Americans who were born there or moved there a long time ago. Right?
Newsflash: Hawai’i wasn’t put in the ocean for American tourism.
Tourism in Hawai’i is a popular thing, but with a very dark history. People rave about the islands and they don’t even know anything about them, just that there are beaches and resorts. But that’s not the real Hawai’i. Apparently no one teaches the history of Hawai’i in school. (And I don’t mean Pearl Harbor, although that was technically the first attack on “American” soil before 9/11 happened.) But it makes sense that we don’t learn the real history of what happened in America. I mean, no one says “The American government committed the greatest genocide in recorded history” because they did (the Trail of Tears). It’s just like no one says “The American government murdered Queen Liliuokalani in 1893 after throwing her off the throne, then forcefully took the islands of the Kingdom of Hawai’i from the welcoming and unsuspecting native peoples” because they did. And where is the justice for it? I guess you could say it rests in the unapproved Akaka Bill.
Hawai’i is probably the only time you’ll hear me say that “a reservation is the solution”. As horrible as American Indian reservations are – from the reason of their origin to their current conditions – the native peoples of Hawai’i are in desperate need to have their freedoms returned to them. As my one Navajo friend put it, “There is one line of royal blood in all of America, and that royal blood is Hawai’ian.” But why did we, as a nation, take Hawai’i? What justified the evils that were done? Many argue it was a defensive strategy in terms of military tactics. Today, Hawai’i is just an enormous tourist population – and the islands aren’t very large. Imagine living in a small town all your life and suddenly foreigners get the priority on jobs and start moving in. Imagine that this became a countrywide issue because another government assassinated the president and killed a bunch of people and no one did anything about it. Imagine the 9/11 site being turned into a casino, a strip club, or an amusement park. But what does it matter, right? I mean, what’s said is done… The kingdom is in ruins, the tourism economy is thriving, and we get to eat pineapples. Oh, drat! Americans have it so bad.
But don’t let this take away from your long-deserved vacation. I mean flying to Hawai’i won’t kill any more natives (it will just contribute to the destruction of the planet as a whole, but not segregation in that). Besides, it’s not like we can change anything now, right? We can just let the people who care about the Akaka Bill worry about the Akaka Bill. Isn’t that what we’re told we should do? Yeah we’re just supposed to let the people who know what they’re doing to fix the problems (like the environment) while we continue to live as frivolously as we’re allowed to and capable of. In the meantime, let’s indulge ourselves in the American state of Hawai’i and take some awesome cover photos as we lounge on the stolen beaches of the former Kingdom of Hawai’i. Maybe someone someday will care enough to make a change.
Labor Day is not what it used to be. Much like the 4th of July, Labor Day has a historical background that has been washed out by having a day off, sales, and get-togethers. Hardly anyone seems to remember the origins of this day off and how laborers were killed during the strike that eventually lead to the federal holiday’s passing. Instead of grumbling to work this weekend if you must or occupying yourself with shopping or even just doing nothing, consider the history of labor in the US that has brought us here today and how easy you really have it. And good bye, August.