By: Carrie Watkins
We’ve spent our summer spreading the message of Climate Summer: that we need to transition to clean energy now because for reasons of impending environmental doom, current national security, health, economy, and justice, we cannot afford to continue burning fossil fuels. We call for solar panels, wind, geothermal, and other awesome technologies. The type of change we’re promoting is huge. It’ll require a massive restructuring of our current infrastructure, but, we say, we have no choice but to follow through.
I’m totally down with spreading this message because I could not agree more. However, I think there’s one piece of the infrastructural puzzle that we haven’t acknowledging as fully as it deserves, and that is our food system. While we have the resources and technology to power our world without the use of fossil fuels, we cannot do it without some reduction in the obscene amount of energy we Americans use (and waste) collectively every year. Our food system uses 16% of the country’s total energy usage, and it is shockingly inefficient. We waste almost 50% of the food grown and processed in this country, and the way we produce our food, from the chemical fertilizers and pesticides to the thousands of miles it travels in order to reach our tables, contributes quite the substantial amount of CO2 to our atmosphere. An example, the orange I’m eating now is from California. Hey, it’s from America so it’s local-ish, right? Well, that orange traveled about 4,000 to get to me, and fossil fuels were used to produce the fertilizers and pesticides that grew it, to truck it across the country, to cool the open refrigerators the grocery store displayed it in, and to make the plastic bag I carried it home in. That’s quite the carbon footprint my orange, and now I, have racked up. If, however, I had instead decided to eat some of the now ripe berries on the bush next to the church, the carbon footprint of my snack would be . . . zero.
I’m realizing now that I could continue to write about all the issues surrounding our food system for way longer than any blog post reader will want to read. I need to focus, so I’ll tell you about a few inspirational people I’ve met on the road who are part of the change we need to see in our food system.
FOOD HERO 1: Jake Benner
It all started when Jake’s friend Sean was complaining about an overabundance of kale. His CSA had given him kale, again, and he doesn’t like kale. He just wished there was some way he could find someone who wanted it. “Like a Craigslist for veggies?” said Jake, and the idea was born.
Jake and his friend Jodi launched Massachusetts Food Trader on July 4, 2011. MA Food Trader is starting out in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville, and plans to expand to the greater Boston area in the future. It serves as an online trading post for individuals to barter food and food-related services. So if your garden has given you more turnips than you can deal with, and you’ve always wondered how to keep a beehive, you can trade your turnips for a lesson in beekeeping. Or say you want some local, organic, actually free range eggs, but you don’t have any chickens, you can post a request for eggs, and someone who has too many backyard chickens can contact you and hook you up.
Jake sees Massachusetts Food Trader as one piece of the solution to creating a sustainable and just food system. Trading food allows for greater food access and hyper local food, and it connects people to their communities and to thinking about issues of food. “Food is a good way to connect with people around environmental issues because everybody eats food, and food is a direct result of us affecting our environment” said Jake. “The more you think about food the more the environmental issues come to the forefront.” Nobody thinks about or cooks their own food these days, and that’s one of the underlying problems. MA Food Trader’s goal is to help change that.
FOOD HERO 2: Bayside Restaurant
“May your senses be satiated, and may you be half as good a person as your dog thinks you are.”
That’s the line on the front of the Bayside Restaurantmenu, and it goes a long way in explaining this place. Bayside restaurant has been around for a while. It started out as a small little shack in the dunes before the ocean with not much more than hot dogs and ice cream.
However, the owners, Rob and Nance Carroll, were a progressive couple, always ahead of the times, and they made their restaurant grow. About twenty years ago they went non-smoking despite the grief they got from many of their customers. They also switched to the healthier canola oil and changed their frying oil every day (which apparently was unusual). In 2003, they became Massachusett’s first “Green Restaurant.” They now get much of their food from small local farms, use free range organic meat and eggs, have a small but growing herb garden in the back, use non-toxic cleaners, have compostable to go containers . . . The list goes on, and they’re continuing forward every year.
It’s not the easiest way, Alicia, the daughter of the owners, told us, but it can’t always be about maximizing profit and convenience. It takes more effort to get food from many small suppliers rather than one big truckload, but they see their business as a vehicle for change, and they know it’s worth it.
FOOD HERO 3: Steve Connors
Steve Connors runs the Westport Town Farm. He hires a handful of teenagers every year and recruits many volunteers, and together they grow thousands of pounds of fruits and veggies that they donate to local food pantries and soup kitchens. MassMovement spent a week cooking in and eating out of a soup kitchen when we were in New Bedford, so we know that these establishments are in great need of fresh vegetables. As Steve showed us around, it was clear that he cared immensely about and loved the work that he was doing. He put us to work picking 8 pounds of green beans, then sent us home with a zucchini that weighed about that much.