Welcome to Locavoria

by Tyler Luiten on December 13, 2010 · 2 comments

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Dane County Farmer's Market - Madison, WI
It was only a short while ago that I found myself looking up the word locavore. Thinking it was some obscure Italian opera term, I couldn’t figure out why in the world I saw it in an article discussing food.

Upon further investigation, I discovered that locavore was the Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2007. In other words, I’m a little behind on my vocabulary, and there’s no doubt that self-proclaimed foodies would scoff at me for not knowing this ‘basic’ term. My ignorance aside, I realized that I actually live in the midst of one of the most locavorian cities in the country, and I had in fact become something of a locavore as soon as I moved here. If Locavoria were a nation, then Madison would surely be its capital.

Dane County Farmer's Market - Madison, WI
Madison also happens to be the capital of Wisconsin, and it helps set the pulse for local-vores in the form of the Dane County Farmers’ Market. Although this market runs year-round, most residents will agree that the best time to go is between May and November, when it’s held on the capital square outdoors. Then, you’ll find the greatest variety of fruits, vegetables, meats and homemade products the Midwest has to offer. My Saturday morning ritual normally involves a trip to this market, scoping out all the wonderful products to be had, and returning home with my perishables for the week.

Dane County Farmer's Market - Madison, WI Dane County Farmer's Market - Madison, WI Dane County Farmer's Market - Madison, WI
There are die-hards who maintain that eating organic, locally grown foods is healthier for you. Although I don’t know what I believe to that end, I do find that eating local, organic food not only tends to taste better, but it also is a way to become more connected to your food, your surroundings, and your environment. I tend to go to one farmer for my grass-fed beef, another farmer for my apples, another farmer for my greens – and I know that most of them were in their very own fields that morning picking the fruits and vegetables I’m about to buy and eat.

Many people would prefer to eat organic and/or local, but choose not to because of higher costs. I’ve been surprised to find that buying produce at the farmer’s market can cost as much as shopping at a grocery store; however, it can also be more expensive. And how exactly do we judge the decision to “go local”? Americans only spend about 10 percent of their income on food (which is down from about 20% sixty years ago). A number of us are spending that difference on cell phones, televisions, cars, clothing, etc. I acknowledge that organic food can be simply unattainable for people with lower incomes, but if supporting sustainable, locally grown food is important to you, you can make the choices that allow for these types of foods in your budget. At the very least, I am happy to pass up on buying that eighth pair of jeans in order to spend a extra few dollars per week on food that is fresh, local, and pesticide-free.

Dane County Farmer's Market - Madison, WI
One of the biggest joys for me at the weekly market is the simple tradition of going. My connection to food has become much more personal and intimate now that I am directly buying the foods I’m eating from the people growing them. But I also enjoy hearing all the wonderful conversations about the foods that people make with products purchased from the market. While meandering around the square from stall to stall, I often hear friends talking about what to do with purple potatoes, or how to deal with daikon, or what kinds of delicious soups can be made from all varieties of squash. It’s amazing how well a farmer’s market can bring people together to talk about its many food options.

If ever one were to need inspiration for new meals, a fews strolls around the square during the farmer’s market would be the first steps into a whole new world of locavoria.

The Dane County Farmer’s market runs year round.
May – November outdoors, Saturdays & Wednesdays
November – May indoors, Saturdays only.


James Boo December 13, 2010 at 1:59 pm

I’m a fan of fresh, local foods, and over the past couple of years I’ve wondered about two sticking points in the locavore conversation:

1. It’s hard to tell how much *better* organic produce tastes than non-organic produce because the variable of freshness seems to play an overwhelming role in the distinction. I buy most of my fruit and vegetables at the Park Slope food coop or the New York greenmarket. Not everything is stamped organic, but all of it is fresh and all of it is fantastic. Meanwhile, Trader Joe’s sells plenty of organic produce, but most of it is totally unenjoyable. In this sense, it would seem that the “local” part of the equation matters more than the “organic,” and the buzzwords that are lumped together so frequently need to be discarded in favor of a more intuitive and adaptive understanding of what *good food* is.

2. I’m always bothered by consumer-driven arguments for local food in the States. Making the local choice is of course fantastic, but our food distribution system and food culture seem too monolithic and politicized to be changed through consumer demand. Our real wages are too low and our medical costs are too high to prod the vast majority of consumers who truly depend on factory food into “smarter” choices. The notion of farmers’ markets and co-ops popping up as an alternative to supermarkets can only be a petrie dish for the locavores if they want to enact more substantial changes in the industrial foodscape.

Just my two cents for today on eating local… The only true locavore I’ve had the privilege of meeting is Leda Meredith (http://www.plentymag.com/features/2008/08/interview_with_citydwelling_lo.php) — she and other locavores have shown that time and effort on a day-to-day basis play far more of a role in these efforts than going to the right grocer.

Tyler Luiten December 16, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I agree with you on the first point re: organic. Unfortunately “organic” has simply become a label that farmers/producers have to earn (via certification), and even so, current labeling laws allow someone to be ‘organic’ even with the use of pesticides. To this end I know a lot of farmers at the Madison farmer’s market for instance forgo being certified organic because their food is actually MORE organic than what the requirements designate (they purposely avoid certification almost in rebellion to the USDA standards since these farmers grow their foods in a way that surpasses the ‘organic’ standards, and thus they’d rather not be associated with that label). In other words, a label isn’t/shouldn’t be indicative of the product, which means you are spot on that people need to be more aware of what *good food* is, rather than simply pay attention to/rely on what a label says. In the end I do think the level of freshness is absolutely the key, which is one area the locavore movement speaks to. And as you pointed out in point 2, unfortunately this isn’t always accessible to everyone, either depending on economic or even geographic conditions, which sadly means not everyone has the ability to get away from the factory food.

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