Last Saturday, I spent the morning at the downtown St. Paul farmers’ market. I chatted with the soap lady, bought a lavender plant, ate a spring roll, and restocked my supply of wild rice and squash.
It was lovely. I have so missed this farmers’ market as–ironically–I’ve spent most of my summer up on my family’s farm.
Not all farmers grow fresh-from-the-garden type produce. Crops grown in my area are often processed first or used for feeding animals.
There are farmers’ markets in rural Minnesota too, where I can buy fresh produce, but they’re not the same. Granted, I’ve never been to one, but it’s mainly because the hours are irregular, or fall during a time and day of the week I’m not around or busy working.
For the many like me in rural Minnesota who cannot get to the local farmers’ market, or do not have time to garden or drive 45 minutes (one way!) to an urban supermarket for fresh produce, we rely on our small town grocery store.
Please know I do not mean any disrespect to this small town business. It is so very convenient to have a local grocery store at all! The criticism that follows has very little to do with the management of the store, and more to do with how both the consumers and the grocery store are suffering from food distribution issues.
Most of the produce at this grocery store arrives on its last legs. Apples are dry and mealy, pears are soft and bruised. The raw, plastic-wrapped meat has bright stickers slapped over their labels that read “PREVIOUSLY FROZEN,” indicating it must be consumed right away. However, there is a fair selection of breads, pastas, dehydrated boxed potato mixes, and enough canned goods that would make a doomsday prepper’s holiday. Non-perishable foods do well here.
I realize this store must be the last stop in the middle of nowhere for food distributors. But I find it sad that the people in this community pour their lives into feeding the world and in return they get back a nearly unidentifiable version of the product of their labor.
I had the idea to write this post almost a year ago. At that time, I was prepared to blame food distribution issues for farmers’ disinterest in growing organic food. I planned to pose the question: why would farmers grow something they wouldn’t eat themselves or have access to in their local grocery store? To be clear, there is not an organic section in the local grocery store.
Now, I’m surprised to find my perspective has changed entirely. I’ve learned so much about chemical absorption* and regulations, that regular (“non-organic”) food doesn’t seem bad or unhealthy anymore. In fact, the organic industry now strikes me as a socio-economic problem: spurring on class divisions, i.e. only the rich can afford organic food.
People are starving in third world countries. Heck, they’re starving here in the United States. And yes, this is the twenty-first century! In our world, only a small percentage of people can afford to eat solely organic food. We need to shift our focus from labels like non-GMO, chemical free, hormone free, free range, organic, and so on to ensuring food is fresh, affordable, and accessible!
It’s not that organic food is bad. It’s that arguments for buying organic over regular food are so loud that food distribution issues are drowned out.
I’m beginning to think that the “eat locally” argument has some clout in resolving part of food distribution issues. Eating locally guarantees fresh food since it is produced nearby, as well as affordability since there are fewer transportation costs needing to be factored into the price of the locally-grown food. Wouldn’t it be great if more produce farmers worked directly with nearby grocery stores and supermarkets to make fresh, locally grown food more accessible to everyone?
*Here are some food-related topics in the media lately that have piqued my interest:
- “Organic foods are more nutritious, according to review of 343 studies”
Despite the title, note from the article: “It’s not entirely clear to scientists whether the human body can absorb the extra antioxidants in organic foods and put them to use.”
And: “Our typical [pesticide] exposures are at least 10,000 times lower than doses we can give to laboratory animals every day throughout their lifetimes and not cause any effects.”
- “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables”
Perhaps one way to become more “fresh and affordable” focused is to be less picky about beautiful-looking produce.
Produce photo credit.