Many consumers are looking elsewhere, outside of the big-box supermarkets, for their basic ingredients. Today’s consumer push for a greener environment and safer food production and food sources have brought a whole new dimension to food shopping and to cooking.
A couple of labels the savvy consumer takes seriously these days are “sustainable” and “local.” Buying produce that is grown in the rural farming areas near where you live—therefore, native to the climate and soil in your region—is a way of getting both local and sustainable foods.
Sustainable foods are grown in ways that don’t harm the environment and that help save our natural resources. And a locally grown product means that you aren’t paying for the shipping costs levied on merchants for importing foods from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Health Food and Natural Foods Stores and Cooperatives
In the mid-to-late twentieth century, the few resources for buying either vegetarian or wholesome whole foods were limited to health food or natural foods stores. Appealing to a small segment of the population, these stores were, however, reliable sources for grains, supplements, and hard-to-find food supplies such as brewer’s yeast and blackstrap molasses.
Customer- or staff-owned food co-ops have been consistent sources for stocking and selling natural foods and vegetarian products as well as for providing educational materials and, often, cooking classes and recipes. Both still play a valuable role in providing shoppers with nourishing choices. But today’s concerned consumer has spurred the growth of mainstream markets that now stock what were once considered “fringe” items.
Community-supported agriculture, or CSAs, provide a way for the consumer to buy into, or subscribe to, a farmer’s weekly production of vegetables, fruits, eggs, and other farm goods. This benefits both the farmer, who is assured of selling what he grows, and the consumer, who gets weekly deliveries of farm-fresh goods. Most areas of the country have nearby farmers who participate in a CSA. To check out what’s available near you, log onto LocalHarvest.org.
Farm stands are as American as apple pie, but they have their counterpart in large weekly farmers’ markets in most cities abroad. Tourists who want to understand a country’s culture always make the city marketplace their first stop.
Americans got out of the habit of buying from their local farmers and local farm stands once supermarkets arrived and made one-stop shopping so convenient. But the resurgence of farmers’ markets portends a different consumer attitude about buying fresh and buying local.
According to the USDA, as of 2008 more than 4,600 farmers’ markets operated nationwide, and the demand for them continues to grow. For more information, check out this website.
Even in the nation’s capital, shopping at the farmers’ markets operated by the group FRESHFARM Markets has become something of a weekly social event, particularly at the Dupont Circle location on Sundays. For many, shopping there is as important as attending a congressman’s dinner party. Unless you are actually a farmer, where else can you feel a part of how and where your food grows? What better way to stay connected to the land than by striking up a relationship with the person who works it and grows what you eat? For more information, check out this farmers' market listing, or this one, or call your local agricultural extension service.
Become an Activist
If joining groups and supporting causes are new to you, this is as good a time as any to volunteer for one of the many environmental groups that lobby Congress or try to educate the dining public about the values of farmland and food production. These causes complement many aspects of vegetarianism—sometimes referred to as “environmental vegetarianism”— when they touch on the need to preserve our environment, to reduce the use of fossil fuels, and to keep our food sources safe from pollution.
Several groups working actively to educate people about the environment, about supporting sustainable agriculture, and about preserving our food culture include:
- Slow Food USA
- Sierra Club
- The Nature Conservancy
- the Orion Grassroots Network
- American Farmland Trust
To locate which group is nearest you, use the Internet and join to support the health of our planet and our farmlands.