Don't Buy Food From Strangers
When you were young your parents adamantly told you “don’t take candy from strangers”. This of course is sound advice. You don’t know what could be in that candy. You don’t know the intentions of strangers. You don’t know if strangers are trustworthy. Yet, when we get older we not only buy candy from strangers, we buy all of our food from strangers.
The most popular way to buy food today is from a grocery store; often big chain supermarkets. When you walk into a grocery store and browse the food, you have no idea where it all came from. You don’t know the farmers who grew it, the farming practices that were used or where those farms are located. The only information you get is the country where it was produced.
You walk through the aisles, pick out what you need, add it to your shopping cart and head to the checkout. There you’re met with an insincere "Hi, how are you?" by the checkout clerk who, unsurprisingly, is also a stranger. You respond with an equally insincere “Good, you?”.
After you purchase your groceries your money then gets funneled into the pockets of non-local business and investors whom you’ll never know or meet. There's essentially no emotion involved when you shop at a grocery store. It’s impersonal and indifferent. The food you buy was produced by strangers, the people who own these grocery stores are strangers and the staff who operate them are also strangers. It’s pretty bizarre when you think about it. When in history have entire communities been reliant on strangers to produce and deliver their food?
When we buy food from strangers we end up separating our food from its origins and from the farmers who grew it. When we do this our food starts to feel more like a generic commodity. And when we think of something as a commodity we start to treat it like a commodity. If a tomato is a tomato regardless of how it was grown and harvested then the logical thing to do would be to buy the most amount of tomatoes for the cheapest price. This then creates a competition to see who can create the cheapest food. Farming becomes a race to the bottom. From this point of view the companies who are willing to exploit their land, their local ecosystems, their workers and their animals to produce the cheapest food win. As a result we get grocery stores that are stocked with cheap, low-quality food that come with huge environmental and ethical price tags.
Viewing food as a commodity also makes it feel disposable. When things are cheap and we don’t think about how difficult it was to create it, it's easier to throw it away and waste it. Is this really the relationship we want with our food? Our relationship with food has become disconnected because of grocery stores but there are ways we can rebuild it. This first step is to start buying food from people you know.
If you were to step outside the grocery store bubble and start buying directly from local farmers, that food will take on a wholly different experience. When you buy directly from a local farmer and you know where that food was grown, perhaps you've even been to the farm or seen pictures of it, you will feel more connected to your home. When you buy local you get the opportunity to build a relationship with your local farmer. When your farmer asks “how are you?” they will actually mean it and the same will go for you. When you buy from a local farmer you have to acknowledge how much hard work and skill it must take to grow and harvest all of that food. When you pay for locally-grown food you know that that money is going back into the community. It will go towards local food security. It will help make fresh nutritious food more accessible.
From this perspective, locally-grown food seems more like a work of art or a gift. Something that should be cherished and savored. Cooked with intention and love. Something that should not be wasted.
In Canada almost 3 million tons of food is wasted each year. It gets thrown in the trash, trucked to a landfill and dumped into a desolate landscape of smelly garbage. When that food rots it produces a liquid called leachate which can seep into and pollute groundwater. Rotting food also produces methane which is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Why do we waste so much food? I think the main reason is because we've lost our connection to it. It's easy to throw away a generic, cheap commodity. It's a lot harder to throw away a work of art made by a member of your community whom you know personally.
I feel bad for people who only shop at grocery stores. It’s an alienating experience. One that I feel is harmful to the psyche. With self-serve checkouts you can now walk into a grocery store, buy your groceries and leave without ever speaking with or making eye contact with a single person. It creates the antithesis of community. Is this the type of world we want to create? A world or strangers?
Buying food from strangers is a recent phenomenon. One that has been pioneered by industrial agriculture. Grocery stores are so ubiquitous that many of us aren’t even aware what we’re giving up when we shop there. Buying food from strangers creates a world of more strangers. It degrades our relationship with our land and with one another. There are people in our community who are eager to grow your food and to get to know you. You just have to step outside your daily routine and connect with them.