The local food paradigm shift

Economically and health-wise, it just makes sense

Cindy Titus

Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, recently said that apathy and ignorance are the reasons why the healthy and local food movement hasn’t caught on like the recycling movement has.

To witness the strength of the recycling movement, watch the episode of Mad Men wherein Don Draper’s family enjoys a picnic, only to drive away and leave a garbage-strewn park, illustrating the ignorance of the time. Viewers can chuckle seeing the subtle way things have changed (or haven’t) since 1962.

Today they would’ve put their waste into a recycling or garbage bin, or at least they would have had the opportunity. The recycling movement had to gain traction and spread from city to city, and that happened through education.

Such change happens not just through education but through financial incentives as well.

There is certainly money to be made in the healthy local food movement. Consumer demand will speed change as businesses react by offering locally produced and healthy, sustainable and fair food as well as producing for export.

The healthy and local food movement contains a lot of potential, as well as many difficulties.

Manitoba’s agriculture industry provides one out of every six jobs in the province, yet only 27 per cent of the average grocery bill goes back to farmers. The value of Manitoba’s agricultural exports in 2007 was $3.31 billion.

Added to this are the health effects of the modern, unhealthy diet.

For example, 52 per cent of Manitobans are either overweight or obese and Manitoba has the highest rate of Type 2 diabetes on the prairies. By 2020, 35 per cent of Manitobans will be diabetic or prediabetic.

The consumer trend to eat healthier, more local food is expanding in Winnipeg but the pace is still too slow. More Manitobans should look to buying local, choosing sustainably produced healthy food and even take a shot at growing their own.

Farmers’ markets are one way to meet the needs of those who want to eat local and healthier. The economic impact of farmers’ markets in Canada in 2008 was $3.09 billion according to a study by Farmers’ Markets Canada.

The Farmers’ Market Association of Manitoba is working toward operating a year-round market in Winnipeg.

There are many other ways to eat locally. You can join a community-supported agriculture farm, or buy direct from farmers such as the Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative.

There are plenty of Manitoba products at your grocery store year round. If you can’t find them ask your local grocer.

The price of some local foods may be slightly higher than non-local food, making some consumers hesitate.

But using sustainably produced whole local foods and cooking from scratch instead of purchasing ready-made meals can actually make your grocery bills smaller. Buying in bulk also helps to keep grocery costs down.

It also comes down to prioritizing what one spends their money on.

Good, nutrient-dense foods and locally produced beverages that support the environment and the local economy are certainly not bad economic choices.

A 2011 study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has shown that businesses that participated in “buy local” campaigns had a growth of 5.6 per cent on average in 2010, compared to 2.1 per cent for those that did not.

Also, for one dollar spent at a local business, 45 cents are reinvested locally; $1 spent at a corporate chain leads to 15 cents being reinvested locally.

A small move towards eating healthy, sustainable food is all it takes, just like the first time you dropped something in a recycling bin.

Perhaps in 2042 people can look back and smirk at some of the “food” we’re eating now.

Chris Schiffmann is the communications coordinator for Food Matters Manitoba and a recent rhetoric & communications graduate from the University of Winnipeg. Visit for information on where you can buy local food, as well as on food and gardening skills.

Published in Volume 65, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 24, 2011)

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