Life is cyclical. Things are born, thrive, wear out, and then die.
And then they begin again.
Mostly we think of this in terms of fashion trends and perhaps, for some, geologic shifts. But on some level we seem to believe that society as a whole is on a continual track forward, and that this track can only go forward.
For the majority of history our food had been restrained mostly to local farmers, and the label of “Import” had intonations of luxury, delicacy and exoticism. But near the end of the late 19th century the practice of food processing came about. The Industrial Revolution had changed the world and with it came a huge change in the way that food was distributed. By the 1920’s and the invention of frozen foods, processed food began to dominate the market. This was the new world. Modern, efficient, a step forward for society.
Now, fast forward 150 years. Our vegetables are from Mexico, our seafood is from China, much of our meat comes from Canada while we export our own meat to other counties. The Import label has taken on a new meaning as the quality of food has decreased and as Americans lose their connection to where the food they buy actually comes from. The physical distance has created a mental distance as well, as we became more inclined to buy pre-made meals, we lose awareness of what our food really is, at its raw level.
A perfect example of this distance can be shown from an old episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, in which he asked a group of school children to identify vegetables that he brought in. The children in the class were unable to name even one of them; they knew what a french fry was, but not a potato.
We have reached a dangerous peak in this trend, culminating in jumbo sized coffins. But we have also begun to see it grow old, and in its place sprout the seeds of a new (or better yet, old) thought process.
In an interesting turn, local has begun to replace the prestigious label of import in the food industry. After having gorged ourselves on all things cheap and easy, we are beginning to recognize the limitations of this way of life, and move backwards. Backwards into an age of small, local farms that produce food which is sold within a limited area from where it is grown.
Sacramento is a perfect example of this trend, as it is surrounded by vast farmlands. While much of this land still operates on a corporate, exporting level, there has been an emergence of small farms which specialize in supplying the market with local alternatives.
A woman in Yolo county raises free range chickens and sells them at the local farmers markets.
A family in Woodland who raise pigs are beginning to sell their pork to local restaurants as well, while some local chicken farmers are selling directly to large companies such as Foster Farms.
More and more, we are seeing food being grown for the needs of specific local consumers. A wonderful example of this is Feeding Crane Farms, which specializes in “grow to order” organic produce. Chefs are able to visit the farm, and specify exactly what they need.
“The advantage is that it’s in the ground until you need it, and they pick it, wash it off and drive it down to you,” says Managing Partner Jacqueline Barton of Michelangelo’s Italian Art Restaurant. “Our customers are able to get super-fresh local produce.”
While these efforts may seem miniscule considering the vast monopoly that commercial factory farming has on the food industry, there is one important thing to remember. These efforts are endued with the status of quality over quantity. They are recognized as being a more desirable, higher end product. And with time, this small seed, given the proper environment, may just sprout and grow into a new world view.