Free Your Picnic: Food Independence Day

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Eating local food is patriotic. Buying local food is an easy and delicious way to support small farmers and local economies, and often to reduce your picnic's "carbon foodprint."
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Originally published at Ecocentric.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Eating local food is patriotic.

The nation seems to grow ever more deeply divided about what that means, especially this last year, with the tea partiers insisting that the so-called liberal elite are not patriotic (and to be fair, many progressives seeming sheepish about their citizenship). On a good day, though, I'd guess that most people would agree that while there is a great deal wrong with this country (even if we don't agree on what those things are), we would like to see it prosper, we would like to preserve its land and waters as best we can, and we would like our fellow citizens to prosper as well.

Buying local food is an easy and delicious way to support small farmers and local economies, and often to reduce your picnic's "carbon foodprint" by cutting down on the fossil fuels required to get it to the party, and almost always to reduce the amount of petroleum-based chemicals used in its production and packaging. What could be more patriotic than that?

Roger Doiron, whose Food Independence Day campaign I blogged about last year, is at it again, this time on Facebook (you do not have to be a member to view the campaign, put your local food picnic on the map or sign the Declaration of Food Independence). Roger has expressed his homegrown patriotism publicly over the last few years, first with his Eat the View campaign, which gathered over 100,000 signatures toward a kitchen garden on the White House Lawn, and later landed him an invite to that garden.

Once again, Roger is cultivating a sense of hope in spite of some troubling current events, turning a kind of social/environmental compost, if you will:

My sense is celebrations this July 4th will be more somber than last year's because of the ongoing economic crisis compounded by yet another environmental crisis. But the news is not all bad. The crisis in the gulf, as tragic as it is, is getting more people to think about bigger picture issues like the corporate world's use and, in this case, abuse of the global commons and our own complicity in that. My hope is that this new way of thinking will carry over to how people think about food, the fuel we put in our own bellies. Just as achieving energy independence is going to require investment, lifestyle changes and new policies, so will food independence.

Roger finds hope -- and strength -- in growing numbers:

The more people who make these changes on a personal level, the more powerful we become both economically and politically. You can exercise that power and freedom this holiday weekend in the food choices you make. You might spend a dollar or two more at a farmers' market or, if you're a home gardener, sweat a little more than you would browsing through an air-conditioned grocery store produce section, but you will have invested that extra money and effort in things that are answers to society's problems as opposed to things that are creating them.

Roger's fellow Food & Society Fellow, Rose Hayden-Smith, is another hopeful gardener. Rose is an extension agent and professor at University of California Santa Barbara, where she recently finished her dissertation on the history of victory gardens. Rose filled me in on the history of food and patriotism, and as a delicious reflection of the diversity of this country.

Demonstrations of American patriotism have often been linked to food, even going back to the American Revolution, when Americans dumped British tea into the Boston Harbor rather than pay taxes on it. Many of the foods we traditionally associate with the Fourth of July - including apple pie - reflect the diverse mix of immigrant heritages that make our nation strong and unique. Like people, food ways have mingled, creating new and unique cultural expressions.

Apple pie? Diverse? That's right -- apple pie's roots go back to the 14th century, at least, says Rose, not in North America, but in German, Holland and England. The most traditional "American" pie would be made from sweet potatoes.

Which brings up an interesting point. Some of the things that seem the most American, like Budweiser, with its working class vibe and red, white and blue packaging, actually are not (Bud sold to Belgian brewer InBev in 2008). Just as it doesn't make a person any savvier to sneer at their roots, it doesn't make a person any more American to eat at McDonald's. In fact, eating industrially-produced foods helps support systems which have put a lot of farmers out of business and made a lot of people a lot less healthy.

And just as the automobile was a great invention, it could have been, should have been improved upon more cleverly over the years -- if this country is one that was built on innovation and industry, those values, I would argue, have been twisted by a tendency toward greed and consolidation of power, resulting in less innovative, more environmentally harmful vehicles. The same is true of the food industry. The fault for this process probably lies most with the people who profited most from it, but there is plenty of blame to share amongst industry, government for complicity in the form of toothless regulations, and yes, you, dear reader, and me, and the rest of America.

But this Fourth, let's not waste time pointing fingers -- let's move forward, and try to do better. Let's support our government agencies when they try to do the right thing, like investigating antitrust behavior and garnering support for small farmers. Let's vow to hold government's and industry's feet to the fire when they do us wrong. But for now, let's get patriotic in the easiest, most delicious way possible -- by eating some awesome food.

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