Our Elite Clubhouse, Made From Peaches and Tomatoes

Oooooh, Loblaw’s you bastards!

How dare they?? I mean, really how DARE they try to sell local produce? Don’t they know the rule about how you’re not a good, conscientious consumer unless you buy it directly from the farmer? You icky supermarket shoppers, you can’t be in our special club! Yes, sure, we preached at you to buy local produce and support local farmers. But not from an (ewwww!!) supermarket!

Yes, Loblaw’s is at it again, for the third year in row they are setting up stands within and outside their stores with a farmers’ market-style booth featuring locally-grown produce. This is good, right? Because we want people to buy and eat more local food. And since, despite the proliferation of farmers’ markets in urban areas, most people still buy at least some of their fruits and vegetables from supermarkets, it’s better to have it be local instead of imports. Any switch is a step in a positive direction, right? Good things grow in Ontario?

Apparently not.

Because Robert Chorney of Farmers’ Market Canada seems to think that Loblaw’s is just trying to capitalize on the markets’ success. Well… yeah. But that’s a given. And food activist Anita Stewart says “For generations, all across Canada, farmers markets have been embedded in our collective food culture.” Really? I’m thinking Stewart has/had a very different food culture than the majority of Canadians, because my informal poll indicates that most people grew up with supermarkets, only occasionally visiting a farmers’ market.

Remember that, until the past few years, farmers’ markets were a rarity. How could they have been part of our collective food culture? How could they have been part of the food culture of the millions of immigrants who come to this country and end up living in the suburbs? Heck, even now, most of the suburban areas of the GTA are under-served in terms of access to a farmers market. In my own discussions with Ontario farmers, many in the small rural communities where those farmers live don’t even buy local produce. And when I talk to farmers at some of the many markets downtown and they tell me that business is down, they don’t blame the supermarkets. No, they blame the fact that there are way too many markets located too close to one another.

Loblaw’s has suggested that many people don’t have the time to shop at a farmers’ market, or can’t get to one easily. Chorney talks about a desire to return to a simpler life. Well… yeah. But how many people are actually able to follow through on that desire? The best laid plans are thwarted by traffic snarls, overtime hours, soccer practice… dear sir, please to kindly grab a clue. The idyllic stroll through the farmers’ market is indeed a lovely thing. Some of us do make a point of doing it and it can be a highlight of our day/week. But for the majority of people, grocery shopping is a chore. It’s one more thing on a long list that never seems to get any shorter.

We will never succeed in the goal of promoting local food if we wait around expecting people to have an epiphany and see the error of their horrible, selfish, unenlightened supermarket-shopping ways. The majority of people aren’t coming to the farmers’ market. Which means you have to take the farmers’ market to them. It won’t happen if we don’t make it easy for people.

We shout and screech and rant and rave about supporting local farmers. Yet when a supermarket tries to take part in that, it’s like they’ve tried to breach the doors of some super-exclusive, yes, ELITIST club.

And it’s probably egotistical to quote myself, but this is an issue I feel very strongly about:

But my point is about the message. By making an ethical (local, sustainable) purchase at the supermarket, we show the supermarkets that these are products that they should continue to carry because people are buying them. If the point in the “eat local” message is truly to support local farmers and ethical, sustainable businesses then we have to look at the bigger picture and do what we can to get everyone involved (and I don’t mean just preaching at them). We can’t do that if eating local is an elitist, rich person’s domain. True change only comes from bringing this movement to the masses and making it easy for them to access these products.

Last time I checked the masses were buying their groceries at supermarkets.

Don’t get me wrong, I shop at farmers’ market a couple of times a week in the summer months. But I have a flexible schedule, the desire to support such enterprises and the financial stability to be able to pay a bit more for my food. Not everyone is so fortunate. Markets are more expensive, they’re often inconvenient to get to and they’re an extra stop in the grocery buying process when you still have to go the supermarket anyway for milk and toilet paper. I’m not in any way saying don’t support them when you can – but can we please stop being so pig-headedly elitist about efforts to get local produce to the mainstream public?