So… MacLean’s magazine reported last week that the Hamilton Farmer’s Market had plans to oust a number of long-time vendors because they didn’t fit the market’s new image of upscale, focusing on “local” ingredients grown within a 100-mile radius. Regular readers of this site will know just how much utter bullshit I believe the 100-mile diet to be. It’s elitist in its time demands (only people with a lot of money and enough free time to source local ingredients are able to eat this way); it makes huge assumptions about food miles, something that is almost impossible to calculate accurately; and it creates what is essentially a two-tier food system, with those of us with free time and free money being able to congratulate ourselves on helping the poor, downtrodden local farmer, while those with no time and little money having to shop at the oh-so-frowned-upon supermarket.
Andrew Potter, the author of the piece, makes allegations not only of elitism but of xenophobia. This undoubtedly will get people’s hackles up. But in the case of Hamilton, the majority of the long-time vendors given the boot were not white, but Vietnamese, Colombian and Middle Eastern. And when you think of “local” food, when it is featured on menus or touted in magazines or books… it’s pretty much old skool white people food. Sorry, immigrants, you don’t fit our elitist ideal.
Granted, many of the ingredients necessary to make tasty Indian, Persian or Vietnamese food are not grown locally. But is nobody else seeing how we’ve slammed the door shut in the face of our immigrant citizens? Can nobody else see how this might send the message that they’re really not welcome in our special elitist farmers’ market club? Seriously – peruse a “local” farmers’ market – there are no ethnic foods there unless the farmers themselves are from another culture, and those farmers are quite rare. And our “local” food fests and events? Not especially multi-racial in terms of participants or attendees.
Sure, there are programs to train immigrant farmers to run farms in Canada. And work being done to see how crops from other regions do here in Ontario. But as Hamilton demonstrates, it’s going to be a long time before the farmers’ market reflects the cultural mosaic that is our city, or even our country.
Also, since I’m on a rant here… I’m getting reaaaaalllllly tired of all the people who defend local food with some comment about “knowing where my food comes from”. Sure, you can meet your farmer at the market and see that he lives in, say, Delhi, Ontario. And you can find Delhi on a map, or maybe go there on a Sunday afternoon (you should, it’s nice). But do you go visit his farm? Do you check out his barn to see what pesticides he using, or not? Do you go in the summer to see how he treats the seasonal workers he employs to pick his crop? Do you check to see the type of feed he’s giving his animals? Do you know if he drives an energy-efficient truck or does he bring his stuff to market in a gas hog?
Really… what do you know about where your food comes from or how it was grown, just because it’s “local”??
And when are we going to start applying these same elitist rules that we use for food to other things in our lives? Why the special treatment for farmers? Seriously – the person who bores me silly espousing their local food diet while standing there in a pair of jeans made in Vietnam or a t-shirt made in Bangladesh… sorry, your foodie superiority will be superseded by your overwhelming hypocrisy, and I will walk away considering you a douche bag of the highest order.
We desperately need to move the term “local” away from just food. You want to support local? Buy clothes made by local designers. Gifts, crafts, housewares. Cars made in Canada, not Japan… it’s hard isn’t it? Impossible, even. Yet we have two very different sets of rules that allows us to look down our noses on a whole segment of the food and restaurant industry. Not to mention the people who don’t buy into the local food brainwashing.
Local, to me, is about supporting the whole community. Sanko, on Queen West, is a little shop selling food, books and dishes from Japan. It’s a family-run operation. It’s a LOCAL shop, even if their inventory isn’t. The pho joint around the corner from my apartment, also LOCAL. Empanada lady in Kensington – LOCAL. Ethiopian spice shop – LOCAL. I don’t give a shit whether the stuff they sell is imported – they’re a small, LOCAL business, working hard to make a living and be part of the greater community. Sure, I shop at farmers’ markets and support Ontario farmers, but I do it for the community aspect of it, not because it makes my food superior to the imported stuff my neighbours buy at a grocery store.
It shouldn’t ever come down to a decision to put a hard-working (white) farmer above a hard-working Vietnamese shop owner, or a hard-working Colombian empanada maker, as seems to be the case in Hamilton. They all deserve our business – but if those immigrant vendors have seniority then they should retain their spaces, not be pushed out because their products don’t fit the upscale elitist ideal.
I don’t think the xenophobia is intentional. In our great rush to follow the religion of local, it’s probably not even a conscious decision. But if we continue to push aside small, immigrant-run family businesses in favour of some (unachievable, and silly) elitist ideal, then those same people need to shut their pieholes about how wonderfully multi-cultural their city is. My LOCAL includes food from all over the world, because my city includes people from all over the world. Not all of it originates in Ontario… so fucking what?