Local Commentaries
8:37 pm
Mon August 10, 2009

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad - August 11

Macomb, IL – When my husband Michael and I moved to Macomb some 9 years ago, I think we were like many people new to the area. We thought, what a quaint town, we could live here - for a while. Macomb wasn't the beautiful, progressive college town we had both lived in during the mid-1990s, nor was it the metropolitan city from which we had just moved. It was Macomb. Now several years later we can't imagine living anywhere else in large part because of the community of people that we have grown into.

Anthropologist Margaret Meade once said that one should "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." One sure sign of this action having manifested itself in Macomb occurred on Saturday, Aug. 8th at the 2nd Annual FIG (Food Initiatives Group) dinner that took place at Taylor Hall.

Let me just come out and say it, I love to know the faces of the people who grow my food. I am what some people call a locavore. I am not a full-blown locavore - I still drink coffee, use salt, and eat things that are made with cane sugar. But I try really hard to eat seasonally and I believe that the local connections I make in life matter. I want to know the people who grow my food, what their stories are, and why they do what they do. The FIG dinner on Saturday was one event celebrating the locally produced seasonal foods and the community of people who produce and consume them.

You've heard it a thousand times: you are what you eat. More and more often we find that many people define themselves based on their food habits. Are you a vegetarian or a vegan? Are you a compassionate carnivore or a junk-food junkie? Are you a locavore? A raw foodist? An omnivore?

We choose these labels for ourselves because they in many ways reflect our core cultural values. Do you believe that all life, from the cows in the field to the ants running across your kitchen counter, need to be honored and not eaten? If your answer is yes, then vegan is the choice for you.

In addition to these personal reasons, many of us eat the way we do because we believe that it makes a difference in the larger world. We believe that if enough of us "vote with our fork," we can change the very food system that feeds us.

I choose to be a locavore because I embrace the community that I live in. I love where I live and I want Macomb to be as good as it can be. One small way I can do this is by knowing where my food comes from. As Michael Pollan once wrote, "At home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind." I make a conscious effort to know where my food comes from.

I am not a vegan or even a vegetarian. I love meat, but I also like to know where my beef or chicken comes from and how the living animal was treated before it became my meal. This is my personal choice. But it is also a political and economic choice. Every time I buy my food from a local farmer I am putting money into the local economy. And that is good for Macomb. The 90+ individuals who purchased tickets for the FIG dinner voted with their forks and in doing so voted for a healthier economy for Macomb.

So here's the deal: our food system is changing. It may be a slow painful change, but there enough people in our country - and in Macomb and the surrounding area - who are concerned with food security, local economics, health, and environmental issues to educate themselves about how our food is produced.

Here is an educational tidbit for you: did you know that we are losing some of our best farmland because of the type of industrial agriculture that we practice? Each year nearly four million acres of irrigated land are lost because fertilizers and pesticides used in conventional agriculture choke irrigated soils with salt, costing some $11 billion in reduced productivity annually.(1) In Illinois alone, we lost close to 170,000 acres between 1992-1997 a 137% increase in the rate of loss over the previous five year period.(2)

So, what can you and I do? Start simple: think about the story of the food on your plate. Who grew it? How far did it travel? And how was it produced? If you don't know who grew the food on your plate, make it your goal that the next meal you cook includes at least one item produced from someone you know.

I know that people who grew the tomatoes, onions, and wheat that were in the tomato brushetta served on Saturday. I know the farmers who raised the food for the entrees - braised chicken with corn salsa, beef tenderloin with caramelized shallots, and shitake mushroom polenta tart. They are valuable members of our community. The 90+ people who attended the FIG dinner know these people too. Don't you want to be in the know?


(1) Belsie, Laurent. Christian Science Monitor "How to Feed the World" (2003)
(2) USDA National Resources Inventory