I was listening to a program on NPR by a guy in Vermont who decided to eat locally all year. He joined some farm co-op where he could pick up fresh vegetables in season, decided to drink apple juice instead of orange, because that’s what grows there, and uses maple syrup all the time, because that’s probably the most quintessentially native food in Vermont. I liked the idea. It’s so easy for us these days to lose touch with our communities. Everything is so mobile now. Not only do people move around a lot, but everything we own is made in China or Honduras, and even the food we eat has probably traveled thousands of miles to get to us. Now, I would be among the first to say that globalization is a wonderful thing. I am pleased to consider myself a citizen of the world. But sometimes I feel that we get farther from our neighbors without getting closer to the rest of the world. If we lose that sense of community at home, how can we apply it to a larger population? If we can’t feel connected to what’s around us, how will we keep ourselves from simply disconnecting from everything? I sense that we are losing our sense of interdependency. We no longer know nor understand the things upon which we depend, leading ourselves into the delusion that we’re totally independent.
I hadn’t thought much about this when I decided to start drinking raw milk a few weeks ago. I was more concerned about the health benefits for my family. After I actually tried the milk, I would have kept drinking it for the pure sensory experience (my Laurel’s Kitchen cookbook describes the taste as “liquid flowers”). But as I have begun to drive once a week the half-hour to the little farm that sells raw milk, I have had time to think more about the beauty of buying food locally. I’m not talking about just looking for the “Made in the U.S.A.” stamp. This is about driving to the farm and saying hello to the cows that made my milk. They have beautiful brown eyes and a calmness about them that draws you in. And I like the people who own the cows, too. They have a little refrigerator full of the milk, and a little cash box beside it, and you just leave your money and take the milk. If they’re there, they’ll chat with you for a moment. The milk comes in thick glass bottles that keep it deliciously cold and give it a sense of realness. This is not a plastic, generic, throwaway container. And the food inside is something special. It’s a rare experience, in a culture where your typical fast food is probably less nourishing (and more damaging to your health and the environment) than its ample and disposable packaging. No wonder we waste so much food. We generally receive it so far from its source that it’s more like play food. They have to put strange unpronounceable things in it and do weird procedures to it to make it last long enough to get to us. It’s hard to fathom, or even remember that it came from a cow, or a chicken, or a plant, and that some real person milked the cow, or gathered the eggs, or grew the frozen peas you bought last week. To say nothing of the chocolate tree that grew your Cocoa Pebbles. What is this stuff we call food? Is it part of what pulls our lives away from real things and real people and leaves us isolated and searching for something to fill our emptiness? I want to get to know my neighbors, and buy fruit that was grown in the orchards outside of town, and keep visiting my friendly cows. That way, we’ll know what we’re really eating, and who grew it, and who we need to take care of if a hurricane comes our way. We’ll be able to feel like a part of where we are, rather than just an accidental occupant. Perhaps once we’ve developed a strong sense of community and interdependency around the people who live close to us, we’ll be able to expand our friendly circle and embrace the world in a more respectful and meaningful way.