Sunday, October 28, 2012

JIT versus Local Grown with Local Impact

Farmers are philosophical. They have learned that it is less wearing to shrug than to beat their breasts. – Ruth Stout

Stormy days ahead for our food supply? A farmer's field at Three Mile Island, NS.
Photo: jhoc, Flickr ccl

I was looking again this morning at “A Guide to Good Cooking with Five Roses Flour.” I was looking for an old recipe but I found something far more interesting instead.

On page 5 was a call to “buy local.”

The Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market.
Photo: Spacing Magazine, Flickr CCL
Believe it or not it says:

A Guide to Good Cooking is an All- Canadian Cook Book.
The Five Roses Cook Book is in tune with the strong movement to use Canadian materials and Canadian products. Just as Five Roses Vitamin Enriched Flour is made of the best Western Canadian Hard Spring Wheat, “A Guide to Good Cooking” is made  and printed in Canada by Canadian paper-makers and printers. Canadian housewives can also help their country by insisting on Canadian-made goods and Canadian-grown foodstuffs. Follow this golden rule and insist on Five Roses Vitamin Enriched Flour. You will reap the benefits and safeguard the results of your cooking.

The intro paragraph hit me quite hard. This cook book was published in 1959, as an 18th revised edition.

How long was this call to “buy local” printed in its pages. And why?

Of course, the late 1950 were a very different time. But this paragraph resonates to this day. Stronger now than ever before I would say.

Without any solid research to back this assertion, I would say that your choices for international products were probably quite limited in the 1950. The occurrence of products grown in far away lands is now more commonplace in our groceries than those grown locally. This is a fundamental shift. 

What is JIT and why is it dangerous?
Was that cookbook recognizing the start of the great flood of products from international companies? Were Canadian goods being supplanted by the start of a just-in-time mindset – even in 1959?

Just in time (or JIT, as it is short-formed) is how our foods are now delivered to market. It’s a very dangerous method to support how we feed ourselves.

In a nutshell, JIT is the system where products are shipped via water, air or rail to destination points just as they’re needed and at their peak ripeness (or a little under-ripe and ripened artificially, but that's a different story). They are then distributed via rail or truck to their final selling points.

Take the time to look and see where your food comes from. It’s on all packaging in Canada and right on the green produce signs in the grocery stores. Here’s an example. I purchased sage at a local grocery this past week. Usually our herbs come from Riverview Herbs in Nova Scotia. This sage came from Israel. Why?

JIT is 100% susceptible to world interruptions. If anything goes wrong in the shipping then the distribution network grinds to a halt. This can be anything from weather to war to human error. We live on the point of a pin.

There was a very enlightening series that aired on PBS in 2010 (and again in 2011) called Food Inc. about the food industry in the USA. The documentary garnered a Peabody Award and was nominated for an Oscar.

Its premise was that the United States food supply was now controlled by a handful of large corporations. To illustrate it followed the lives of buyers and distributors of the foods on which Americans rely on every day to literally put food on their tables.

Every day a veritable army of workers – starting in the wee hours –  ply their trade to ensure the foods are off-loaded, distributed and delivered to markets and groceries to be placed on shelves.

A vendor at the Windsor Farmers' Market.
Photo: Social Enterprise Coalition, Flickr CCL
It was both awe-inspiring and terrifying. Any break in the chain and the whole thing collapses. 

That’s why the call from the past in Five Roses is of such importance. It’s kind of like a ghost appearing before you to warn of impending doom.

I’m no babe in the woods about marketing and advertising, being a graphic designer for over 20 years – 17 of them in an advertising agency. So I know the message in the cook book was self-serving.

But it went further than that. It supported local food producers as well as even the lateral industry of local book production. At that time who would have cared? The statement had to carefully intentional.

Of course now a very common mantra is to “buy local.” But I fear for the most part it falls on deaf ears. I try, but I am as guilty as the next person.

What actually happens when we buy local goods? 
They are important, significant impacts.

First, we support local businesses, obviously. Those businesses employ local people. Regardless if you’re a lawyer, doctor or a graphic designer like me, this is important. Without local jobs to employ local people there will be no one to buy your particular service or good.

The Mahone Bay Farmers' Market.
Photo: pvsbond, Flickr ccl
It’s just common sense. The Maritime provinces are rife with people moving “out West” for employment. There are no jobs. Perhaps if we focussed our attention on purchasing more locally this wouldn’t be the case. One business feeds another, so to speak.

Second, we protect the supply of food we need every day from the shocks of global markets. If you buy apples or pears grown in the Annapolis Valley a typhoon in South East Asia won’t impact them at all. Of course we will still feel sympathy for those affected – and as good Maritimers – reach out to help, but our food will not be affected.

The recent XL meat scare is another case in point to serve as a warning about large food corporations. Did you know that ONE processing plant was responsible for one third (yes, 1/3) of all beef consumed in Canada? It boggles the mind.

There are local meat supplies that we should be supporting. That way we’re not dependent on a single source. Of course those suppliers are sometimes purchased by multi-nationals and the closed because the profit margins are too small. 

Case in point, the previous Maple Leaf chicken processing plant in the Valley. Bought, run for while, but when it no longer was “in the corporate interest” it was closed. “Corporate interest” is a euphemism for “profit.” You can’t tell me it’s not.

Luckily, the chicken plant is being resurrected by Eden Valley. They will once again employ local people and give them a reason to stay and live in our rural communities.

The third reason has to do with energy and costs. How much fossil fuel do you think is burned every day to ship food around the world? It must be a staggering amount.

Fossil fuel is finite. The cost will only go up – not down. As such the foods – which we will rely on if we don’t support local producers – will cost more and more and more. We often hear in the news that prices rise because the cost of fuel increases. 

You see it in your bank balance every day. That sage from Israel, or tomato from Chile, or peppers from the southern USA will cost you more in Nova Scotia as fuel costs escalate.

So what can we do? 
Well the obvious solution would be to grow your own, but that’s not feasible for most Nova Scotians. We’re rural, but not that rural. The most practical way is to support either small or medium-sized producers.

You can do this either at Farmers Markets or in your grocery. As Five Roses said “[insist] on Canadian-made goods and Canadian-grown foodstuffs.” 

It isn’t limited to food either. Canadian-made goods employ Canadians. I suggest going even more local. Local made goods employ local people, regardless of where you live.

If you want to protect your own livelihood, support local business.

As far as local produce, there  are many local markets where you can start the process. For a partial list visit I say partial list because this is an organization that you have to join and I’m sure there are numerous smaller markets that are not members.

By doing our bit – each one of us – we can protect and grow our own future. This will cascade into a better quality of life through more services being available – urban or rural – and a safer future for us all. 

According to the Five Roses Cookbook, it’s been a patriotic goal for quite some time.


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