BY SUSAN WENZEL
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
April 2, 2014
In a day and age when strawberries are available in December, milk lasts for months and ingredient lists are as long and convoluted as the U.S. Tax Code, author and activist Vicki Robin began to consider the impacts of our society’s relationship with food…but, first, she took a hard look at her own eating habits.
“I am a living being, a living system,” said Robin. “I am only as healthy as the soil my food grows in, but I had made my food someone else’s responsibility. I would go to the grocery store and select my pretty packages without really thinking about how they got to the shelves. As far as ‘relational eating’ was concerned, I had become a food shopper.”
In “Blessing the Hands That Feed Us: What Eating Closer to Home Can Teach Us About Food, Community, and Our Place on Earth,” Robin discusses the philosophy of “relational eating” in which consumers have a more complete “food sense”—specifically in knowing where, how and by whom their food is produced. She writes that in seeking this healthy food, we can ultimately create a more healthy society.
Robin concedes that change will not come easily. People have become comfortable in their habits of buying convenience foods, plus many places lack an adequate source for local food. She noted that only five to ten percent of food eaten on Whidbey Island is produced on the island despite the region’s vast agrarian potential.
“Right now, we—on Whidbey—couldn’t feed all 65,000 people the 2,000 calories a day that are necessary. It would be impossible. We rely too heavily on what comes to us in trucks across the bridge and ferries.”
She decided to test her theories close to home and completely “relocalize” her own taste buds first, but wondered if it would be possible to fulfill all of her nutritional needs in doing so? What would she gain if she ate only items sourced close to her home? What would she lose? What would be the long-term effect on her health, her community and, even, her sense of well-being?
Fortunately she met Tricia Beckner, a local farmer who was asking the same sort of questions.
“Tricia wanted to see how much of an impact one farmer with one small farm could make,” explained Robin. “She wanted to do a sort of opposite ‘Supersize Me’ experiment. But, instead of eating McDonalds for thirty days, I agreed to eat what Tricia grew and sourced for me.”
While Robin did monitor her general heath throughout the month-long experience, the so-called 10-Mile Diet grew, in the end, far beyond a singular awareness of how to better nourish and care for her body. Robin said she experienced a profound sense of belonging, the knowledge that she was deeply intertwined with her community as well.
“I went from being a consumer to becoming part of a community—a living, breathing system of people,” said Robin. “I was able to put down solid roots in my community because I was eating food solely from within my community, food grown by the hands of my friends.”
She also gained a resurgence of optimism that society is not lost to a culture of factory farms and imported megastore goods. She has faith that change is possible.
“Hope is in the process,” said Robin. “And my hope is based on the people who want to restore our own capacity to feed us, to restore our own foodshed. The people who will keep pushing and working. The people who will stay awake and keep trying to improve this situation.”
To learn more about sustainable eating and living, visit Vicki Robin’s webpage or purchase a copy of Blessing the Hands That Feeds Us available at Moonraker Books in Langley or on Amazon.com or Indiebound.org.
Experience local eating through any one of the CSA opportunities or farmer’s markets on Whidbey Island. Most are beginning their 2014 seasonal runs within the next few weeks. Check out the following links for start dates, directions and more information: Oak Harbor Public Market; Coupeville Farmers Market; Farm and Flea Market at Greenbank Farm; Bayview Farmers Market, Langley Second Street Market and South Whidbey Tilth Market in Langley and the Thursday Market in Clinton.
Susan Wenzel, food writer, believes in the power of locally-produced food to fortify the health and well-being of both the individual and the community.
Photos used with permission from vickirobin.com
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