Local foods VS Costco

March 7, 2010

The problem with the whole local foods movement is that when it comes right down to it, consumers are slaves to their training:  they resolutely search out the lowest possible price, and the kind of food everyone admits is good for you costs 30 to 40% more, so most people talk one way and then load up their carts at Costco with factory-grown chicken, pork, and imported fruits and vegetables.

This kills the market for local food.  Of course it’s hard to feel enthusiastic about a cartload of Costco.

Then there’s the look on the faces of visitors to the sugar shack when they get their first taste of Canada tea, made with boiling sap and a tea bag.  First it’s amazement at a new taste they haven’t encountered before.  Then they look a bit bewildered:  “Why am I so surprised by a new taste?  Why does everything in my life taste the same?  And this came from a tree?”  Off they go to the woods to gather more sap.

Then there’s Christopher and his discovery of black walnuts.  This pint-sized hockey player found that if he put his back into it, he could make the walnut press generate the 700 lb. of force it takes to crack the shells and give him access to delicious meats inside.  He cracked a lot of nuts once he got the hang of it.

Roz and her friends have often told me that Kingston has a great deal to offer to those who live there, but the one big gap is the lack of a great, wooded park in which to wander.  Christopher’s mom came back from gathering sap and enthused:  “This is way better than walking around the trails in the Cataraqui Conservation Authority.”

It seems people think differently about prices when they are engaged in acts of tourism.  Perhaps it’s because the thought process is longer with a vacation:  tourists aspire and dream;  they travel;  they drink in the experience;  they remember it and use it to shape their other experiences and world view.  That’s much different from the immediate choice to buy pork chops or the frozen lamb at Costco.

The challenge for local food producers is to take their customers clean away from the cutthroat thought patterns of the supermarket shopper.  They need make their products part of an enjoyable and memorable vacation experience to which their customers will want to return, with the price of the food a minor factor.

If individuals become tourists to explore and search for sensations lost through the commodification of modern life, why shouldn’t they find a fresh reality in the countryside?  Why shouldn’t they discover the joy of fresh-picked corn, or spend a lazy afternoon under a mulberry tree, eating their fill of the strange, refreshing fruit?

How about a day picking grapes or planting trees, if extreme vacations are your thing?

My son tells me that there are no distances in air travel.  The only directions are up, down, and hot.

Tourism involves a journey, but if there are no longer real distances, why can’t the journey be twenty or forty minutes to a vacation destination, instead of across the continent?  Why couldn’t a garden plot provide a perfectly valid “other place” to which one’s soul can yearn to escape?  Families travel to give their kids experience and understanding of their world, yet how many suburban children have ever milked a cow, planted potatoes, picked raspberries or gathered eggs?  No parents would want to deny these experiences to their kids if the facilities were within easy reach.

How many of you remember biting into a fresh carrot which exploded its sweetness on the tongue?  I tried a store-bought carrot a week ago and almost cried from disappointment.  It was orange.  That’s the best thing I can say for it.

40% more for the real thing?  Sounds like a bargain — if I have stood in the garden from which it came.

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7 Responses to “Local foods VS Costco”


  1. Great article. Now I’m hungry.

    • rodcros Says:

      Kristina:

      Thanks for your comment. The biologist behind this maple experiment would be a worthy subject for a food column, Martin Mallett at Queen’s. Martin’s a foodie with a particular interest in living off the land. The family business in New Brunswick is high-end oysters, but Martin’s very interested in the culinary possibilities of local wild game.

      On my blog you might wish to check out “How to cook a splake” as well.

      Gotta go before the maple syrup overflows.

      Stay in touch,

      Rod Croskery

  2. Jim Says:

    I live in area where sustainability is a big issue, and there is a large push for buying local. With farmer’s markets and local stores stocking local products it should be easy to do just that, but I rarely do. You bring up a great point though, we are programmed for bargains and it is difficult to fork out the extra cash.

    This spring I will start another garden. I will battle the weeds and the critters. It seems whatever the deer don’t eat they stand on to eat something else. It is a battle, I do not find a lot of comfort in it, but I do get satisfaction when I’m able to make a great salsa out of food from my garden, it just feels better.

    Maybe this year after the garden experience, 40% more for fresh local produce will seem like a bargain.

    • rodcros Says:

      Jim:

      Thanks for your comment.

      In the category of unintended consequences, I discovered last summer a great way to keep deer away from my butternut seedlings. I strewed fish entrails liberally around the affected stems. Coyotes came to feast on the seafood buffet, urinated copiously, as coyotes do, and the stubborn deer cleared out.

      Raccoons were a much bigger challenge, but with advice from my farmer neighbours, I erected a 2-wire electric fence around the corn patch. It took quite a bit of effort, but it worked.

      Rod


  3. Rod; thanks for the great article I know you don’t mind that I shared it. I know have a couple Chefs from Toronto who want to come join the fun and try the tea. Their could be a market for the sap strait up I have a few that want some to cook with, the cost of pails…

    Thanks again, looking foreword to coming back up.

    Cheers

    Don

    • rodcros Says:

      Don:

      I felt a little guilty about stealing your idea and turning it into the thesis of my column, but I guess that’s what every writer does.

      Cooking with sap? Sounds interesting, though storage is a challenge. Speaking of short seasons, I hope that the run will recommence after the rain forecast for Saturday. It probably will. One thing you’ll notice on your next trip is how much sweeter the sap is now than at the first run.

      Hope to see you and your delightful family again.

      Rod

      As usual, by the time we’d figured out how to do it, the job was done.


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