In our work with low-income clients, Local is often considered a dirty word (as are “sustainability” for its hoity-toityness and “organic” for its perceived expense). All in all, doing the Local thing seems like some privileged thing. The lament is that this talk about acting Local seems to be coming from the top down. And how is it relevant to their lives?
We understand the position, but are often struck by its irony: acting Local was once the province of the poor and less fortunate, out of necessity. Low-income people depended on one another – growing food, raising animals, sharing skills, watching over kids — and communities were sustained on that fact.
As for eating locally, low-income people get it. They want good choices for their kids. They want the same food options that more affluent people have. But the idea of Local sounds like a bias towards complexity over simplicity, expensive over cheap, chartreuse over Green.
This Earth Day, we remember Gaylord Nelson’s view of the “environment” he sought to define. He said it was everywhere and was about everyone’s problems. This is basically what we think about Local. And although we focus on it — in practice — in terms of food access, it covers so much more than that.
Building on Ryan Mickle’s super article about Local, we add the following:
- It’s about sitting on the stoop or porch or stairs, prepping snap beans that were grown in the side yard or container.
- It’s about sense of pride in shopping direct from other local working people.
- It’s about constructing identity through food related experience.
- It’s about keeping cultural traditions that call for a handful of jalepeño (but from the community garden), a pound of yams (from the farmers market) and a few avocados (from the yardshare).
- It’s new stories about recipe sharing and old stories about the ways food shapes family and community.
- It’s an old school system of community going new school and getting back to its roots – realizing that doing for self is doing for neighbors.
- It’s keeping it simple, with less artisanal cheese and heirloom, more grandmama’s bell pepper seeds and publicly foraged fruit.
Local is a two-letter word: us.