Eating Sustainably – It Takes Community

by Catherine Haug

Eat only what’s in season, and what is grown/produced locally.

We all know this is important if we want to minimize our energy and ecological impact on the planet. But have you ever given serious thought to what this means to you and your family, at a personal level?

Last week I posted La Vida Locavore on this very subject, and I can imagine some thoughts that ran through my readers’ heads as they read that post:

  • “This takes a lot of time; time I don’t have as I work 2 (or more) jobs just to feed my family.”
  • “But who grows/produces the kind of food I want to eat, here?”
  • “I can’t afford all that gas money to drive hither and yon procuring eggs, meat, and so on.”
  • “I don’t have a big enough freezer to hold all the food my family will need, even if I could afford to buy a whole steer, hog and several chickens.”
  • “Can we even raise enough animals to feed all the people in the valley – is there enough land for that and veggies too?”
  • “I don’t have a root cellar, I don’t have a basement, and I don’t have the time or money to add one.”
  • “Where am I to find the time to preserve and can all that food, especially in the heat of summer?”
  • “You can’t grow oranges and bananas in the Flathead;”
  • “It’s so much easier just to go to Costco.”

These are all legitimate concerns, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. It’s fairly easy for me because I’m retired (and have time), I have a good freezer and root cellar,  I’m getting to know the growers/producers in this valley, and I network about food.

The Importance of Community

The answer to most of these concerns is “community.” That’s what networking is all about: getting to know the people who live here, and sharing information, tasks, and car trips.

It seems that everyone wants to be totally independent, and not be beholden to anyone. But that’s just not feasible; not if you want to live sustainably. Instead of independence, we should strive for interdependence.

What is interdependence? An Analogy

The short definition is “mutually dependent.” But there is more to it than that. Think of your body: Each cell is interdependent upon all the other cells for its life. Your:

  • Brain makes everything tick and running smoothly, but it needs oxygen;
  • Lungs extract oxygen from the air and transfer it to your blood;
  • Heart pumps the blood to the brain (and the rest of your body);
  • Legs and arms provide exercise to strengthen the heart and lungs, and to procure food to nourish your body;
  • Digestive tract breaks down the food so it can be absorbed by the blood;
  • Circulatory system carries that nourishment to all the cells of the body;
  • Cells take up nourishment and excrete waste;
  • Cellular waste is carried by the lymphatic system to the liver and kidneys for detox and excretion;
  • And so on.

In short, each cell is dependent on all other cells and in turn provides a function that contributes to the whole. But the most important thing is that no one cell is more or less important than another, and by simply doing what each is meant to do, all are happy and healthy.

A strong, healthy community is just like that. Each of us has something to contribute and each has need for help. There is no sense of ‘beholding’ to one another because all contribute freely.

Resources for Living & Eating in Community

We have some great tools here in the Flathead to help us live sustainably, in community.

Get to Know Your Neighbors

Knowing and interacting with your neighbors is probably the best way to optimize your efforts at living and eating sustainably. Here are some suggestions for sharing common tasks to save gas and effort:

  • Ride-share to Farmers Markets and for other errands;
  • Combine canning and freezing efforts at harvest time;
  • Share a pressure canner, fermentation crocks, etc.;
  • Take turns driving to a farmer for eggs, fresh milk, etc.;
  • Join a CSA and volunteer your labor once a week;
  • Create a neighborhood garden;
  • Share tools, such as tillers, sythes, mowers, etc.;
  • Have a weekly (or monthly) neighborhood pot-luck to share recipes, food, and conviviality;
  • When you learn of a good resource, share it with your neighbors.

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