French women, they day, stay thin because they only eat 50% of what we eat. A slither rather than a slice. A pat instead of a slather. Frugalistas long ago discovered the 50% solution. Use half until you reach just enough. Half the shampoo. Half the doctor visits. Half the the restaurant meals. Even half the groceries until you aren’t throwing away rotten food from back of the fridge.

Is there a 50% solution for local food? Currently most city and suburb dwellers rely on the corporate/global/industrial food system for 95% of their food. Yes, 95%. This applies to almost everything you buy in the super market, even those “shop the perimeter not the aisles” shoppers who seek out less processed, fresher foods. Most grocery stores are actually outlet stores for this global supply chain. In the event of a disruption of this global supply chain, your grocery store would run out of food in 3 days.

On my 10-mile diet I ate only what grows within 10 miles of my home for 30 days. Because I allowed myself 4 exotics, including oil, i didn’t get all my calories from my patch of the planet, but most. And if I’d used butter, I would have done better. After that, I chose to do a month in the winter of 50% within 50 miles for 30 days. Piece of cake – which i could now have because grains grow in my 50 miles.

Then I asked that “What if everyone did it?” question. I got two answers:

1. At the current level of local production, we’d strip our supplies bare in short order. There isn’t enough… currently.

2. With a shared mobilization – a la victory gardens – for 50% local food from local farming though, my region could produce enough within 100 as-the-crow-flies miles from each eater’s mouth. Or use the USDA definition of local: 400 miles.

Yes, but how?

Ahh, that’s the subject for a host of posts. Today I want to point out one personal step and one collective step that might appear logical and do-able to the powers that be (within and around).

1. personal: take up the 50/50 challenge for a month. or 40/60. or 30/70. Or 20/80. Set the constraints where you feel a stretch but not a starvation. Give yourself, as I did, 4 exotics. Or 5. Or 10. We want to study, not suffer. You will quickly become interested in what food is produced within your 50 or 80 miles. You will quickly understand food not as the thousands of products on grocery store shelves but as what it is: what grows in nature, bred over millennia by our ancestors to favor big broccoli heads and beefsteak tomatoes. I like thinking of it as parts of plants: roots (beets), tubers (bulges on roots like potatoes, bulbs (onions), leaves (lettuce, chard), flowers (broccoli – yes those are flowers about to bloom), fruits and seeds. Animals are converters of all this into dense, rich muscle and organ meat – and creamy milk. You will soon discern the difference between nourishment and food habits that might add weight while depleting your energy. By the end of 30 days, you will have become what i call a “relational eater” – someone for whom eating is an act of belonging to people and place, to seasons and nature.

2. collective: this is where I want us all to think about a 50% solution for regional food and farming. Some foods are “field crops” – corn, beans, rice, grains. These are planted and harvested and combined and threshed and baled and stored dry to feed us and our animals year round. Without the equipment used by industrial farmers, growing enough to feed a population not entirely dedicated to farming is difficult. Mastery of grain production and storage is actually what allowed the evolution of civilization. This, then, is not the food claimed by localistas as their rightful domain.

However, what about foods that spoil easily, that have been subjected to breeding to facilitate transport (square tomatoes) and need refrigerated shipping containers to move around the planet efficiently. That would include most leaves, flowers, fruits and meats and dairy. Roots, tubers and bulbs can be stored and shipped, but are as well grown in small farms as large ones – and can be stored in the ground and picked when needed. You haven’t lived if you haven’t eaten a carrot that’s overwintered.

What if we took on, as a national (or even state as a starter), a commitment to 50% local production for local consumption. A two prong approach to food security, one local, one global. To doing what it takes – and it will take a huge effort a la victory gardens – to assure that everyone can get at least 50% of the calories they need for survival within even 500 miles of their homes.

You say you want a revolution? Well, this is it! Trust me, this is what I will research, elaborate, try, stand for. Man cannot live by bread alone. But without bread, man cannot live. Nor woman. Nor child. And this 50% revolution isn’t child’s play.

1 Comment

  • Laura Ridenour Posted November 7, 2013 4:51 pm

    Interesting! I often take myself on a different 50% local food challenge: spend 50% of my food budget directly with farmers. My single person omnivore food budget is about $400 a month or $100 a week, including supplements but not including meals eaten at restaurants. I am a CSA member, which depending on the farm and the share, costs about $100 -$130 a month. So, a CSA is approximately 25-30% of my food budget. Once I had this in mind I realized I freely spend $60-100 at the grocery, but spending more than $20 at the weekly farmers market seemed extravagant but I wasn’t contributing much to the food economy. So I made a deal with myself: shift my food dollars to spend directly with farmers and food artisans. That means I buy sweetener (honey and jams), fruit, fish, dairy, meat, eggs, cheese, pasta, bread and herbs at the farmers marker, not at the grocery. Where possible I stock up for the winter when the market is closed. Advertising, convience and habit has made it simple to just go to the store when we need something but I want to put my food dollars where my home is, and support local food. Now I go to the market with cash or checkbook in hand intending to spend the full amount of my food budget.

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