Local food is a growing industry and writing about its production and consumption definitely is as well. To the names of Pollan, Kingsolver, Smith and MacKinnon Toronto can now add our own Sarah Elton.
Growing out of her work on CBC Radio’s Here & Now and her blog thelocavore.ca Elton’s Locavore: From farmers’ fields to rooftop gardens–how Canadians are changing the way we eat paints a broad picture of the local food movement in Canada. To celebrate the book’s launch a party was held at Toronto’s Drake Hotel during one of their regular 86’d Mondays. The event’s normal Toronto food industry crowd was augmented by devotees from the local food movement: out-of-season shorts wearers and children with “I’m a Locavore” buttons. The host for 86’d Mondays, Ivy Knight, introduced Elton who was on-hand to sign copies of her book. The experience was completed by pints of Labatt 50 and slide show of photography of Toronto’s local food scene that ran from Chef Jason Bangerter’s beautifully intricate creations in his kitchen at Auberge du Pommier to Christopher Hamburger’s foraging adventures in Newfoundland to Kristina Groeger’s look at the cooks of Toronto’s kitchens.
The book’s first half, Elton’s journey across Canada visiting farmers, moves from New Brunswick west but jumps smoothly from region to region when particularly relevant examples apply. We read about how Canada’s diverse population of family farmers is meeting the challenges facing their sector of the agricultural industry. Much of the picture is bleak but the success stories like the resurrection of Red Fife wheat and the innovative use of greenhouses in places like southwestern Ontario add a hopeful note.
It was while reading the second half of the book that I found my head nodding in agreement and my mouth salivating with hunger. Perhaps it is from my own personal experiences gardening and foraging that I feel more comfortable with the ideas of urban consumers finding innovative ways to produce their own food than trying to get a whole farm system to revert to traditional means of production and marketing. The sentence that concludes chapter five “when we live with our food, we become part of the cycle” is an ideal summary of this urban agricultural ideal.
Locavore‘s discussion of the cheese industry in Quebec paints a delicious picture of how consumer demands for an excellent product that values taste more than cheapness can be satisfied only when producers are close enough to their markets to gauge this interest. Profiles like that of Simon-Pierre Bolduc illustrate how this movement can be one driven by real people and not corporate marketing departments.
A sketch of Toronto’s Ontario Food Terminal anchors chapter six and really caught my attention. While visiting with Ron Mandryk, a Simcoe County farmer who is well-known for his eggplants and peppers, Elton describes how the hyper-modern food terminal can be used as an efficient channel for distributing local, sustainable produce. It is in sections like this where Locavore finds a workable compromise between making use of here-to-stay infrastructure, and back-to-basics ideology that it shines brightest.
For some very good reasons Elton praises protected agricultural areas like Ontario’s greenbelt and British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve. The fact that these legislative models are far from perfect is ignored and those who criticise them (often farmers) are lumped under the heading of “some people–developers in particular”. A recent article in the Welland Tribune featured the argument that greenbelt legislation is hurting the farmers it was meant to protect by severely limiting their ability to make a living.
All of the principal questions of local eating were asked, vivid profiles added a personal touch to the discussion and a balanced examination of issues was considered. Unfortunately, I felt the author pulling back from serious debate at times and this ethos halfway between offered-without-comment profiles of people and a well-balanced, thorough plan for a movement is Locavore‘s most dissatisfying characteristic. The kernel is present and given another hundred pages I think Elton could have produced a more complete story and argument.
As is, Locavore is an enjoyable read that will definitely interest those committed to the local food movement in Canada. The people we get to vicariously visit are the strength of both our local food industry and this engaging story.