We all know that establishing a connection to where our food comes from is an important step towards increasing the sustainability of our food system. We have become accustomed to driving to a supermarket to purchase big brand items after seeing ads that tell us what to buy. We buy papayas from South America, strawberries from Mexico, and shrimp from India. We don’t think about this because we are more focused on the actual food we are buying and the recipes we are concocting in our heads using what is in our cart. Many consumers shop for nutrition, while others shop for the highest quality ingredients to make a special dinner. Others shop on a budget, stretching their food dollars to feed a large family. No matter what the circumstances, we rarely stop to look at our perfectly round tomatoes or our bright packages of fresh meat to think about how these products arrived in our hands. How were they grown? Who was the last person that touched them? How many miles did they travel to get here? How were they stored and transported? These are all fleeting questions that are masked by sale prices, high-quality labels, and aesthetic packaging.
Connecting To Yourself First Connecting to our food is directly related to first understanding where we come from and what we value. Have you ever heard of a "bioregion?" I hadn’t either until I started diving into this topic. Describing a bioregion is simple, yet surprisingly difficult to wrap your head around. It is the region you live in- only probably not the way you’ve ever thought about it before. It is not a town or a state or even a country. It cannot be described by any man-made boundaries or names. It is comprised of the topography, watersheds, ecosystems, economies and culture in which you live. In basic terms, it is the description of living a rooted life, somewhere you call “home.” The concept of a bioregion is so important to understand because not many people can comprehend what it is anymore. In today’s American culture, if you stay in one place your whole life, you are considered a failure. We are encouraged to travel the world, experience new places, and uproot ourselves from everything we know to find something better somewhere else. Generations ago, this did not happen. People took pride in where they came from. They raised their families for generations in the same area, passed down homesteads, and explored everything around them until they knew their bioregion and their culture inside and out. Nowadays, this just doesn’t seem to cut it. We need to stop thinking this way. I will be the first to admit that I lost sight of this concept before I even knew what it was. Throughout my 20's I lived in five different states and held three times as many jobs. I was constantly leaving my friends and family behind because I was convinced that something better awaited me, even though I had not yet come close to exploring what my current bioregion had to offer. I probably missed out on a lot, and was left feeling more disconnected and out of place than ever. Establishing a bioregion is important to center ourselves for a healthy self-sustainability, but it also allows us to develop moral expectations regarding our food and the environment. If you are not expecting to be in a place very long, chances are that you don’t really think about the waste you are producing, the producers in your area, the delicious meals you are able to share with friends or how to connect with the people around you. Recognizing a place as “home” allows us to recognize who we are, what’s important to us, and the aspects of our lives that we value most.
Why Should You Care? So if we are eating nutritiously, buying high quality, whole foods, and shopping for value, why should we know where our food comes from? The answer is simple: because it is our right as consumers, providers, and frankly, human beings who eat food. We have the right to know what inputs were used in making our food, where they were produced, who produced them, and under what circumstances. What do you think would happen if you had a super-power from one of those Sci-Fi movies, where every time you touched any piece of food, you had a flashback to where it came from and how it got to you? How many of your favorite food items do you think you’d stop eating? I’ve heard many people say that they’ve given up certain snack foods and brands because they watched a news special or documentary on how it was produced. Many vegetarians became so after their first time visiting a slaughterhouse or feed lot. Many, many consumers stop eating certain things only after visiting the doctor and seeing what soda, sugar, or excessive fats have done to their body. Knowing all of these things in advance can prevent any surprise lifestyle changes down the road. Plus, knowing who produced your food- knowing the producer’s story, location, and standards can give you peace of mind. If we start holding the people who feed us to the same moral expectations that we would if we were producing it ourselves, we will feel much more confident about what we are putting into our bodies.
Coming Back To Food Once we establish a pride and stability in where we live, we are able to live more sustainably in our approach to consuming food and services produced within our bioregion. This is similar to thinking in a “local” sense; however I much prefer the term “bioregional”. While “local” has debatable boundaries and strict criteria on what consumers can buy and when, living bioregionally gives much more freedom to the consumer so that they may better live within their own financial circumstances, while still controlling their impact on the food system and their surrounding ecosystems. The term “bioregional” also prompts consumers to not just think about food in their immediate physical area, but also about how their consumption affects the environment, culture, and economics of surrounding areas. Most of all, a bioregional perspective also allows us to focus on the 3 tiers of sustainability when acting as consumers of products and services. Some examples include:
Economically: banking with locally owned banks that provide loans to local farmers and invest in the community; buying produce, meats and other products from local farmers and producers (avoiding corporate chains and supermarkets when at all possible)
Socially: sharing work, meals or other interactions with your neighbors and close family to build a sense of social inclusion and community; being involved with local politics and education systems that indirectly or directly shape your and your family’s day-to-day activities
Environmentally: understanding the topography and natural habitats of the land surrounding you so that you can be aware of how to care for natural resources; knowing your water sources and how they can be protected; know