The other day I read an article in the August issue of Sunset Magazine about an extreme version of local food: The One Block Feast. The article featured a meal that had been created entirely from Sunset's back yard in Menlo Park, CA. Well, almost entirely.
There were several things that I found interesting about this experiment.
The Sunset meal was, of course, vegetarian. I say 'of course' because most modern, middle class, American folk usually aren't up to killing their own food, especially if they've raised it (and given it a name.) As we begin to examine reclaiming our food systems from the clutch of corporate conglomerates, we inevitably run into issues such as this. Would you, could you raise and kill your own food? And if not, why not?
Another interesting fact was how many people it took to produce this feast. For the most part, we've lost our common cultural knowledge of how to produce our food, so entire teams needed to be created to tackle honey, olive oil, salt, vegetables, eggs, wine. The magazine referred to this rediscovery process as roller-coaster learning and it makes for some good reading on their blog.
This also brings to light the consequences of having almost eliminated our local food systems. Back in the day when we traded or sold most of our food within a close circle, there was a collective knowledge around how to feed ourselves and each other. For most of human history, this helped to support and create community, providing food and relationship. And not at all a small fact: There was often someone whose full-time-plus job it was to hang around the homestead cleaning, cooking and preserving all that fresh, unprocessed food.
So did the Sunset experiment work? Well, yes and no. There were challenges and setbacks resulting in having to go outside the block for things like wine grapes and olives. But there's an important lesson here, too: Feeding ourselves is risky business. Nature is powerful, capricious and ultimately not overly concerned with the question of human survival. Our only chance of making it ultimately rests with our capacity to relate to and work with each other.
I'm a bit of a romantic, so I have to be vigilant for overly simplified and glorified ideals. This prompts me to point out that as we leave behind the era of cheap and abundant fossil fuel, it's important that the local food movement not be a just conceit dreamed up in some back yard in California. If things keep going in the direction they are headed now, we will have to come up with some real solutions, really fast.
To me this presents an exciting opportunity to get creative, connected and inspired. While this definitely means looking to the past for inspiration, we must also staying fully in the present and use the technology and innovation of our era to our benefit.
So in the end I say Hurray! to the One Block Feast and Carry On! to all of us as we find our way through this complex but utterly meaningful and relevant issue. There's much to explore and uncover here. For instance, I'm curious how this experiment would work for a feast in the dead of winter in New York, say, or Wisconsin. Anyone willing to give it a try and report back?
For more information on the One Block Feast, take a look at the Sunset website. They've done an excellent job of consolidating everything they've learned into handy downloads. Many of the projects started for the experiment are continuing and it's quite interesting to see how things are evolving. It's my hope they will continue to offer an annual One Block Feast, encouraging us to grow and learn along side them.
For inspiration from someone who does raise, name, slaughter and eat her meat, all in the middle of the city of Oakland, California, visit Novella Carpenter's blog.