Have you noticed? Things are changing at the grocery store. It’s a big business market, of course, with superstores like Loblaws and Walmart in the mix. But something else is emerging… a grassroots eco-friendly food movement. Called the 100 Mile Diet, it was sparked by Canadian writers, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. Their book, entitled The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, spent five weeks on Macleans’ nonfiction bestseller list. The two writers from Vancouver, BC, decided to investigate their diet. They discovered some disturbing facts. The salmon they enjoyed, for example, was caught in BC, shipped to China for processing, and then shipped back to their own province. They learned that in order for them to have their pick of international bounty in or out of season, global produce was trucked thousands of carbon-emitting miles. Smith and MacKinnon embarked on an experiment – their 100-Mile Diet. They would eat only what was produced within a 100 mile radius of their home.
Barbara Kingsolver, a well-known American author, tackles the same subject in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where she chronicles a year of eating locally. She and her family move to an Appalachian farm to explore what it is like to subsist on independently grown food.
So when I shop local, I’m in good company. You might even assume that I am being similarly eco-responsible. But I really don’t know that much about the food industry. I haven’t even read The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating or Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. And, as much as I am intrigued by the concept of this new trend, I can’t help but wonder what will happen to the underpaid workers of South America if we stop buying their bananas. If they are underpaid now, what will they live on with no income at all? That’s a topic for someone who has done more research into fair trade practices than I have.
No, I shop local because I am a Christian. For me, shopping at Wyoming Foodland has nothing to do with where their produce originates, and everything to do with obeying the second greatest commandment summarized by Jesus: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt. 22:39). If I am going to identify myself as a Christian in my little town, I have a responsibility to act in loving ways towards my neighbour, and that includes supporting the people at my local grocery store.
I distinctly remember shopping there as a kid with my mom. In 1969 the store was called the Red and White and offered angle parking in front. I always got a kick out of parking our red and white 1958 Chevy Biscayne station wagon there. I thought it would make such a classy postcard!
The Red and White was cramped, dim, and, frankly, kind of dirty. Thankfully, the store has undergone a lot of modernization since then! There was also a Dutch store in Wyoming at that time, so we made two stops each week, one to get our Dutch staples, and one to get our Canadian stuff. Today the Dutch store is gone, but, fortunately for us, Wyoming Foodland still stocks the requisite favourites from the old country. I’m not sure if importing Maggi Seasoning and Honig Noodles from Holland impacts global warming, but I can’t make my Sunday soup without them! 🙂
Our local grocery store plays an important role in our community. Over the years, hundreds of teens, including my son, have been employed there to slice deli meat, pack the groceries, mop the floor, and do carry-outs. What’s important to them, no doubt, is that they’ve earned some money for their education or their sports or their clothes. But, at the same time, they’ve learned critical work habits such as diligence, punctuality, good grooming, courtesy, and tolerance. They’ve had the opportunity to share shifts, make friends, and mature in a team-oriented environment, sporting their burgundy sweatshirts and black pants. And, if they happened to have had any interest in business or marketing, they had the chance to observe responsible trade practices modelled by the local owners. This alone, this gift of employment for young people in our own community, is enough to ensure my patronage for years to come.
But there’s more. Like any local grocery store, Wyoming Foodland caters to a certain elderly and disadvantaged clientele who do not drive, but must walk or use a scooter to get their groceries. The cashiers know these folks by name. There is cheerful patience for the little old lady digging nickels out of her wallet and a friendly hello for the man who visits the store every single day of the week because he is lonely. I’ve seen Foodland staff deliver groceries to the home of the senior citizen who lives behind me. This kind of personal service is a hallmark of small town life, one that, again, inspires me to spend my dollars locally.
Our Foodland store owners pay taxes here. They live here. They support other local businesses, schools and charities here.
Throughout the year, a variety of local clubs and organizations camp out by the front door of Foodland, soliciting support. The Scouts sell apples and the guys from the Lions Club, wearing their blue vests, hawk their hotdogs, hamburgers, and raffle tickets to install playground equipment in our local parks. When, tragically, a young teenager lost her life in our hometown, her friends and family had a BBQ in front of the store to help raise funds for unexpected travel expenses. I am happy to support them all. They all get a smile and a loonie or two. They are my neighbours.
In the grocery store, I meet former students, classmates from high school, old acquaintances. Sometimes I meet people from my church. I meet my mom and my sister. Each encounter is an opportunity – to smile, to exchange hellos, to inquire after a sick relative, to share news about kids and grandkids. Each encounter is a brief moment to love my neighbour. And this _is_ love, make no mistake. There is no greater gift you can give someone than to acknowledge his or her presence. I see you. I know you. I care about you.
Shop local. Build community. And if it helps reduce the carbon footprint, I’ve got no problem with that.