Nonetheless, in the typical North American city, or pretty much any city in the western world, it’s easy to put it out of your mind, especially when there is a grocery store and/or restaurant on almost every corner.
Of course, if you live in a rural setting, like I do, issues of food security feel a little more real. But that’s not a bad thing. In fact, when it comes to food, the benefits of living a rural reality far outweigh the (perceived) inconveniences. Let me explain.
When you live rural, you live closer to the land. That means you, or someone you know probably has a garden, and a pretty big one, at that. The local flora offers an array of wildcrafting opportunities, and there is a very good chance that you personally know someone who hunts or fishes. There is an abundance of food for the taking and nothing goes to waste.
Neighbours trade bumper crops (take my zucchini, please!). Hunters share their kill with family and friends. Farmers offer great deals to locals. Inexpensive church suppers and community feasts abound. And many people still practice the dying art of canning and preserving what nature provides, so that when winter settles in, the bounty continues.
Only two generations ago, most people in the area where I live (including my own grandparents) grew, raised, or otherwise made all their own food. Only the bare essentials – flour, sugar, salt – were purchased from a store. Food security was largely dependant on an individual’s own ability to find nourishment from what was immediately available. There were no imported foods and certainly no such thing as “convenience” foods – unless you count the apples and berries growing all around!
By today’s standards, that sounds pretty meager; some might consider it a harsh or even deprived existence. And I’ll admit I miss sushi platters and takeout Thai food (insert Homer Simpson-style drool noises here). But there is much to be said for the ability to feed oneself without being at the mercy of the international commodities market. What may seem like a “poor man’s” existence now may one day, in the not-so-distant future, look a lot more like the lap of luxury. As the rest of society pays $10 for a loaf of bread or a bag of rice, many rural dwellers will simply be able to carry on as they always have.
Well that’s all good and well for the rural set, you’re probably thinking, but most people live in urban centres, where gardening is rare and hunting and fishing are not possible. True. But many principles of rural food security can still be applied in an urban environment. Here are five things you can start doing today:
1. Live by the cardinal rule: Waste not, want not. Don’t buy fresh produce only to let it rot in your fridge. Don’t buy food in bulk to save a few cents if you can’t use it before it expires. And rethink the “garbage” you throw out. Chicken bones could be frozen and used in soup stock later. Stale bread can be processed into crumbs for future use.
2. Take a closer look at the free food all around you. Does your neighbour have a fruit tree that goes unpicked every year? What about those blackberry bushes you always see along the cycling path? Or the mint and rosemary growing wild in your back lane?
3. Get to know your neighbours. Start a conversation about that unpicked fruit tree. Plant a garden together if you share lawn space. Suggest buying certain foods in bulk and sharing them. Host a neighbourhood potluck. Your neighbours are your allies in food security.
4. Cook real food, preferably from scratch, and freeze leftovers for another meal. Knowing how to prepare nutritious meals from basic ingredients will be your secret weapon when food costs soar.
5. Eat with the seasons. The best, most nutritious, and usually the cheapest foods, are those that are fresh, in season, and preferably local. Eat carrots in October but forget about tomatoes in February. Trust me, as someone who has gotten used to eating tomatoes fresh off the vine in summer, it’s just not worth having them any other way. (Unless, of course, it’s the ones you canned last fall – and yes, you can do canning in an urban kitchen!)
Happy (rural style) eating!
Nicole Zummach is the co-founder of SEE Change Magazine. She has worked in the publishing industry for more than two decades, and has spent most of her career researching and writing about civil society and the nonprofit sector. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org