The Anti-Feminist Diet?

As a sustainably-conscious foodie, I’ve recently come across a lot of press about “The Localvore Challenge”. The basic gist of the challenge is: wherever you live, attempt to only eat foods that are grown within 100 miles of your home. Food enthusiasts and novices across the country are taking part in this challenge—most notably amongst the bunch is Barbara Kingsolver, who chronicled her family’s year-long localvore experiment in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Localvores rightfully point to heavily-processed and packaged, calorie-heavy convenience foods as the root of many social problems:

• Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease
• Americans’ obsession with grabbing food “on the go” instead of sharing meals with friends and family
• The dismal connection most Americans have with where their food comes from.
• The erosion and destruction of farm land through industrial agriculture, and the disappearance of small family farms

Eating locally is a beautiful way to eat healthily and also reconnect to the sources of our food and the people growing them. Jewish tradition also has something to say about being intimately tied to the source of our food:

Rabbi Achia ben Yeshaya said: One who purchases grain in the marketplace—to what may such a person be likened? To an infant whose mother died, and they pass him from door to door among wetnurses and [still] the baby is not satisfied. One who buys bread in the marketplace—to what may such a person be likened? It is as if he is dead and buried. But one who eats from his own (what one has grown himself), is like an infant raised at his mother’s breasts.— Avot de Rabbi Natan 31:1

Along with the press and acclaim, the Localvore Challenge has also received its fair share of skeptics. Sure, eating locally is possible – and even a treat – in most places during the fertile summer months when local produce is widely available at farm stands, farmers markets, and through community-supported agriculture projects. But how does someone living outside of California find fresh vegetables during the winter months without having it trucked in from warmer climates? And doesn’t this whole localvore thing assume that the consumer has enough expendable cash to pay a premium for locally-grown veggies?

Writer and blogger Jennifer Jeffrey recently posted yet another compelling question on her blog: is it possible that the Localvore diet is inherently anti-feminist? She writes:

“If eating local is still a challenge for me [as a writer with flexible hours], what about women who, voluntarily or not, log 8 to 10 hours a day, five or six days a week, in an office or hospital or courtroom? What about women who, in addition to working long hours and commuting back and forth, also have children at home who need love and affection and help with homework? What about women who, in addition to work and kids and a significant other, also think it might be nice to hit the gym two or three times a week? Or have a social life? Or read a book or take a judo class or become a better photographer?

How do those women get it all done? How does the laundry get washed and folded? How do books get read and dental appointments made? How on earth do these same women have time to plan balanced meals, let alone meals composed of organic, in-season ingredients… grown locally?”

Her questions—though I hate to admit it as I happily wander the farmers markets in search of sour cherries and garlic scapes, and devotedly head over to my CSA to pick up my weekly bounty of vegetables from a local farm—are spot-on. Convenience foods and appliances, Jeffrey says, have played a significant role in liberating women from their traditional role in the kitchen. She says:

“The fact that women hold more executive positions than at any other time in history, and can freely choose any career path they like is in no small part due to the prevalence of supermarkets and the availability of easy-to-prepare foodstuffs.”

Despite the considerable benefits of eating food that was grown close to home, is it reasonable to expect that Americans—especially women who still hold a disproportionate amount of responsibility in the kitchen—can actually cut convenience out of their diets entirely without sacrificing the freedoms that come with not being chained to the stove all day?

I have no doubt that eating locally grown, organic foods is beneficial to our bodies, our families, our communities, and our planet. I have found little in the world to be more satisfying than cooking a meal for Shabbat that I planned in advance and prepared with fresh, local ingredients from my CSA. However, unless I become independently wealthy, quit my job, and never get married or have kids – I know it would be impossible to source all my foods locally, all of the time. And so I am content to be a part-time Localvore – I am happy to warm a frozen (yes, still organic) pesto pizza in the oven on evenings when work or a writing assignment has kept me away from the stove. And I am thrilled when I have the chance to head to the farmers’ market after work and prepare potato leek soup from scratch.

Perhaps the answer I’m giving, “everything in moderation” is anticlimactic. But like a pot simmering on the stove, or a seed slowly taking root in the soil, sometimes the simplest things contain the most wisdom.

Read Jeffrey’s full blog post here (it’s definitely worth the read).

—Leah Koenig