This fall during our trip to France I saw firsthand how globalization has impacted our world. At the same time, I observed unique and sustainable ways of life that give me great hope.
During the trip we stayed in a few hotels as we travelled the South of France and Provence. Some of the accommodations were Mom and Pop bed and breakfast-type places, while others were bigger franchise hotels. Breakfast was included at each property where we stayed and every morning we were served the same brand of cheese that we have in our refrigerator at home. The packaging wasn’t even different. It was identical. The experience was similar to going to McDonald’s – exactly the same food anywhere. We also had this very same cheese when we visited friends in Canada this summer. Local? Um…obviously not.
However, we experienced some very local food during the course of our trip. At one restaurant the server asked what kind of water we wanted. This was early in our travels and we hadn’t learned the French term for tap water yet. So, I said that I wanted something local. The waiter brought bottled water to the table that had been bottled locally — not exactly what I had in mind but much preferred over water shipped from across the world. Then, it came time to order the wine. The waiter suggested a certain wine because the grapes had been grown and the wine produced right in the town we were in. He told us that this was in contrast to the other wines that came from Provence, which was an hour away. I chuckled because an hour away seemed pretty local to me, but I was happy to try something even more local.
At another restaurant in a rural, picturesque village, the waiter explained that the vegetables were grown, the champagne was produced and the meat was raised on-site at the restaurant. Then, when he served the cheese course he demonstrated where each cheese had originated by pointing out at the neighboring mountains. Each of those 25 cheeses came from goats, cows and sheep that lived within our view. It doesn’t get much more local than that. No wonder it was all so good. After we finished eating, our waiter told us that we could walk the grounds and even relax in a hammock in the garden. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse. We could see the animals milling about as we strolled down the garden path. My husband sat under a tree and I took advantage of the hammock. Then, we watched a gardener laboring in the garden. The experience was one in a lifetime.
I continue to shake my head over the idea that everyday people from all over the world are consuming foods that were shipped thousands and thousands of miles to reach their plates. However, I am buoyed by knowing how local some food systems are and, thus, how much potential exists for a truly local food system for the rest of us.
Kristin Eggerling is a board member for Conservation Minnesota Voter Center, the mother of two, and a freelance writer in northwestern Minnesota.