Food Origins #4: where does your food come from?
But seriously, do you know?
A couple of months ago I was in Panama, sitting on a bench staring at the Panama Canal, on an unforgivingly hot afternoon. Everything in Panama pushed me to think about the trajectory foods go through. Where does our food come from? Gosh, I have been obsessing about this for years now. I can’t drop it.
While nowadays I prioritize buying locally sourced food, there was a moment in life when I simply didn’t know better. It all started with a little awareness. Here’s how it went down:
I started noticing where my food came from - both at home and in grocery stores. Just out of curiosity. Where do these bananas come from? What about the rice? What about the fish? (“What?! The shrimp came all the way from Thailand?? Wtf???” )
You would be surprised by what you discover. In California, the Country of Origin Label (COOL) law requires supermarkets and groceries stores to provide information regarding the source of foods (including fresh or frozen meats, chicken, fish, produce, and nuts). This means that all food should have information about where it came from. This is a first step in providing visibility to the food source and helping people make more informed decisions about their purchase choices.
But this system is not perfect or the ultimate solution. I’ve seen this labeling missing in several supermarkets and smaller groceries stores. Sometimes they’re not easy to find. Sometimes they’re not there at all.
One could argue that for proximity reasons, depending on where in California you are, it would make more sense to buy produce that was grown in Mexico than in other parts of the US. But on a more clear-cut example: you might ask yourself if it makes sense to buy blueberries brought by plane from Chile, just because they’re not in season locally at the moment?
This is just a provocation. The more you think about it the more you’ll find answers that resonate with you.
For a few years now, I’ve been opting for buying the majority of my produce from farmers’ markets. I do it because I enjoy the sensation of being connected with the land I live in - I grew up in South America, and now, in California, the seasons and produce are “the other way around”.
I enjoy perceiving the passage of time through produce, cooking with what’s in season at the moment, and making the most of it while it lasts (hello, my dear picklers!). Equally important, I care about supporting local farmers and businesses who make a living out of this land and treat it with the respect. And lastly, but not least, there is a strong sustainability component tied to food and its carbon footprints (and each food, and system is unique).
I have a lot more to say about this topic, which you can expect in future posts: my fascination for farmers’ markets, food origins in the field, and ancestral recipes.
For now, I’ll leave you with this homework:
Please check the food origin labels whenever you can. What did you find out….? Let me know.
By the way, I know it’s been a while. Sometimes life just happens. I’ve been busy cooking around San Francisco for casa aya my authorial cooking project of speakeasy pop-ups showcasing south-american food. It’s been a vessel for sharing my take on food and stories about origins, culture, and art. Feel to follow along! (@casa__aya)
I’m committed to writing here more frequently - please expect typos and random thoughts. Thanks for reading!
I picked up a mango yesterday and made sure to look and see where it was from--Ecuador!
After reading Real Food/Fake Food I buy my fish at Costco or Whole Foods and my vegetables and fruit at a wonderfully small but popular vegetable store in East Bay who get most of their veggies from smaller farms in the Central Valley and Mexico. Because of the store's high turnover rate (a requirement I have for veggie/fruit stores I use), they always have fresh goods.