Think about the last thing you ate. Now ask yourself: where did it come from? Isn’t it strange that you probably have no idea where it’s from, who grew it, or even what it’s made of? Especially when you consider that whatever it was is now being absorbed into your body and altering your internal functions. A lot of people are concerned about the day-to-day existential uncertainties of college loan debt, international terror threats, or even vaccines, but for the typical consumer far less thought goes into their food. Most likely you’re consuming food grown industrially by corporate farms using unsustainable methods that was then shipped thousands of miles, shouldn’t that bother you? Traditional industrial agriculture contributes to (among others): topsoil loss, chemical runoff contributing to oxygen-depleted dead zones in the oceans, soil salinization, habitat loss, greenhouse gas emissions, drought, decreased nutritional benefits for consumers, food waste, the rise of megacorporations, pollution, slave labor (yes, this happens in the U.S. to this day), antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and mass species extinction. In this context, the ethical battle between carnivores and vegetarians seems all the more childish. Sorry meat-eaters, but your appetite, unless specifically stated as pasture-raised and finished, provides the financial backbone of one of the most damaging forms of human activity on the planet: Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. And sorry vegans and pescatarians, you’re not much better. Tofu is made out of industrially-produced, pesticide-ridden soybeans (yes, even organic), eating fish is contributing to the collapse of ocean ecosystems through bycatch and disease-prevalence, and each of those almonds you just ate took about 3 gallons of water to grow. To sum it all up, growing corn and soybeans require agricultural subsidies that the taxpayer is funding and do little to support farmers. Without agricultural subsidies around half of U.S. farms would go under, never mind the fact that large-scale corporate (and sometimes foreign) farms occupy increasingly more and more land and force small farmers to sell out.
As a college student, pinching pennies and also trying to reduce my impact on the world is no easy feat, but as an environmental science major encouraging people to do things that are actually sustainable is like herding cats. So the question is this: What can we do as college students in a small town in Oregon to fix problems, like climate change and pollution, that grow by the day and threaten the future of humanity?
In the interest of being concise, I present the pre-industrial-revolution idea of eating locally which, through collective action, has the means to enact real change. A locally-produced food economy remediates the effects of industrial agriculture because farmers’ and consumers’ quality of life is directly impacted by it. By choosing local, you’re reducing food transportation costs and emissions, boosting the regional economy, supporting farming practices that emphasize protecting our last wild places, eating food that’s healthier and usually more delicious, and creating a more robust food system that works for everyone. Yes, it’s usually more expensive and can sometimes be harder to access, but Forest Grove as a community provides ample opportunities, especially compared to a lot of other places. Start with the immediate area, let’s say within 30 miles. We’re surrounded by some of the best farmland in the world which grows a huge diversity of crops, from grapes and pears to barley and wheat. We also have a consistent Farmers Market that operates during most of the year and actively supports the Latinx community. And if you can’t afford the difference there’s even more incentive: Pacific owns two farms, one of which is on campus, that provide free food to students. Cherry, plum, blackberry, salal, blueberry, hazelnuts, and lots of other edible species grow readily in parks and in yards and the wine selection is world-class. I get it, the consumer won’t ultimately solve the existential crisis of climate change and sometimes you don’t have a choice in deciding what’s on your plate, especially as a college student. Corporations and governments hold the true power but, at the end of the day, these groups are supported by and for the people. Ask local restaurants where they source their ingredients, put pressure on Bon Appétit to source food even closer to campus, spend the money you would at Starbucks or Dutch Bros at a nearby cafe, and by all means refuse to support companies that don’t meet your demands as a consumer. Against the backdrop of greenwashing and faux social media campaigns that tout “sustainable” options, eating locally is something that everyone can do that can truly make an impact. So the next time you’re at the farmers market, don’t just buy an overpriced pie, look around and see all of the other exciting things being grown in your backyard and take advantage of it. As Charlene, at Nana Cardoon’s, says, “Know your farmer, miller, baker, and brewer,” and educate yourself on what you put in your body. Time is running out and unfortunately, it’s our time to take on the burden. –Hayden Martinez