Food for the Soul

October 1, 2014

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From soil to soul, urban communities are being replenished with a touch of wholesome tradition via the growing trend of local and Slow Food. These movements offer an alternative to today’s fast-paced lifestyle and the fast food that all too often come with it. Since its introduction in 1986 to preserve dying regional culinary traditions, promote healthy eating and minimize the environmental toll of food transport, the Slow Food movement has had a profoundly positive effect on quality of life, local economies and the environment of global communities. The local food movement champions local farmers and the stores, restaurants and businesses that support them. By shortening and simplifying the distance between producer and consumer, local and Slow Food are literally reconnecting eaters to the source of their food, and in the process, with each other and the earth that nourishes us all.

A century ago, well before they even had labels, local and Slow Food were the social norm. Many people still lived in rural areas, with veritable grocery stores in their backyards bursting with fresh goods to be exchanged among neighbors. In stark contrast, almost half the modern world’s population now lives in dense urban areas. Food for these city dwellers must travel on average 1,200km before landing on the shelves of big-box supermarkets. Albeit convenient, this system has left many feeling disillusioned and disconnected from the source of their food. Local and Slow Food present the alternative. Today, millions of people in over 160 countries are returning to small and local operations that promise to provide a healthy and wholesome experience beyond the kitchen.

The return of the humble farmer’s market to the major metropolis is one example of local and Slow Food’s resurgence. Navigating florescent-lit supermarket aisles in a futile hunt for preservative-free food seems increasingly unappealing when the local farmer’s market is overflowing with fresh abundance. There, the stalls will be piled high regardless of the season with everything from nubby, little purple potatoes to juicy, sun-sweet cherry tomatoes. While the supermarket is jammed full of anonymous trolley pushers, the farmer’s market hums with the chitchat of neighborhood friends. It’s a place where relationships grow as organically as the produce, where the bustle of the city slows for a moment to make way for new connections. Unlike tired supermarket spinach, there’s no need to question the origin of the leafy greens here when they’re handed over by the dirt-smudged fingers of the farmer himself. He will know ten ways to cook them and will be happy to oblige your culinary questions. Every purchase at the farmer’s market brings healthy food to the table, but also brings piece of mind that sustainable farming is here to stay.

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Selling products that are arguably a little further removed from the source, the modern day corner store revival provides a new outlet for local and artisan goods. The uninspired shelves of the cookie-cutter convenience store are slowly being transformed, with a nod to the old days of neighborhood-specific goods sold in a homey setting. In the sometimes lonely expanse of the city, new incarnations of the corner store provide a warm, local embrace. With their doors flung open, the sweet, buttery smell of pastries escapes down the street, coaxing you into a familiar space. Lovingly made products like hand-ladled pyramids of goat cheese and jars of sticky, spiced honey line shelves that are curated with the locals in mind. Choosing to pick up some handmade sausage or pickles from these little operations encourages small-scale, artisanal food producers to continue offering their diverse and delicious products.

Although smaller than the corner store, a third community of producers is having an enormous impact on local food – these are the honeybees. Drunk with nectar, honeybees can now be seen blitzing high above the city to their new rooftop hives. “Love Thy Neighbor” has never rung so true as with these fragile, new kids on the block – whose essential role in agriculture could make or break the world’s food source. Now considered an endangered species, honeybees help to pollinate plants and trees and without them, over a third of what we currently eat would vanish. City-folk the world over are turning their hands to bee keeping, re-purposing vacant urban rooftops into sanctuaries for these important creatures. The sweet product of their effort trickles down to the community at large, who can now enjoy nectar from their own neighborhood.

The simple pleasures derived from food grown well, or made with care can reconnect us all. Laboriously but lovingly tended, painstakingly yet passionately crafted, it is shared with tales that make you feel as if those far-away fields and backyard brambles were your own. In the warmth of the open-air market, or squeeze of the tiny shop, you collide with your community and create relationships where there were none. With every new harvest, the community grows. Everyone from the farmers, store owners, cooks, beekeepers and families nurture this fertile ground, ensuring their futures are both bright and delicious.

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Enjoyed ‘Food For The Soul’? Check back next week for the another instalment from The Journal, Issue Three. Or to find your own complimentary copy of The Journal, visit Herschel Supply stockists around the world.