Where to eat, where to eat?…” One can imagine a harried working parent exploring the options of obtaining a quick family meal amid the stresses of suburban life.
One easily forgets how rapidly today’s middle class became attuned to the pleasures of dining out, even when the term refers simply to gathering at a pizza place or sharing a #7 Chinese dinner. According to Statistics Canada, almost 25 per cent of household food dollars are spent in restaurants. Yet it was probably only little more than half a century ago that nearly every meal was shared over the kitchen or dining room table. Eating out was for very special occasions. “Food” and “home” were nearly synonymous.
Still, advertisers love such phrases as “home-cooked” and “like your mother used to make” hyping fantasies of warm family gatherings, with Grandpa praising his daughter’s roast turkey while listening to her children’s tales of the fun they’re having at school.
The question, “where to eat,” is more dramatically turning into “how to eat” for many. A recent report from the president of the World Bank warns that the world is “one shock away from a full-blown crisis.” That crisis is an even more widespread imminent famine. (Harper’s Magazine was ahead of the curve on this issue with its examination of the mechanics of the 2008 food bubble, related to the creation of biofuels from corn, among other factors.)
Between the first quarters of 2010 and 2011, food prices have risen dramatically. Wheat and corn prices are up 69 per cent and 74 per cent respectively. Soybeans are up over a third. And with rising fuel prices, it’s difficult to imagine there won’t be more increases.
The most recent reports from the Bank of Canada peg inflation at 3.3 per cent. Given that groceries and fuel are not included in this calculation, and that fuel prices are nudging $1.39/litre, it is highly likely that food prices have risen considerably more than the inflation rate.
These trends are not going unnoticed locally. Local garden centers have swung into action, with seed displays and starter plantings of tomatoes and potatoes. That’s a good thing. Soon locally-grown food will be at the farmers market. Fuel’s rising prices suggest the impact of peak oil is already being felt, and as the impacts grow, local food will become more and more “where it’s at.”
What might we do locally to ameliorate the possible stresses of this situation? During the world wars we planted “victory gardens,” whose productivity led to a whole generation in the 1950s and early 60s still canning fruit and vegetables every summer and fall (easier to do when only one spouse was working full-time). Such projects were hard but satisfying work. Most families had cold rooms for the storage of root vegetables, fruits like apples and pears, and canned goods.
We used to have a Co-op, whose shell still “decorates” the Terrace landscape. The idea of a co-operative is still a good one. Might local growers not co-operate to freeze or can locally grown produce for sale at the farmers market and for winter consumption? Perhaps consumers could contract ahead of time for specific quantities of food that they knew was grown organically and processed locally.
We are not without options—yet. Further planning might be in order. When it comes to where to eat, home might once again become the best overall choice.
Al Lehmann is a Terrace, BC teacher and writer.