The Value of a Slow Diet

Posted on Wednesday, 9 February 2022 under Stories

Our food choices impact our health, our community, and our environment. Eating a slow, plant-rich diet is a positive health choice and a climate mitigation strategy. Supporting slow food reduces food miles and strengthens local communities. The term “slow food” was created in 1986 in Italy as a result of a demonstration in protest of introducing a McDonald’s into the area. In contrast to fast food, the slow food movement was born and swept across the world with people from everywhere defending “regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life. 

Anna Helmer from Helmer’s Organics is the co-founder of Slow Food Cycle Sunday, an event that gives people the opportunity to connect to their food. Helmer says, “Slow food, to me, is just paying attention to where your food is coming from.” The goal is to showcase local farms in Pemberton where eaters can cycle to, buy produce, talk to farmers, connect with the land, and learn more about where their food comes from and how it grows. The event came from a need to demonstrate to people why it is so crucial to save farmland. On this day, people are reminded to slow down and reflect on what goes into producing food in hopes that they will think about their food choices in the future.

Photo by Umi Nami Farm

Local businesses, farmers, food producers, artisans, and eaters all have a role to play to reduce our collective impact. Individually, eaters can make choices day to day that helps mitigate climate change. The biggest contribution is in food miles, a measure of the distance food is transported from the time it is harvested or produced to when it reaches the consumer.

A 2006 study showed that from the 13 million tonnes of food and commodities imported by Canada, 3.3 million tonnes of CO2 were generated. Food miles add significant stress to our climate. In BC, we have access to a large variety of goods. With over 1,400 farms, over 200 agricultural commodities, 100 harvestable seafood species, and more than 1,500 businesses that produce foods and beverages, we have access to a plethora of local goods and services.

Goods moving around the province have significantly fewer food miles than goods imported by train, boat, or plane. Supporting BC’s growers and makers positively impacts the social wellbeing of communities and strengthens local economies. Food choices have rippling effects on communities, even small choices.

Brooke Fader co-owns Wild Mountain Restaurant in Sooke. Fader has been a member of the slow food movement for decades. The motivation to open Wild Mountain was to create a local food economy and support local growers all year. Fader says, “We let farmers in our community know that this is our buying power for the foreseeable future. You can count on that and not just through the summer months but all year round so we can be giving farmers cheques 12 months of the year, not just in farmers market season.” Supporting restaurants that buy local food gives those who dine out an opportunity to support local farmers and artisans that supply the establishment. Fader says, “For some people, if you like going to restaurants, then choosing that restaurant that is sourcing locally and cooking food genuinely can be a huge support to the people that they are buying the food from.”

Eating a locally produced, plant-forward diet and good quality meat in lower quantities is beneficial for our climate and the local food economy. Livestock can have a major impact on our environment; eating meat every day from conventional sources contributes to excess food miles, land degradation, and methane emissions. Many farmers in BC are raising livestock in small-scale, climate-friendly ways. Amber Rowse-Robinson has been raising livestock for twelve years and owns Brass Bell Farm. Their family lives on 25 acres of leased land and shares another 100 acres of grazing land with another farmer. They adopt a slow-meat model and raise their animals to benefit the land and community.

When raised well, livestock have a positive impact on the land they graze on. Rowse-Robinson says, “You have cows on the land eating what they’re meant to be eating. We’re looking at what’s already there, what’s happening on the land, and how our animals can best complement that. It’s about facilitating this natural relationship that is as old as time, ruminants eating grass.” Grazing ruminants can be hugely beneficial for the animals and the land.

Rowse-Robinson says, “By grazing cattle the way we do, it leaves that land accessible to deer, birds, and all kinds of other wild animals.” Consumers can make good food choices about the meat they eat by reducing meat consumption and choosing quality meat from farmers who are taking care of their animals and our climate. Fader encourages eaters to eat less meat, but higher quality meat. Fader says, “It can be a great way to make an investment in your local food community and eat better quality products for yourself.” Fader suggests, “If you are a meat-eater, make that choice as often as you can because it’s really hard to raise animals on a small scale, and those farmers need our support.”

Eating a locally produced, plant-forward diet and good quality meat in lower quantities is beneficial for our climate and the local food economy. Share on X

Photo by Brass Bell Farm

Relationships between producers and community members are the backbone of slow food. Feeding the community can happen in many ways – through restaurant dining, CSA programs, farmers markets, events, farm gate sales, etc. Rowse-Robinson sees the different food experiences as beneficial for them as farmers. Brass Bell Farm provides Wild Mountain with meat for their restaurant. She says, “When you send it to a chef, especially someone so talented as Oliver [at Wild Mountain], you know that whoever is eating that is going to have this incredible eating experience of your meat and see it shine to its best potential.”

Heather Ramsay from Umi Nami Farm has created social and cultural connections within their community. Umi Nami Farm fosters the growth of a huge community of local food eaters at the farm in Victoria. They provide Wild Mountain with produce for their menu and feed the people of their community. The relationships with local businesses are very important but providing produce to the families in their community is their main focus. Ramsay says, “Those relationships are our core philosophy, everyday food eating at home.” Umi Nami Farm specializes in Japanese vegetables and continues to be a place for some of their customers to find culturally appropriate food and others to learn about traditional Japanese foods. Ramsay says, “We want to be a hub for Japanese food and culture that’s not available in your regular supermarket. We’re proud to be able to do that and the more people support farms like ours, the more we can be that.”

Photo by Umi Nami Farm

Food access needs to be addressed before we can build a successful local food economy. Share on X

Our relationship to food is more than just nutrition and filling your belly. Food opens up community and social connections with others, ourselves, and the land. Rowse-Robinson places great emphasis on the relationship her customers have with the meat. It is an important component of their business and she notes, “It’s all about the connection, it’s all about the relationship. That’s when things start to shift. And that’s my biggest passion, working with people to reconnect with where meat comes from.” Supporting small-scale, local producers allows consumers to connect with the people who produce food for them.

Access to food is an important consideration as dietary needs, food preferences, financial means, and access to culturally appropriate food can all be barriers for eaters. Food access needs to be addressed before we can build a successful local food economy. There are other ways to support local farmers if there are barriers to purchasing their products. Rowse-Robinson says, “Share their Instagram posts, share their sales, share something about their farm that you love. Help them stay in business. The important thing is to support each other to create a system that feeds communities and reduces our impact.”

Every day we make food decisions that can have meaningful impacts and rippling effects through communities. One food choice can positively impact a business owner, a farmer, a family member or friend, ourselves, and our climate. The key is to do what you can and find ways to support local food that fits your life and means. It’s important to relieve any guilt that comes with not being able to always make the right choice. Education and understanding is an important component to making these choices and we can always be learning more about how to support our local producers and makers and have a positive impact on our climate.