Friday, May 7, 2010

Eating Locally in Brazil

The first decade of the 21st century saw the birth of the locavore movement in many scattered corners of the world - a combination of ecological, sociological and heath philosophies that averred that eating food from "one's own backyard" made sense in any number of ways. Food that hadn't travelled 3000 miles or more from the farmer's field to the family dinner table was heathier, supported a sustainable community of farmers, and was better for the environment. Popularized by the international Slow Food movement, in books such as "The 100 Mile Diet", on TV programs, in newpapers and magazines and on the internet, the locavore movement has become a component of our contemporary zeitgeist.

A recent article in my local newpaper here in Fortaleza, O Diário do Nordeste, provided some interesting statistics about "eating locally" in the state of Ceará. It seems that this state in Brazil's northeast is doing a good job of supporting local agriculture and eating local food. What I find interesting is the supposition that this is not the result of a locavore revolution, but rather the continuation of traditional practices of food sourcing. I do notice in supermarkets in Fortaleza that local products are beginning to be highlighted as such, but I think that most local residents eat locally because that is the way they have always assured good quality, low price and reasonable availability.

The article points out that the family farm still provides the bulk of the food consumed in Ceará. Approximately two-thirds of all food that arrives at the family table in Ceará originates on family farms. I'm sure that this is a significantly higher percentage than in most, if not all, metropolitan areas in North America and Europe. For example, 82% of the dried beans consumed in Ceará come from family farms, as does 81% of the corn, 78% of the manioc, 64% of the rice, 77% of the pork products and 76% of the milk. In the case of fruits, 55% of total consumption comes from family farms within the state.

The economic pull of agri-business is strong in Brazil, but to date seems to concentrate on the export market, leaving local consumption to local farmers. One fervently hopes that these economic behemoths continue to ignore the domestic market here, so that in the future Brazilians will not have to start all over again to create a sustainable network of local, family-owned farms, as locavores in the Northern Hemisphere are having to do right now.

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