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Developing a taste for local food

Foodies will be descending on St. Jacobs tomorrow afternoon (Sunday), sampling a variety of appetizers prepared by some of the area’s finest chefs. More than just a chance to try something tasty, the sixth annual Taste Local! Taste Fresh! event will showcase food grown in the area.

This year’s event in Riverside Meadow’s Park will feature 20 chef/farmer pairings offering participants an opportunity to sample new recipes featuring local foods and farm-fresh products.

“Taste Local! Taste Fresh! helps to build relationships amongst our farmers, chefs and consumers, which in turn promotes the creation of a local food community,” says the event’s coordinator, Anna Contini of Foodlink Waterloo Region. “It is a fun, relaxed way to expose people to the idea of eating locally and to increase support for our local farms and restaurants.”

On the whole, we’re increasingly conscious about the quality of food we buy for ourselves and our families. We’re also more aware of what it costs the environment to have food transported thousands of kilometres to appear at local grocery stores. Then there’s the direct cost: soaring fuel prices have been reflected in what we pay at the checkout counter, not to mention the biofuels debate and the impact on grain prices.

As well, we know farmers are under incredible financial pressures, and that even when retail prices climb, that doesn’t always translate into more cash for producers.

The more chances farmers have to sell directly to consumers or to reduce the number of middlemen, the greater their share of the food dollar, which is traditionally small.

That’s precisely the rationale for Foodlink’s Buy Local! Buy Fresh! campaign. Buying local food, often directly from the farmer, provides a number of benefits, from fresher produce to supporting the region’s economy and its farm community, the importance of which can be seen daily in Woolwich and Wellesley townships.

There is also a major environmental upside to local food. Much of our food travels very long distances before it reaches our tables. In fact, imports of 58 commonly eaten foods travel an average of 4,497 kilometres to Waterloo Region, says a study compiled by the public health department. These imports account for 51,709 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, contributing to climate change and declining air quality.

“Since all of the studied food items could be grown or raised in Waterloo Region, a significant opportunity exists to reduce our contribution to global climate change and air pollution by replacing imports of the studied food items with food items sourced from Waterloo Region or south-western Ontario. Replacing all the studied food items with products of South-western Ontario would produce an annual reduction in GHG emissions of 49,485 tonnes, equivalent to taking 16,191 cars off our roads,” the department reports.

While we may see the value of these concepts, there’s no better motivator than first-hand experience. With Taste Local! Taste Fresh!, we get a chance to see and taste what can be done with local fare, getting tips from the chefs and meeting the farmers who grow the food. In that way, buying local becomes more personal.

For those who live in the region’s cities, this event and Foodlink’s campaigns are a chance to see what goes on just outside the city limits. For those who live in the rural areas, they serve as a reminder of the connection between the land and our food even as urbanization continues.

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