By Nik Novak, Just Local Food Co-op
I have been told nearly all of my life that I shouldn’t talk politics. It’s ugly business, this political talk. It’s impolite, distasteful, argumentative, divisive. Politics makes people uncomfortable. Especially here in the Upper Midwest. But I have never been one for following other people’s rules.
Politics, as I was told by my civics teacher 25 years ago, is merely the art of getting stuff done. And like anything in life, we get out of it whatever we put in. But politics isn’t just reserved for elections, and it certainly doesn’t only occur on a Tuesday in November every four years. We vote in many ways, repeatedly, throughout the year. The voting that we do on a daily basis is far more consequential, and far more satisfying, if we stop to think about it.
Every day we make the decision to eat. What to eat. When to eat. How to eat. And whether to eat alone or with other people. When we make these decisions we are exercising our rights—as individuals and as citizens who reside in interconnected communities. Every time we take a bite, we are changing how a place looks and feels; we are deciding who gets paid; we are selecting which businesses succeed and which ones fail.
Politically speaking, that’s a lot of power. It might make a difference then to learn that, of every retail dollar spent on food today, the farmer gets an average of 14.6 cents. In the 1980’s, the farmer got 37 cents on the dollar. Within my lifetime, the average farmer’s income has been cut by more than 60%, while costs (and debt) have increased almost as dramatically. Here in Wisconsin, more than 1,600 small family dairy farms have gone out of business in the last three years. Our state leads the nation in farm bankruptcies.
I don’t like these numbers. I’m guessing you don’t either.
But rather than throwing up our hands in defeat, there is something very simple we can do about this: choose to act locally. I choose to hunt, fish, gather, and grow my own. I like doing this. Local food tastes better. I also choose to buy from local family farmers because they are my neighbors and my friends—fellow citizens who work like crazy every day, all day long, to care for animals, build soil, protect water, restore habitat, increase flavor, preserve genetic diversity, improve nutrition, and teach others about their way of life.
When we purchase food from people we know, or when we grow it and cook it ourselves—we are voting with our dollars to keep that money here, in our community. That’s the “Triple Bottom Line”: profit for the Land, profit for the People, profit for the Community.
In a Triple Bottom Line economy, the shareholders are us. Those of us who live and eat well within familiar places, surrounded not by strangers, but by neighbors who take care of the earth and one another.
So go ahead. Be political. Eat local food.
Nik Novak is a writer, a teacher, a stonemason, a farmhand, a storekeeper, and—most infamously—the Meat Guy at Just Local Food Co-op. He lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
For further reading, see Tim Wu’s book The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Guilded Ageand Austin Frerick’s article “To Revive Rural America, We Must Fix Our Broken Food System”: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/to-revive-rural-america-we-must-fix-our-broken-food-system/?fbclid=IwAR0viK1ja5kpYcUcB4rO0gW_ANaai-pkKh8oMLuvJnJJwBezsS-Xielbd6c.