The above picture shows a poster from the U.S. Food Administration, circa 1917-1919. While the U.S. government used to actively promote local foods, now, current U.S. food policy encourages a lot of long-distance shipping of foods, such as by subsidies of bulk commodities and other subsidies that benefit wide-scale factory-farming. Now, the local food movement is primarily driven by a decentralized network of people acting from their own personal value systems, out of a desire to preserve local food cultures and protect the environment.
My experience with locavores, die-hard fans of eating locally-produced food:
My experience is that there are very few "strict locavores", i.e., people who truly will not eat food that is not locally produced. Rather, most people seem to embrace eating locally-grown foods as a general guiding principle of something that is good, but not necessary to follow strictly, the way an Orthodox Jew might follow Kosher food laws. Strict locavores in colder climates would be forced to avoid such culinary staples as olive oil, lemons or limes, and many spices. Most people, no matter how enthusiastic they are about local foods, don't hold themselves to standards this strict.
The above salad (click the image for an ingredient list) was made in Pennsylvania from mostly-local ingredients, but it included lime, olive oil, and coriander from other regions.
It's also been my experience that people who are highly enthusiastic about eating locally-produced food and drink, either already love loose-leaf tea, or are very easy to get into drinking loose-leaf tea, especially if you present them with an explanation of how loose-leaf tea can fit into the same value system that values locally-produced foods.
Why do people want to buy or support locally-produced foods anyway?
There are many reasons that people seek out locally-produced foods. These include:
- Sustainability - Using locally-produced goods can minimize consumption of fuel to transport goods over long distances. Increased reliance on locally-produced goods can also promote economic sustainability by promoting more local economic activity and insulating each region against economic downturns in other regions.
- Local Traditions - Local food production is inextricably tied to local food culture. People often support local foods because they want to support traditions, including the preservation of and development of specific cultivars of plants, as well as traditions of preparing food. "Foodies", people interested in food culture in general, tend to be among the strongest proponents of locally grown foods.
- Quality - Locally grown foods are often fresher and higher in quality, and are often preferred by people seeking out the best-tasting and highest-quality goods.
Loose-leaf tea may not be local, but fits easily into all of the main driving factors behind the eat local movement:
In most parts of most Western countries, locally-grown tea is simply not available. But even if tea is not locally-produced, there are reasons that loose tea, specifically, high-quality loose-leaf artisan teas, traditionally produced, single-origin teas, can fit into this same framework for a variety of reasons. Much of this comes into comparing tea to coffee, or presenting tea as a substitute good for coffee:
- Tea production, measured per cup of brewed tea, is less resource-intensive, and thus more sustainable, than coffee production.
- Tea culture is associated with a more mindful, slow-paced culture than coffee, which is often associated with a fast-paced consumerist society.
- Tea is much more diverse than coffee, having a greater potential to appeal to foodies and people interested in the diversity present in the different types of a certain food or drink available.
But looking at tea on its own, it also fits into more things:
- Tea, even higher-priced tea, is quite inexpensive when compared to other food and drink. Tea can thus appeal to people who value sustainability and the prudent use of resources.
- The traditions of tea production in many countries are rich and diverse; by buying high-quality single-origin tea of specific varieties, produced by traditional methods, people support the preservation and development of local traditions.
- As tea ships and stores well, people seeking out local foods primarily for quality reasons will have no qualms about seeking out high-quality tea imported from far away, as it is a good, much like olive oil or spices, that does not suffer much from being shipped.
Do these "selling points" work for drawing local food enthusiasts into the world of high-quality, imported loose-leaf tea? It has been my experience that they absolutely do! Most locavores are not strict or fanatical in their focus on buying and eating local. They are just regular people with common sense, who care about sustainability, about the quality of their food, and about preserving local food traditions. If you can show them how loose-leaf tea fits into their value system, they can and will get into it.
If you want to read more about these issues, you can find more depth on my post Tea as Slow Food.