The term “locavore” was first used in 2005 to describe a group of San Franciscans who chose to only eat food grown within 100 miles of their city. The original movement was a statement against global food distribution systems, and in support of more sustainable, healthy, and socially productive local food networks. Since then, their ideas have spread considerably. There are now groups around the world that embrace their ethos and identify themselves as locavores.
But how accessible is this growing food movement for students? Local food has a reputation for being expensive and inaccessible. The very term “locavore” conjures up an image of yuppie parents crowding their hybrid SUVs into Whole Foods parking lots. This image, though, does not reflect the realities of the locavore movement as it exists in Montreal or at McGill.
Warren Huard, a member of Greening McGill – an organization that promotes environmental initiatives at McGill – asserts that local food is “fairly easy to get, especially at McGill”. Students can buy local produce from a number of sources on the McGill campus. The student organization Organic Campus sells local produce and food items every Tuesday outside of the Shatner building, and a variety of local farmers sell their crops at the McGill Farmers’ Market, which is open in Three Bares Park every Wednesday afternoon through October.
A number of places off-campus in Montreal also provide local produce. Katherine Gray-Donald, a professor at McGill’s School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition says, “local food is not more expensive when one goes to big competitive markets such as Jean-Talon.” Sunday mornings at Jean-Talon host a diverse group of customers, shopping for their week’s groceries as local buskers play cheerful polkas on the accordion.
If taking the metro to a farmers’ market seems too inconvenient, students can still get local food through participation in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. CSA farms operate as a collaboration between food growers and consumers. At the start of the season, a consumer can pay for a share of the harvest, which is given to them in installments of weekly food baskets over the course of the growing season. A number of these farms operate in and around Montreal, delivering produce to almost all areas of the city.
This support of urban farming is echoed in the land policy of the city of Montreal. Eighteen city boroughs of Montreal offer plots of lands for their residents to use for gardening, and a number of these employ a gardening instructor and provide basic materials for enthusiastic amateurs. On campus, the McGill student organization Campus Crops encourages students to add more local food to their diets by, in the words of its summer garden coordinator Maddie Guerlain, offering students “hands-on, experiential learning” about how to maintain their own gardens.
Despite these resources, though, eating locally is not without its challenges. Gray-Donald suggests that “the biggest challenge is the staple foods…[such as] grains and rice are not local”. There are other food groups that pose problems too – affordable local cheeses and meats tend to be more difficult to find than affordable local vegetables. These realities – along with the difficulty of finding locally- produced food in the winter in the cold climate of Quebec – can limit the locavore diet. Gray-Donald stated that, to make this diet feasible, one “need[s] to know at least five different ways to prepare the same food,” – a daunting requirement for most students.
Because of these difficulties, it is tricky for most students to take the same plunge as the original locavores, and vow to only eat food grown within 100 miles of Montreal. Yet, the accessibility of local food in Montreal should allow students to supplement their diets with locally grown produce, and take part in this growing movement.