There’s no doubt that Ottawa’s local food movement is coming into its own. Farmers’ markets are sprouting up all across town, the Savour Ottawa “seal of approval” stickers line shelves in specialty food shops. In addition, the organization — the city’s longtime “buy local”advocates — have set up their own retail shop at the Parkdale Market featuring its members’ products. This shop will also be the site of its first public event scheduled for August 28. The Savour Ottawa Harvest Table features a 3-course local lunch served family-style (and a corn roast for those without a $50 ticket).
On Thursday, I stopped by the Central Experimental Farm for the kickoff of Feast of Fields — the grandmother of farm-to-table events, which began back in 1996. When I chatted with Margaret Tourond-Townson, the Ottawa Chairperson of Canadian Organic Growers, over a plate of local tomato salad and mushroom-topped kamut baguette, I learned that Loblaw’s is once again a sponsor of the event. There were no apologies. This was somewhat surprising in light of last year’s controversy in which several participants dropped out after learning about the supermarket giant’s involvement.
It’s a knee-jerk reaction. It’s easy to argue that Loblaw’s has no business at a local food-focused event. However, Tourond-Townson admits that while Feast of Fields is primarily a showcase for our organic farmers, she says we must acknowledge that these folks are unable to feed us year-round. For her, a commitment to organic food must include everyone in our food system — including villains like McDonald’s. This type of moderate stance seems to be gaining popularity amidst fears that the local food movement risks becoming an elitist fad.
Even Michael Pollan, author of the locavore Bible The Omnivore’s Dilemma, acknowledges the movement is divided along these lines. In a recent interview with the Globe and Mail’s Ian Brown, Pollan said, “… to cast it as a choice between the small, diversified, sustainable farm and the highly productive massified farm is a false choice.”
I think these issues are worth chewing on, especially during the season in which we can enjoy a cornucopia of locavore celebrations. After all, this incredible bounty of local food is more difficult to savour in Ottawa in January.