Supply vs. Demand – Try Eating Your Roots

January 5, 2011 at 11:06 am

Rob Gardner

I hope more than a few of you made a new year’s resolution to eat more local food.  You will find your food tastes better and carries more meaning.  You will find, however, that it can be a chore to eat local.  You may have to bop around to find all the things you need.  You may have to channel your inner survivalist to make do.  Now, there are people out there working to enhance your local food system.  For all their good efforts, you may be able to help yourself and all the other eat local fans by some simple dietary decisions.  Try eating your roots.

A lot of the people who are paid to produce a better local food system believe the fault lies with supply.  They see not enough people eating local food because they see not enough supply of local foods.  And they see the lack of supply of local foods to be an infrastructure problem.  They see not enough local farms producing fruits and vegetables.  They see not enough packing facilities, warehouses, and methods to get local food to local food buyers.  And I don’t dismiss any of that.  We do need better ways to supply local food.  Still, I remain convinced that the issue remains not supply but demand.

I remain rather convinced as someone with a modicum of understanding of economics and business, that supply “happens” when people see or anticipate demand.  Right now, the lack of local food in the Chicago area comes, I believe, not from lack of trucks a-comin’ with loads of food but from the lack in interest in what local food growers could supply at this time of year.  I mean just yesterday at lunch with a fellow foodie, I confessed to a bit of existential crisis towards food.  I talked about looking with envy at shoppers at Angelo Caputo’s who happily loaded their carts with eggplants, bell peppers and other items while I rummaged around the herb section where I was lucky to espy “locally grown” basil–and showing what a happy family we are, when I returned with my basil, my wife had already done the same, and met me with a, “nice job” because I found the better of the remaining local basil.  My friend asked if I wanted some grapefruit.  Oh, I said, I’d eat a grapefruit, that did not violate any of our locavore creeds, but I forbade myself my beloved peppers (if we can get it locally, we only get it locally).  Instead, we now eat squash and cabbage and we have a lot of beets we have not even dipped into.  That’s what it takes to have a local food system.

We really can be easily supplied in local food, in the winter, if we wanted to eat local food in the winter.  It is not difficult to grow a over-supply of root vegetable (or other storage crops like squash), nor is it especially hard to store this over-supply of root vegetables.  All it takes is a temperature and humidity stored facility, a/k/a a commercial refrigerator.  We could have all the beets we wanted.  Really.  But not enough people want the beets.  Or the rutabagas, the celery root, the parsley root, the burdock root of the things that don’t end in root like salsify, sunchoke or even carrot.  I can list, have listed, the reasons why people are not demanding their roots.  It’s a readily apparent fact that people are not shopping for roots.

Want a better local food system.  Try eating your roots.