Monday, May 18, 2009

Eat Local

Savour a slice of locally grown tomato and you instantly know it doesn't get any better than that. It may be harder to notice the differences between some other locally grown and shipped-in produce - carrots, onions and potatoes - but members of the Origin Oman Team, a government-run campaign dedicated to the economic, environmental and nutritional benefits of buying local say their campaign to "Think Local" goes way beyond taste.

Zuhair Al Zadjali along with Origin Oman colleagues Hamida Al Balushi, Nasser Al Rahbi and Bader Al Zadjali are co-ordinating the 26 May 150 Kilometre Meal project and he observes: “100 years ago nearly all the food we ate came from within 30 kilometres of our homes. Nowadays, we feast on the meat of the African Buffalo, or eat cheese made from the milk of the Tibetan Yak, but all this fine dining is having a huge environmental cost.”

The idea of living off locally-sourced food has fallen out of fashion only in the last few decades. But Al Zadjali says: “We’ve living in an age of any time, any place, anywhere food – this might work for telecoms but when it comes to food it’s an unsustainable way to live.”

Zuhair admits that choosing to eat from such a rigidly-defined area is a leap into the unknown for many city-dwelling Oman-based families but firmly believes that initiatives like the 150 Kilometre Meal can make a difference, as what we choose to eat is one of the few areas where we can independently reduce our carbon footprint.

People attending the 150 Kilometre Meal at Knowledge Oasis Muscat on 26 May will do so for very different reasons. Some will leave the event wanting to source 100% of their food locally while others will be saying: ‘OK, I've understood the concept. I can now cook an Oman-produced meal.’ “We're not trying to prescribe, we’re just pointing out that local produce is available and we encourage people to take advantage of it,” says Al Zadjali.

Research suggests that food grown in the community is generally picked within 24 to 48 hours of it appearing in the supermarket - it is crisp, sweet and loaded with flavour. Although biotechnology companies have been trying to commercialize genetically modified fruits and vegetables, they are currently licensing them only to very large factory-style farms. Local farmers don't have access to genetically modified seed, and most of them wouldn't use it even if they could. “If you’re worried about eating bioengineered food, you can rest assured that locally grown produce was bred as nature intended,” observes Al Zadjali.

“We have to wake up to how important the carbon footprint of food is,” says Alya Al Hosni (pictured) of the Oman Brand Management Unit and confirmed diner at the May 26th event: "Individuals have real power when they act collectively. The food and beverage sector is a very competitive market, so it means that consumer choices, even at the margins, can make a difference to communities right across Oman.”

Alya believes there are a lot of win-wins out there for the 150 Kilometre Meal project: “Buying local creates jobs, develops the local supply chain, reduces our carbon footprint and creates a stronger local community spirit. By supporting local farmers today, we can help ensure that there will be farms in our community tomorrow, and that future generations will have access to nourishing and abundant food, that’s got to be good for the local community,” smiles Alya.

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