2009-09-22 


Local Food’s ‘Transaction with Face’ revives the local economy


Let’s recall today’s breakfast menu. I go lightly on my breakfast because of my heart condition. I had smoked salmon, Alaska Pollack soup, and a salad of carrot, cabbage, and onion. I also ate some pieces of pineapple and few berries of graph. 

The smoked salmon was from Norway, pineapple from Philippines, graph from Chile. Alaska Pollack is mostly imported from Japan, and the cabbage perhaps from Australia. I think the carrot and onion was Chinese. It’s hard to believe anything was from Korea. I did some calculation on food mileage (the distance food is transported from the place of production to that of consumption). This is what I found:  smoked salmon traveled 8,200km, pineapple 2,600km, graph 20,000km, Alaska Pollack 1,200km, cabbage 8,200km, and 900km for both carrot and onion. The total comes to 42,000km, which is equivalent to going around the earth one time. How much carbon dioxide do you think has been discharged because of this one breakfast’s ‘Global Food’? How much hotter has the earth become? 

Global food has some definite defect, due to its natural characteristics: consumers cannot possibly know how the smoked salmon and the graph that they are consuming have been produced, or by whom, or what kinds of chemicals were used in the process. Consumers have no way knowing how much of the chemical side effect they will get from those foods, because of the ‘transaction without knowing each other’s face’. (This phrase is different from anonymity, for anonymity being characterized as unknown identity, whereas here it means no personal contact. For convenience, in future, this will be called ‘No face transaction.’) 

What happened to our own farmers and farms, while imported foods occupy our kitchen tables?  A month ago, when I visited In Duck village in Junbook, Korea, I had a chance to talk to some old ladies over dinner at a nearby summerhouse. They kept saying “thank you,” as it is so nice to talk to a young person.  All five of them, including the oldest at 80, lived alone. 

Only farmers producing large quantity are enough competent to supply agricultural products to general markets, in which is controlled by big corporate marts. Yet, less than 20 percent of the farmers in Wan Ju have such ability to compete. Small farmers either farm in small patches or just leave their farmland unused. 

Local food is the opposite of global food, which creates a large emission of carbon dioxide, ‘No face transaction,’ and the breakdown of small farmers. It is still a fairly new concept, though it is a natural movement seeking to produce and consume safer agricultural produce, and therefore to know who and how the items are produced. 

Local food is gaining more popularity as the interest in environment and food safety grows world-wide. Even in the U.S., the leader in large-scale farming, younger people are returning to smaller farms to produce organic foods. 

With the government’s support, now 4,000 farmers’ markets for direct transaction have been established, and the community-supported agriculture (CSA-invests money in farmhouses in production, and receive payment in fresh agricultural product every week) is in place. There is dynamic activity concerning food mileage, too, such as consuming farm products that were produced within 100 miles. 

London, England, is experimenting with an interesting idea: creating 2,012 citizens’ kitchen gardens by the 2012 Olympics to be held there. The idea is that the citizens can eat the foods they trust, because they themselves have farmed, while the activity may also strengthen community ties. 

Japan’s Ji San Ji So Movement (the movement to consume local foods in the same region where they were produced) is playing a huge role in bettering the earnings of farmers and in ensuring the safety of kitchen tables. Belo Horizonte, Brazil, named the food sovereignty as one of the basic human rights, and placed the policy providing local agricultural products to students or the poor at low price. 

Korea is 25-percent self-sufficient in food, which is the 26th among 30 OECD countries. Top 13 countries rate above 100-percent, and even Portugal, which is ranked 24th, rates near 50-perceent. Improving our degree of self-sufficiency is very unlikely. In the absence of an active central government, local governments are active with diverse local food-production policies.  But, we cannot overlook the fact that most products are concentrated in Seoul.

Therefore, other strategies, such as recovering safe foods through ‘transaction with face,’ (used as antonym of ‘no face transaction’) or activating the local economy, are getting greater attention.  The local economy can be stimulated as small country farmers make direct contacts with consumers in cities, providing fresh agricultural products. Bung Sun Yoo, a professor at Konkuk University, analyzed the concept of local food as “revival of the local community by recovering trust between producer and consumer, and stabilizing the agricultural production and food safety.”

As of now, these are only ideals of local food, still far from reality. Our first task is to build competitiveness of the small farmers, for both the urban and rural populations. Small farmers also lack the ability to handle organic production. Then we also need to make a continuous effort to increase awareness among urban consumers, who are now so used to easy corporate-controlled market supplies. 

Yet, as local communities start the local food movement, they should not fall victim to regionalism. Trying to circulate products only from some specific local self-government agencies will be something to avoid. Cooperation of neighboring local communities is necessary. 

The biggest problem is that farming communities do not have enough people, because of the breakdown of local communities due to the urban centralization of population. No matter how much money the government pours into farming villages, there will be no substantial change. The buildings remain empty. The central government is negligent of finding fundamental solutions. 

Despite the limitations presented, local self-government agencies, and civic organizations, agricultural cooperative associations, and corporate companies should be applauded for recognizing social responsibility.  Naju and Suncheon in Jeonnam are one of them. Wanju, Jeonbuk is trying out local food to the fullest extent possible, the hardest experiment of all. We look forward to the understanding and support of the consumers, who want their food to be trustworthy.

 
 
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