The old is new. It happens time and again. Clothing styles that were popular decades ago find resurgence today. Hairstyles of our grandparents are once again the latest and greatest. Recipes from generations past find their way back onto menus in new and retooled ways. If you look carefully, you can see the influence of yesteryear woven throughout the trends of today.
This is especially true of the relatively new local food movement. Farmers’ markets are popping up all over the province. Restaurant menus are rife with local products. Even the big supermarkets are carving out space for locally produced wares. At first glance it might seem like this is the newest and latest trend in our ever-changing food culture, but if you take a step back and look at the landscape, you might begin to see that we haven’t invented a new and wonderful trend but are starting to return to our roots as a province.
According to a study done by the Ecology Action Centre, at any given time we have roughly three days’ worth of food in Nova Scotia. If the freight stopped moving, store shelves could be empty within three days. The food that we buy has travelled on average a distance equivalent to Halifax to Texas. The transition from a local food economy to a centralized, industrialized food economy that started in the mid-twentieth century continues to this day, and the net result is that we largely depend on imported food to feed ourselves.
This wasn’t always the case. For much of Nova Scotia’s history, we actually fed ourselves. The vast majority of the food we ate was produced right here at home. There are traces of this bygone era to be found all over the province. Pay a visit to the Ross Farm Museum near New Ross, and hear the story of how the barrels produced there were used to transport apples to market in Halifax. Look at the current Seaport Farmers’ Market, and note that it is the oldest continually running farmers’ market in North America. Since 1750 it has been a venue for local agriculture, and for generations it was one of the primary means by which Halifax received its food. Take a drive to Berwick, and see the abandoned warehouses and railway that used to play an integral part in moving food from farm to city.
Hidden away in the shadows are echoes of our once robust and lively local food system. It is only in the last three or four generations that we have let ourselves be carried away into a centralized, commodity-driven food economy. The good news is that the old is becoming new again. Nova Scotians are hearing the echoes emerge from the shadows and have a sense of what we could once again become. We as a province can produce a significant amount of the food that we need, and with this realization comes an embrace of our true identity. We are Nova Scotians: a hearty, industrious people who rely on each other and ourselves for our own well-being. It is with open arms that we ought to welcome back the old, and in doing so create something new all over again. If there is any truth in the proverb that “you are what you eat,” it is that we ought to be Nova Scotian through and through