Mmm, food. As long as it doesn’t come from dead animals (or celery! gack!), I love food and consider myself lucky to be able to eat as much of it as I want, and need, every day. Beyond the deliciousness factor, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about food politics and global food systems lately. For anyone interested in the environment, engagement with what we eat, and where it comes from, is essential. It’s our existing food system that’s created a lot of the problems we’re now facing, and changing that food system could almost single-handedly save us from many of the environmental problems that now threaten the planet.
One of the things I’ve recently read on the subject is the fantastically interesting No Nonsense Guide to World Food, a concise, readable explanation of how our food systems have morphed, with the help of ill-conceived farm subsidies (all of which go to export crops like corn and soy, and none of which go to fresh produce) and the disastrous effects of NAFTA, into a health-destroying, culture-disrupting environmental mess.
But all is not lost. Re-localizing our food supply, as I’ve suggested many times here in these pages, is one path back from the brink, albeit a path New Yorkers find hard to imagine. Local food in New York City? How local can we really get? Sure, there are community gardens and people growing on rooftops and in their tiny backyards. But not much more can be done, can it?
Well, according to No Nonsense, Havana, for example, produces some 30 percent of the fresh produce it consumes. And here in New York Just Food (justfood.org) is fighting hard to increase food production in the city, through urban farms, community gardens, urban chicken-keeping initiatives and more.
That’s where the bees come in. City Councilman David Yassky has introduced a bill, supported by Just Food, that would make beekeeping legal: scores of New Yorkers already keep bees, to no ill effect, despite a city-wide ban, which claims bees “are inclined to do harm.”
Ha. People are more inclined to do harm than bees, and given the recent problem of Colony Collapse Disorder, which has “disappeared” millions of bees over the last few years, and our dependence on bees to pollinate our food crops, we should be doing everything we can to encourage bees to prosper. Whatever food we do plant in the city can and will benefit, and we will too. Honey is a high-value agricultural product: urban hives can produce enough to create jobs, and supplement incomes. Not to mention giving us a sweetener that is both healthy and local.
Other benefits accrue from the keeping of bees and the consumption of bee products. Eating local honey can lessen or totally eliminate pollen-based allergies, without expensive allergy medicines and the attendant undesirable side effects (believe me, I know). Beeswax, propolis and pollen are high-value, low-impact substitutes for health and beauty products: I take bee pollen every day in lieu of a factory-made multivitamin. It works better, supports my local (upstate) beekeeper, comes in less packaging, and only travels 100 miles, not 1,000 or more.
With a small-scale beekeeping system in place, a percentage of the million trees Mayor Bloomberg hopes to plant with his million trees NYC program could be fruit and nut trees, and we could add food production to the cooling, air-cleaning and CO2 elimination that all those new trees stand to bring us. A million trees would make a pretty good orchard.
So please, check out Justfood.org, and sign their petition legalizing urban apiaries, and write or call your city councilperson too. And while we’re waiting for legal NYC honey, don’t forget to support local beekeepers by buying their products at greenmarkets or the health food store. Bee green!