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Local Food, the Old-Fashioned Way

I live in York County, South Carolina.

It’s an area where 2 out of 3 people voted for John McCain and Senator Lindsay Graham is widely considered to be a liberal (among other things). Since moving here, however, I have been inspired by my conservative neighbors to take up a cause that is generally associated with the left: local food.

Everybody here seems to have a backyard garden. In the warmer months, kitchen tables are brimming with freshly picked tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, squash, and okra. Extras are given away to neighbors or canned and pickled for use during the winter. For those whose don’t garden, there are plenty of indepedent roadside stands selling nothing but York County produce. I know some families who garden and hunt religiously, and who spend very little money at the grocery store or in restaurants.

As a result, all of the benefits of local food are enjoyed here: shorter transport distance, better health, better taste, and an enhanced sense of common well-being. And here’s the kicker – these conservative folks have been practicing local food for generations. It’s a way of life that has been steady in this culture since the area was first settled.

They’re not like the typical progressive "localvore," who is just coming to the awareness of these benefits after years of blind service to the centralized global food system. This is "old school" local food. They never bought into the centralized corporate system in the first place, and they haven’t bought into a lot of things that tend to be associated with today’s Republican Party. These folks, whom I like to call "pre-cons," cannot be lumped in together with the neo-cons that we love to demonize.

Which raises an interesting question as we try to define progressivism for the post-Bush era. What other practices and values of traditional/rural conservatives should we be paying attention to?

Sure, the pre-cons have troublesome stances on homosexuality and abortion, but if we push past the hot-button issues, we find a way of life that honors fidelity in relationships, simple living, the value of hard work, the importance of family and community, and respect for the land. In addition, the pre-cons are suspicious of materialism, consumerism, corporatism, globalism, and many of the other "isms" that progressives fight against.

Could these areas of common ground form the basis for a new type of political coalition that drives the frightening neo-con worldview out of the mainstream for good? Maybe. Maybe not. Those hot-button issues might be too divisive at this point. But considering the possibility of a progressive/pre-con alliance will at least alert us to the fact that the politcal map is shifting. The old classifications need to be rethought, and progressives need to think of themselves as more than just liberals with a new name.

The way forward might involve a little bit of looking back, and dare I say, to the right.

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