The challenge of eating locally.

A feature story in Sunday’s Cincinnati Enquirer covered the impending closure of the local Trauth Dairy after 91 years in operation. It’s disappointing news.

Three generations of the Trauth family had been making eggnog (a local legend, if you’re into that), a zesty French onion dip, cultured buttermilk and—our staple Trauth product—cottage cheese. We buy the cottage cheese from Gibbs, one of our favorite Findlay Market stands; they get it direct from the dairy on Thursday afternoon and we buy it by the tubful on Saturday mornings. It’s incredibly fresh, and it tastes like it.

The family sold the plant in 1998 to Suiza Foods, seeking to avoid a sale to the dairy behemoth Dean Foods. Sure enough, Dean bought out Suiza just a few years later.

It’s another example of the decline in local and regional food providers, a problem I’ve written about previously, and one that I discussed at great length with Warren Taylor of Snowville Creamery in my recent Edible Ohio Valley profile.

A Dean Foods spokesperson quoted in the story said, “We’ve really made a very concerted effort to ensure [local dairy brands’] heritage stays intact. That said, the reality is that the dairy industry is a highly competitive industry and an industry that is really focused on low costs and being as efficient as possible. Customers expect the best possible prices when they go to the store, and our retail partners that we sell to expect that as well.”

And here, my friends, is the problem. “Consumers expect the best possible prices.” We’ve built this Walmartesque culture, fueled by cheap goods that are poor in quality. It’s totally our fault. We get what we pay for. As a result, we have refrigerators full of cheap processed foods, closets full of cheap clothes that fall apart after 3 washes, basements full of cheap plastic toys and junk we really didn’t need in the first place.

Can we make a commitment to buying better things—and fewer of them? Can we agree that quality trumps price? And can we urge retailers to stop selling us cheap shit, simply by making small changes in our buying habits? Please comment here and let me know what you think.

4 thoughts on “The challenge of eating locally.

  1. GO, Bryn! Tell it, sister and take a stand for what matters. Keep kicking booty and educating us along the way. Maybe Dean Foods could use an activist on their team?

  2. Consumers do expect the best possible prices, which is why I typically shop at a farmers’ market 15 minutes north rather than my in-town market: same vendors but radically cheaper prices at the other market. But having said that, I have no issue with paying more for better, fresher product. The supermarket sells rock-hard nectarines for $0.89/lb, but I’ll gladly pay $2.00/lb for the fresh, juicy marvels that I buy (and can sample) at the market. Quality isn’t a commodity.

  3. Dean Foods is one of the more problematic Big Ag companies flying low on national media’s radar. It’s a morally corrupt company that has been sued for everything from KKK-style employee harassment (if you can believe it, in the 21st century) to mislabeling its “Silk” soy milk products (this was just a few years ago – they switched to conventional soy beans without removing their organic labeling and skus). Nothing will make me run screaming from the organic section faster than their Horizon brand dairy. And the Silk line. It’s nearly maddening, trying to buy dairy products these days. I make my own butter in part because Dean owns Land-o-Lakes. Before artisan butters hit the local markets, I had no choice: buy Land-o-Lakes, or make my own. Reading the sound bites from Dean’s spokesperson, I realized I was grinding my teeth. Again.

  4. Pingback: The cult of local: a cult of one « The Foodwhisperer