Realities of Eating Local

We’ve talked before about the Local Food Movement. On our News Page today we have a piece from National Public Radio (aired this morning) about institutional kitchens. Imagine how hard it might be to use locally produced food when you have to prepare hundreds of meals every day. Please take a look at this piece, or check out the NPR website if you’d rather listen to it.

Meanwhile, on their website, NPR also included the following information about the benefits and challenges in trying to be a locavore.

Definitions of “local food” vary widely. Some refer to the distance food travels from source to consumer. (It can range from 25 to 400 miles.) Other definitions qualify locally grown food according to the sustainability and quality of its production, according to a survey by theDepartment of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Regardless of the exact definition, the local food movement is a complex idea with several advantages, as well as a couple of lesser-known disadvantages.

Advantages

Environmental Stewardship: Fewer miles traveled often means a smaller carbon footprint.

Variety: Large-scale farms often narrow the type of crops and livestock produced, because it is more economically efficient. Also, small farms with a range of crops and livestock are better protected during times of disease and blight.

Fresher Food: Because it does not have to travel as far, local food, if harvested during its peak season, retains more of its nutritional value and taste by the time it reaches the table, according to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

Support For Local Farmers: Smaller farms lack the machinery and complexity of large-scale food production and therefore must employ more workers to produce the same amount of food. These farms are also more likely to reinvest profits back into the community rather than deposit them into a corporate bank account in another state.

Disadvantages

Limited Selection: Local food can provide increased variety, but it can be limited by seasonal availability. As food writer Michael Pollan would say, this is an “omnivore’s dilemma.” Americans are used to eating almost any fruit or vegetable all year round (for an inflated sticker price), but to truly eat locally, certain foodstuffs would not be available on demand.

Smaller Carbon Footprint? Local foods may reduce carbon emissions since they don’t have to be transported as far. But it means smaller, more frequent trips made by consumers to farmers markets and local grocers to replenish items that lack the preservatives and shelf life of conventional food stuffs.

The Little Guys: Increased consumption of local foods in America could impact the economies of smaller, less-advanced countries that rely on food exports.

–Katherine Bascuas / NPR

Sources: Home Grown: The Case for Local Food in a Global Marketsustainabletable.orgusda.govUSDA Economic Research ServiceThe Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

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