Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why Food Miles Matter – Part 3

Energy and the Environment – Some of you may be surprised that the environmental aspect of buying local wasn’t the first thing I addressed.  This is because it is not as clear cut as, say, the idea that fresh food is more nutritious.  Currently, there are studies out there showing that buying local won’t ‘save the planet’ because it is not necessarily the most environmentally friendly choice.  They say this because there are other energy considerations to think of than transportation.  I agree that buying local can save on food miles but I can’t dispute the fact that the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture indicates that only 11% of a food’s  carbon footprint is in transporting it.  However, I think it is important to remember that eating local is about more than just cutting youj0406558r food miles, it’s about changing your mindset when it comes to eating.  If we are making an effort to cut our food miles by eating locally, we are getting in touch with what our local ecosystem is capable of offering and we are supporting farmers that create healthy communities.  In the Forbes article referenced in the hyperlink above, the author, James McWilliams, notes that it makes more environmental sense for someone in the UK to eat lamb from New Zealand as opposed to lamb from the UK because lambs raised in the UK depend on “intensive factory-like conditions.”  These operations tend to have odor, pest, and pollution issues that any community would find undesirable.  Locavores investigate where their food comes from and upon learning that this would be the source of their lamb, they simply wouldn’t consume it because they wouldn’t want their food choices to support an operation like that in their community.  Believe it or not, a person can live without lamb (gasp!) and they can live without many other luxuries that we tend to think of as necessities.  It makes the most environmental sense to eliminate something that cannot be created locally in a sustainable manner as opposed to taking on more food miles for a supposedly more sustainable option.  The local food that benefits communities and that is supported in the locavore movement comes from small farmers who are subject to consumer input and review, so they are breeding foods that are tastier and fresher.  Because of this, they are creating a more diverse supply of food that is easier on the soil and less susceptible to large pest problems, depends less heavily on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and preserves local crop varieties that are meant to be in that local ecosystem through seed saving.  These unique varieties not only taste better, they provide higher yields and let the farmer get more productive use from smaller areas of land. 

If you read the rest of the Forbes article, the author continues on with the issue of eating meat versus being a vegetarian.  I plan to write another blog entry about this issue, so please note that I am not ignoring it!  It would just be too long to address both issues in one entry.

In conclusion, there are many different types of benefits a community and an individual can receive as a result of making informed local eating decisions that reduce food miles.  Whether you are interested in your health, your community, or your environment, it makes sense to buy from local sources that are transparent about their practices.

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