Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why Eat Local Foods

photo credit: sbocaj
Economic Impact of Local Foods
According to Sandor Ellix Katz, “… (G)lobalized corporate food follows a long and largely inscrutable chain of transactions, most of which is invisible to the consumer. In this food system, only a tiny proportion of what consumers spend on food at the store goes to the people who grow it. The bulk of our food spending immediately departs from our local communities into the unfathomably huge infrastructures of the shipping and trucking, food processing, marketing, and retailing industries… Rather than paying for food itself, we are paying for an elaborate system for getting it to the right place, at the right time, in the right processed form, and in the right package” (Katz 2).

Many people hearing about local food automatically think organic. But local food has very little to do with organic. You could run out to Wal-Mart and buy organic fruit and think you have done your part. When people buy food, though, they should really consider where their money is going. “A dollar spent on organic plums at Wal-Mart goes to corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, to the real-estate developer who owns the land the store is built on, to the truckers who brought it there, and as a small fraction of that dollar, to the grower and the cashier.”

But there is a better way. “In the traditional local food system, wealth (in the form of food) is created locally, from the land worked by the people. The money people spend on food in that context gets recirculated locally, and food production is a significant generator of economic activity: it supports local mechanics, babysitters, craftspeople, and other local food producers. In economics, this phenomenon is called the multiplier effect. A dollar spent on a local grower’s produce will continue to circulate locally and multiply its benefits through economic stimulation”(Katz 1). In other words, the dollar spent at Wal-Mart on organic plums went directly to the corporation. The dollar spent on plums at a local farmers marker went directly to the grower, and thus, out into our community. The local plums may not have the label organic due to the hassle of government organics standards, but chances are they are grown without chemicals. And if you aren’t sure about growing practices, you can always ask the farmer!

Environmental Impact of Local Foods
It really doesn’t do much good to buy organic food that has to be shipped all over the country, or the world. It is exposed to chemicals in shipping, as well as wasting precious fossil fuel resources. According to SustainableTable.org,”(a) tremendous amount of fossil fuel is used to transport foods such long distances. Combustion of these fuels releases carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and other pollutants into the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change, acid rain, smog and air pollution. Even the refrigeration required to keep your fruits, vegetables, dairy products and meats from spoiling burns up energy.” In addition, industrial food producers use large amounts of plastic packaging, which is non-biodegradable and nearly impossible to recycle.

The shipping of industrial food is not the only part that causes environmental problems. The actual growing of the food itself harms the environment. While many small farmers who sell locally grow many different types of produce and practice sustainable agriculture, industrial farms favor monocropping, or only growing one type of plant. “… Single crops, as the Irish learned the hard way with the potato blight in 1845, are more susceptible to devastation by pest invasion and disease. The industrial answer is herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides to kill weeds, insects, and molds. So powerful are these chemicals, industrial farmers have dispensed with crop rotation—the age-old method for keeping pests and disease at bay—but the apparent efficiency is illusory. With this system, pests and pathogens traditionally kept in check by switching crops accumulate, thus requiring yet more pesticides” (Planck 146-147). Buying local foods sends a message to these environmentally irresponsible large growers that people won’t stand for it anymore, and it is time to make a change to more responsible, sustainable farming.

Nutritional Effects of Local Food
Since food travels further from field to table than ever before, “greater time elapses between harvest and consumption, during which nutrients are diminished” (Katz 5). According to SustainableTable.org, “fresh food from local farms is healthier than industrially-farmed products because the food doesn’t spend days in trucks and on store shelves losing nutrients… Food transported short distances is fresher (and, therefore, safer) than food that travels long distances. Local food has less of an opportunity to wilt and rot whereas large-scale food manufacturers must go to extreme lengths to extend shelf-life since there is such a delay between harvest and consumption. Preservatives are commonly used to keep foods stable longer, and are potentially hazardous to human health.”

Another health problem encountered with industrial food distribution is food-borne diseases. Consider the 2006 outbreak of E-coli from spinach. All that spinach came from a single region in California, but was spread throughout the country! The disease would have been contained if the food was distributed locally, and would have less likely led to the widespread panic the outbreak caused.

Industrial foods such as ground beef could be a problem as well. Meat from hundreds of cows is all mixed together. One sick cow could contaminate thousands of pounds of ground beef, which is then shipped all over America! In contrast, if you buy ground beef locally, it is very easy to know which cow caused the contamination and get that food off the market!

Fun, Tasty Effects of Local Foods
Local foods just taste better! Typical food from your supermarket is picked underripe to survive the journey to the grocery store, then artificially ripened. Local foods can be picked at the peak of perfection for the most amazing taste experience!

It is not hard to eat local foods, despite the adjustment period of not eating strawberries in December. Just start out trying to buy foods grown in your state. Find a grocery store based in the state you live in. Or try a farmers market. Quit shopping at Wal-Mart. When you have the choice between domestic food and imported, choose the domestic one! Now that I have begun my own transition to local foods, I see how very easy it is to do, and how important it is to make a difference. I will admit that I’m not a total localvore (yet), but I try to do my part and buy as locally as possible.

Katz, Sandor Ellix. The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. Chelsea Green, 2006.
Planck, Nina. Real Food: What to Eat and Why. Bloomsbury USA, 2007.
SustainableTable.Org. “The Issues: Buy Local.” http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/buylocal/. Accessed April 27, 2008.

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