So … is it an environmental, philosophical, or an economic issue? It may well be all three.
Becoming a locavore is to commit one’s self to purchasing and/or consuming locally grown or produced food. (“Local” is generally defined as meaning within 100 miles of purchase or consumption.) The word is fairly new, having crept into our national lexicon in the 21st century. It is a word combining portions of the words local and vorare (meaning to eat.) That makes it an excellent example of a portmanteau, the subject of a previous blog posting.
Growing out of the current obsession with healthy food issues, the concept of locavore seems to be more of a broad-based movement rather than one isolated and confined to a specific ideology. Vegans, for instance, are a particular kind of consumer who eat only foods that do not derive from animals. True, hard-core vegans will not eat butter or drink milk, for instance, although there are other gradations of vegan practices which are not as orthodox. Vegetarians tend to be less rigid about their food selections, preferring only non-animal foods, as well. However, vegetarians come in all stripes, and have a more relaxed view of their preferences.
However, locavores do not, necessarily, subscribe to the elimination of animal-based foods. The emphasis tends to be more on the issue of location than food type. That can include meats. Growing animals for local consumption or purchasing locally-bred and prepared meats fits well into the definition.
The issue of locavore has some scientific basis. A number of scientists/nutritionists have indicated that there are local or regional qualities to all foods. It may have to do with soil types, fertilization utilized, air and water quality, or other environmental aspects of food production. A person whose whole life has been located in the Southwest, for instance, may experience digestive issues with a sudden change to the North Central part of the country where agricultural patterns vary dramatically from those in the Southwest. There is some conflict in the nutrition community, however, about the significance of these nutritional issues.
However, an even more compelling reason for considering a locavore preference has to do with the issue of transportation of foods from one part of the country (or from another country) to a local market.
At its roots sustainable farming benefits the local community and local economy while supporting the environment by enriching the soil, protecting air and water quality, and minimizing energy consumption. Industrial food production is entirely dependent on fossil fuels, which, when refined and burned, create greenhouse gases that are significant contributors to climate change. The biggest part of fossil fuel use in industrial farming is not transporting food or fueling machinery; it’s chemicals. As much as forty percent of the energy used in the food system goes towards the production of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.1By adding transportation, processing and packaging to the food system equation, the fossil fuel and energy use of our current food system puts tremendous stress on the environment. For example, between production and transportation, growing 10% more produce for local consumption in Iowa would result in an annual savings ranging from 280,000 to 346,000 gallons of fuel, and an annual reduction in CO2 emissions ranging from 6.7 to 7.9 million pounds.2
Food processors also use a large amount of paper and plastic packaging to keep fresh food from spoiling as it is transported and stored for long periods of time. This packaging is difficult or impossible to reuse or recycle. In addition, industrial farms are a major source of air and water pollution.
Small, local farms are run by farmers who live on their land and work hard to preserve it. They protect open spaces by keeping land in agricultural use and preserve natural habitats by maintaining forest and wetlands. By being good stewards of the land, seeking out local markets, minimizing packaging, and harvesting food only when it is ready to consume, farmers can significantly reduce their environmental impact. In fact, studies show that sustainable agricultural practices can actually increase food production by up to 79% while at the same time actively reducing the effects of farming on climate change through carbon sequestration. (http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/eatlocal/)
This, then, raises my original question as to whether this is an economic issue. It would seem that there are a variety of influences which affect the decision to adopt a locavore practice as a preference. Among these influences, the economic and environmental factors play a huge part. The support of local farmers, for instance, is a serious issue for many who fear the demise of the local farm industry. But when added to the nutritional, environmental and philosophical rationales it begins to add up to a good decision.
Graphic Credit: www.vegansoapbox.com