"Eat locally, think globally" is the motto of many locavores. When I moved to Montana in 2007, I was at once surprised and pleased by a locavore movement that existed near my town. Most of the grocers carry "Made in Montana" meat, produce, grains and other items. There are books with Montana recipes for the seasons. But what is locavorism exactly and will it save the planet?
Are You a Locavore?
What is Locavorism?
Locavorism, simply put, is eating foods local to your area. Various people have different definitions, but a common one is eating food that is grown or produced within a 100 mile radius. This food can be grown in your garden or bought from local producers. In some areas it's difficult to purchase locally produced food within 100 miles, so it may suggest a region or even a state.
Locavores frequently purchase foods from farmers' markets and local farmers. They buy foods that are in season for that particular region. For example, here in Montana, we have cherries in July. A locavore in Montana would purchase their cherries in Montana and freeze or can the cherries for year-round use, enjoying the fresh cherries in the month of July and not purchasing cherries from other countries in the off season.
Do You Buy Your Food from a Farmers' Market?
Arguments for Locavorism
Most proponents of locavorism will say that locavorism helps to save the planet by reducing the cost of shipping food thousands of miles, thus reducing carbon footprints. Purchasing locally helps local farmers and local economies, keeping the money you spend to help your neighbors and farmers, rather than going into the pocket of some company in another state or overseas.
But there are more intangible benefits to locavorism, that can't be measured by dollars. By eating locally, proponents suggest that people will become more in touch with their food, knowing where their food comes from and how it affects their lives. For example, buying strawberries and eggs from your neighbor probably has more meaning than picking up a carton of strawberries and eggs. What's more, the food is more likely to be fresh and maybe even organic (without the USDA organic sticker). Fresher food usually tastes better and is healthier.
Locavorism has a benefit of keeping dangerous outbreaks contained. When salmonella tainted meat made its way across the country, I felt safe knowing that the meat I bought was from a handful of local farmers and not a big slaughterhouse that sent meat to 20 states. If people had bought their meat from local ranchers, the number of affected consumers would be far fewer.
Arguments Against Locavorism
Opponents to locavorism point out that the cost saved from shipping around the world is nullified by the farmer's practices. If the farmer doesn't use organic methods and insists on using factory-type, large scale production methods, then the overall transportation savings are wasted. What's more, eating meat or animal products of any kind increases the carbon footprint dramatically as animals need large amounts of grain to grow to produce milk, eggs and meat. Furthermore, if you're into the global economy thing, you'd be quick to point out that the money that goes into the pockets of local farmers is depriving other farmers of the money.
Eating locally isn't necessarily good for those people who live in areas bereft of certain minerals or, in some cases, have too much of a particular mineral. For example, some soils are very high in selenium and people who eat too much can suffer from selenium toxicity. Likewise, areas around the Great Lakes and the Pacific Northwest have soils devoid of iodine, which can lead to iodine deficiency if no iodized salt is used.
What's more, someone who chooses to stay strictly locavore may find their diet lacking in nutrition and variety due to the lack of certain foods during the year. Here in Montana, it's tough to get local foods beyond those grown in a hot house, unless it's meat. Sure, we have the ability to store produce and fruit, but the fresh stuff is pretty much gone by mid-January and we're relying on our neighboring states to bring food in. What's more, locavores in Montana would turn away from orange juice, oranges, and other vital citrus fruits, not to mention seafood.
Lastly, people who demand fresh strawberries in January aren't interested in whether they come from their neighbor or Venezuela. They just want the convenience of getting a particular food item, even if it's out of season.
A Happy Medium
Despite the naysayers, I think that locavorism has its place. Most food comes from large corporate and factory concerns that use ingredients from various countries, some of which are questionable in origin or even downright dangerous as we've seen with cases of melamine and cyanuric acid in pet food and salmonella contaminated peppers which caused the FDA to recall tomatoes. During that recall, I was cheerily purchasing tomatoes from the farmers' market, knowing that the farmers I bought them from were not affected.
Locavorism fosters a sense of community you wouldn't normally see. When a local melon grower was robbed, many people in the community were outraged over the crime and joined to help the grower. I felt a sense of outrage as well - after all, I had given my money to him and his family, and not the thieves. And despite the global economy, I'd rather see money stay in my community than go to some corporation or country that doesn't have the same interests and concerns I do.
A number of generations in Western society have grown up without a single thought as to where their food comes from or how it is being produced. Understanding how much work it takes to produce the meat for that fast food hamburger or the corn for those corn chips can give a greater appreciation for the importance of food in society - and the importance of having sustainable agriculture. If people understand the basics behind food, it is more likely to cause informed choices on nutrition. Certainly they would eat no worse than they do already.
Local foods are usually cheaper than those shipped in from somewhere else. You're not paying for shipping, taxes, tariffs and storage costs associated with travel. In a recession, that can make the difference between a tight budget and one that makes you wonder how your going to pay your bills. Cooking at home is usually healthier than going out -- and much cheaper too.
Although locavorism encourages growing your own food, it's not necessary. Just buying fruits, vegetables and meat at your local farmer's market or a store that sells local produce is good enough. Choosing to purchase foods in season when they're usually cheaper and freezing or canning them for later can cut down on buying foods from outside your area. Choose foods that are grown organically or at least are from farmers that use sustainable agricultural practices. Ask how the meat, milk, eggs and other animal products are produced. Most small farmers are happy to talk about their farms and may even invite you to visit them.
There are times when you just can't go completely locavore, nor should you, in my opinion. Some areas simply don't have enough food production to provide a complete and balanced diet. Other areas have too much or too little of nutrients that could severely affect your health. And then, of course, there's winter - you still need to eat fresh food. Unless you have a greenhouse, it's unlikely you'll get year-round fresh food unless you live in an area with a warm climate.
Grow Your Own
Growing your own vegetables isn't that difficult, even if you're in the suburb or city. Even though I have acreage, I grow herbs, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries and peppers in little container gardens. In the fall, I'm drying herbs for use during the months I can't grow them and bringing the perennial herbs inside so I can use them during the winter months and have them in the spring. If you don't have a green thumb, try a container garden first. Plant some herbs and see how they do before branching into other plants.
Final Thoughts on Locavorism
Will locavorism save the planet? Probably not. But it is a common-sense way of eating and looking at the world. Pay attention to where your food comes from. Take responsibility for your health by eating nutritious food. Think about where your money goes and whether you want to finance certain countries, corporations and their agendas. If you do this, you're more likely to improve your lifestyle and your community, and maybe the world.
© 2014 Maggie Bonham