What does it mean to buy local?
Buying locally is something that used to be essential. In fact for many it was the only option. A century or two ago people had to buy locally for almost everything because there was no way to easily purchase things from far away. With the invention of trains and ultimately the automobile and planes all of this changed. Suddenly anyone anywhere could get anything they wanted from anywhere in the world if they had enough money. Frequently they can get these things within a day or two. But what has all of this transporting of products done to the environment? It hasn't been good.
Just walking through the grocery store you will find products from dozens of countries. Have you ever stopped to think about what it took to bring that product to your store? Likely numerous trucks, and either boats, planes or trains. The pollution coming out of all these means of transportation is tremendous. Just so you can have your bananas from Panama or your olive oil from Italy.
Have you heard the term "locavore"? According to Wikipedia "A locavore is someone who eats food grown or produced locally or within a certain radius such as 50, 100, or 150 miles." Of course this is easier said than done, but just paying attention to where your food comes from and trying to buy from closer to home will absolutely reduce the amount of energy used in getting the food to your table.
For us, after reading the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I was determined to eat more locally than we have ever done before. In this book a family of 4 determined to eat only from within their county for a full year. For the most part they were able to do this. They did allow spices from other countries and I believe that they could buy grain from a local grain mill, but it was from another state. They shopped at the farmers market and grew a massive garden. They loved it and for the most part, I believe that they will be continuing to eat this way in the future because it went so well.
My definition of eating locally has changed over the course of the year though. I don't believe I could buy only foods grown from my county, although I do try to buy things from as close to my home as possible. In the summer I grow my own vegetables and am attempting to get some fruit started. I also shop at the farmers market each week and some of the grocery stores near me sell produce grown in Ohio. I can or freeze a lot of produce, but I don't think there is any way I could put up enough food for my family of 6 for a full year. I try to do more every year and maybe someday I will get there, but not now.
When the locally grown produce was unavailable I started trying to purchase produce from within the United States. I did this for several reasons. The items don't have to travel as far, therefore require less energy to get to the store. Also, other countries have different pesticide standards than the United States and honestly I don't trust them as much. There are some other countries that use pesticides and fertilizers that the United States has banned. I try to buy organic when I can, but that can get pricey and I just can't afford it. Eating as close to home is the next best thing for us.
What about things like coffee, rice, flour, cereal, canned goods, etc.? For me this is where it gets harder. Honestly I have no idea where many of these items are grown. The packaging does not always say which makes it hard to find out. If you really want to find out though, you can email the company for specifics. The closer to home the product is produced the better for the environment. Also better for your wallet. As transportation costs rise, those increases are passed along to the consumer. If what you are buying does not travel as far, then the costs won't be as great, hopefully making the items cost less.
For us buying locally changes throughout the year depending on the season. For other people their definition of buying locally might be different. Some might limit it to the county, others might limit it to their state or country, while others might decide on their continent. It is up to you to decide what is local for you. But remember that the closer to your home a product is the better for the environment and the lower the cost should be.