Why I eat local food

I was trying to figure out how to explain my local food preferences to someone whose only concerns about food are “cheap” and “easy.” I thought of this way of explaining it:

Everybody has certain things they are willing to pay for in food. You might be willing to pay more for convenience (pre-washed salad greens), for a particular flavor (those perfect ginger snaps from World Market), or tradition (must have Saunders Hot Fudge at Christmas). I am willing to pay more for food for two main reasons: preserving the environment and grocery insurance.

When I say I buy organic foods to “save the earth,” most people understand that well enough to be getting along with. I don’t like to pollute, I want to be nice to the plants and animals, I’m a tree-hugging liberal hippie freak and that’s just what they do, etc. I think it’s a little more nuanced than that – or perhaps not nuanced at all; I don’t think anyone should have to drink poisoned well water as a result of agriculture – but it’s close enough that I don’t feel a need to explain any further.

My preference for local food is a bit more complex. Yes, I want to keep my money in my community. Yes, it’s often fresher, and also organic (whether certified or not). But the real reason I do it is so my community will have something to eat thirty years from now.

Look, gas prices are going to continue to rise. At some point – and maybe that will be in ten years or thirty or fifty, but I’m sure I’ll see it in my lifetime – gas will hit such a price that we won’t be able to afford to truck products across the country. Not to mention the price of producing the beef in the first place, fed on irrigated, petrochemical-soaked corn. At some point, it will cost more to produce and ship a pound of hamburger from the Plains states than anyone is willing or able to pay for that hamburger – so Plains states farmers will produce less of it.

No problem. That’s when it will make financial sense to buy beef from the local farmer who raises her cattle on grass, right?

Wrong. Because if, up until that date, I refuse to pay a little more per pound for local grass-fed beef, my local cattle farmers will go out of business and probably sell their farms to developers because they can’t make a living farming. So not only will the farmer not be in business, the farm itself might be gone, too.

I am currently financially able to buy the majority of my groceries from local sources. I see it as my responsibility to do so, not just to support my local farmers, but to create conditions that will keep my local foodshed thriving so it is available to feed as many people as possible when the day comes when we really need it.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Think this argument will sway any WalMart devotees?

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9 Comments

  1. aimee said,

    December 21, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    I don’t know, but I’ll forward it to my brother.

  2. December 22, 2009 at 3:38 am

    I usually talk about wanting to be healthier, and that people seem to understand.

  3. MK said,

    December 22, 2009 at 7:00 am

    I really think the only way we can convince people to eat local food is to teach them to cook first.

  4. TeacherPatti said,

    December 22, 2009 at 10:37 am

    I also think we need to get away from the idea that cooking “takes too long”. Really, most stuff doesn’t take that much longer than making it from a box. Some stuff does, but baking especially usually doesn’t take that much more time….

  5. Momster said,

    December 22, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    I have some moderate hopes for Wal-mart…a year ago I found organic arugula in March at Walmart. Since then, their Earthbound line has increased, as has a lot of other organics. They “forced” Kroger to increase their line of organics and now I can get a ton here in rural Michigan…50 miles from Whole Foods and Trader Joe. I see that change is coming…slowly with the easy stuff…veg and fruit…maybe soon with meat. I told local Kroger that I would buy more produce there if they marked it with the “local” pruveyor and they did! Law has to change for meats as farmers can’t sell to markets unless they are processed in USDA plants and our farmers have to truck their animals more than 100 miles and pay extra….kind of defeats the purpose!

  6. varmentrout said,

    December 23, 2009 at 6:53 am

    I totally agree with your argument. Buying local food is really in one’s own self-interest, not a symbolically virtuous act. That is because as you say, that is the only way we can have community food security (and you also get better food).

    Whether this argument will convert anyone who is not already susceptible to it, I doubt. Fortunately we are seeing a bit of a cultural shift and many people are more aware of the benefits of fresh and healthful food. However, people in this country and probably everywhere have shown that they will do whatever is easy and fun as long as they can afford it – or they will refuse to allocate a portion of their disposable income to something vague like supporting community agriculture if it means they can’t buy the latest electronic gadget.

    That said, it is worth doing what you do and telling everyone about it. We’ll hope that the culture will continue to shift, if not fast enough.

  7. Heather said,

    December 23, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    I heard on John Tesh (please don’t judge…it’s the Christmas music station :D) that more folks are buying organic food these days! Maybe the tide is turning?

    I’ll pass this along to FB folks. Keep working at it, lady. It’s people like you who are responsible for the turning of the tide.

  8. December 26, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    One reason I eat as locally as possible, which includes at the best raising it myself, is that I find that the sources of food problems occur with distance. As a general rule, the further away a supplier is from their customers the less they care about said customers. Conversely, people don’t tend to poison their neighbors as much. We have to live here. This links in with my point about why we are locating our butcher shop near our home – see point #4.


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