Local versus Sustainable

As the movement towards buying and consuming “local” foods gains in popularity, a definition of what constitutes “local” comes to mind. One definition states “food grown in X miles of the consumer” with no clear definition of what those miles are. Another definition is within a local region e.g.: Willamette Valley or Rogue Valley, Oregon. And yet again, local may mean within one day of travel to the consumer, possibly up to 500 miles. Local does not, however, necessarily mean fresh, nutritious, or produced in a manner that is environmentally responsible.

Sustainable is the word referring to a food growing system that cares for the land it is grown on by growing crops organically and without chemicals, and is fresh and healthful. When considering freshness, buying sustainable should mean within one day of transport from farm to consumer. Consumers are best able to obtain sustainable food by cutting out the middle man and buying in co-ops, farmers markets, or through Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA). In all three consumer options the middle man is cut out of the purchasing process. Even though the consumer may pay a little bit more for the end product, there is comfort in knowing who grew the food, the philosophy of the grower, and provides support to the local economy by continuing to employ residents of the community.

Be aware while you are being conscientious of buying “local”. A little extra research and asking questions can make the difference in how you purchase and what you eat that supports an ethic you believe in.

For more information on sustainable food systems, log on to www.sustainabletable.org .
Sustainable Table?

We all know that sometimes buying local puts a hole in our pocket difficult to stitch up. Many have become aware of the dangers of food preservatives , additives, genetically modified crops and other mass corporation market issues.  Setting aside possible “dangers” of not buying local I think it is important to look at an often over looked bigger issue here, the benefits to our environment.  I questioned co-workers and fellow students and collectively heard most are just concerned on the individual or family level about the possible harm from transported or chemically altered food.  Would more people buy locally if they knew the impacts this had on the environment?

Environmentally, buying locally is a large step in the right direction.

What’s all this talk about global warming? Well rather you agree or know much about the term global warming,  there are benefits of eating locally grown food correlated with reducing global warming.  Food that you consume that is not local has to get to you somehow right? Well usually that is done with gas-guzzling transportation. What else does buying local do for our environment? It maintains our farmland and green open space, minimizes the industrial agricultural which can adversely pollute the air, surface and groundwater. It can also degrade soil quality including erosion and can cause loss of biodiversity. The two websites I included before have much more detail on the issue for further reading.

In short, would buying local help save our environment? Food for thought.


How do you define Local Food?

I have come across some great literature surrounding our term’s topic of “The Economics of Traveling Food.”  There is definitely a growing movement toward buying food from local communities.  The movement has some very good economic and environmental reasons backing their decision.
From the economic perspective, buying food locally is one of the ways people can support business in the community they live in.  This helps keep people employed and improves the overall quality of living.
Environmentally speaking, transporting food from one part of the world to another takes gasoline and other fossil fuels.  Buying local food minimizes the amount of fuel needed to transport the food to the customer.  This, in turn, minimizes the environmental impact from carbon emissions and other pollutants.
But, what does “local food” actually mean? One definition, adopted by the US Congress in the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, states the following (according to the USDA): “the total distance that a product can be transported and still be considered a "locally or regionally produced agricultural food product" is less than 400 miles from its origin, or within the State in which it is produced”.  However, the USDA recognizes, there is no consensus on the definition of “local food”.  This means, much of the burden of deciding what is considered “local”, is left up to the consumer.
This question gives us (as consumers) much more to think about over and above just what to buy.  With thinking about how we define “local food”, we are forced to think about how we want to vote with our dollar.  Questioning this helps us become better informed. 
So, in conclusion, I leave you with some food for thought: How would you define local food?  

"Are We Having Colin for Dinner?"

You may have seen this clip from Portlandia and laughed at the need to know the name of the chicken you are about to eat but with the health risks and environmental concerns of processed food, this might serve as a new guideline. Once exclusive to the "foodies", words like; "organic, "grass-fed", "natural, and "hormone-free" have been overwhelming the aisles at your local market. These days, the average consumer fears the hidden content of their beloved snacks and Sunday night dinner. The task of understanding what these terms (and many other buzzwords), can turn a starving man running to the streets in search of a McDonald’s.
Don’t fall the clutches of that happy meal just yet! There is a website called Real Time Farms, a user generated site that allows you to track where your food came from and (better yet) find resources for fresh local food.
You can follow your food back to its source! Although, I will not make any guarantee you will be on a first name basis with your Chicken Marsala.  In Portland, alone, Real Time Farms has found over 130 Portland area farms and 120 food artisans, 30 farmers markets, and shot and uploaded over 1500 photos. Getting involved with your local food resources has never been so easy.

Making a case for buying locally.

In beginning my research on whether buying locally is better for everyone vs. market pricing and shipping food around the world for production, I found a website that makes a very good case for buying locally from farmers markets. This website is created by the Farmers Market Coalition. They believe very strongly in buying local produce from local farmers and only buying products that are grown, harvested, processed, and sold locally. They make very good points to their case:

Produce is guaranteed to be fresh and healthy - It is taught in many nutrition and health classes that produce loses nutritional value the more time that goes by from the moment of harvest. At farmers markets the farmers don't travel very far to sell their products, they are local farmers selling at their local farmers markets. With farmers traveling no more than 50 miles in most cases, and in many cases no more than 10 miles to sell their crops we can be sure that the crops are as fresh as possible. This is better than in other cases where it can take produce anywhere from a week to two weeks to become available in a supermarket from the time they are picked.

Prices are fair to you and the farmer - There have been studies done in various areas and through various organizations and communities that show the cost of fruits and vegetables is comparable if not cheaper at a farmers market vs. in a supermarket. Not only are the costs fair or cheaper for you at a farmers market but at the same time the farmers walk away with a fair and greater share of the retail price than they would if they sold their produce wholesale to a store or supermarket. Buying from a farmers market is more beneficial financially in many cases for everyone.

The following link is a very helpful and informational chart on the benefits of buying locally from farmers markets. I enjoyed it and hope you will too!

Farmer Joe Just Wants You to Be Healthy

Farmer Joe is a 50 year old man who, in his hi-waders and marsh boots wakes up every morning at 5 to oversee his 100 acre farm. He is passionate about healthy living, especially since his sister passed away last year due to Cancer. He is old fashioned in his beliefs and thinks that healthy living is our only defense against the disease of the modern world. He believes food is medicine.

His passion for healthy living is manifested in the quality organic foods he considers his children . This compels him to work long hard hours of physical labor so he can bring more goodness of the earths crops without compromised quality. He openly believes that the food we are consuming on a daily basis is deteriorating our health.  He works hard in the field harvesting corn that wasn't treated with pesticides or chemicals. He believes in organic living the way nature intended.

To support his beliefs in the summers he travels up to the Portland Farmers Market in his 2004 Honda Civic to bring his goods to the public. He brings an array of foods that are staples in his diet. Corn, Tomatoes, Carrots, Peppers, even fresh milk which is so creamy and delicious sometimes he can just have a glass for breakfast and be satisfied. He swears his food tastes better than anything you buy at Whole Foods, plus its cheaper too. He can tell you exactly where the food came from and the processes he uses to ensure the quality and integrity of the food remains intact.

The money he earns he puts back into his farm to invest in higher quality farming materials so that in a month he can come back up and have more supply to offer people locally grown crops and encourage them to take on healthier living. The sort of inspiration he lives by is contagious and makes a great case for buying local. While he cannot change the world as one lone farmer he believes in the concept of bringing farmers together and promoting the change of healthy living locally is one small step he can take to make the community a stronger and healthier place while he is still on this earth.

You can visit the Portland Farmers market starting this summer June 5th at
NW 19th Ave & NW Everett St
Portland, OR 97209

Food, Jobs, and Laws

The question that we are presented with is: What are the pros and cons of buying food locally vs. buying food that has potentially traveled a great distance to get to your local store. While there are a great many things to consider on this topic, the thing that currently interests me is in the link between health, food, and the law.

Specifically, should the government be able to enforce rules that make people eat more healthy foods? Things such as sugar taxes, banning trans fat, and eliminating toys from Happy Meals are a few things that have been talked about to push people in the right direction when it comes to healthy eating.

This issue becomes even more complex when we add in the outside players such as foreign factories that make some of the food that we buy. If we were given incentives to buy locally, for example, that would probably hurt foreign workers as much as it helped our own diets.

Is there a happy medium between healthy food, fair laws, and good jobs for all? Can we have our healthy cake and eat it too?