Posted on February 7, 2011 - by

What’s in a Food Mile? (Part 2)

Last week, I took a look at the myth of the food mile, and gave some reasons on why this number grossly oversimplifies the environmental impact of a food. Now what? The average consumer has no way of tabulating all the production and distribution knowledge needed to assess how green a food is; this would most likely require some serious research chops and access to academic resources.

Well, the locavore movement is certainly not dead yet. Even though you cannot prove that your locally-sourced foods are better for the planet, there are other reasons to continue buying from your region’s farmshed.

First and foremost, buying local means that your money stays local, supporting your community’s farmers, small businesses and industries. After all, the health of your local economy directly impacts you, your friends and your neighbors.

Secondly, you can get to know your local farmers, learn how their workers are treated, and investigate exactly how your food was grown. Not only is this a valuable knowledge resource, but it is impossible to develop the same human connection with a distant brand name and manufacturer.

Of course, like everything else in life, this argument is shrouded in shades of gray. Buying from a local farmer means that you may have passed up an opportunity to buy from farmers in underdeveloped countries. Access to international markets could dramatically improve the livelihoods of farmers in Latin America, Africa, and other major agricultural exporters. Mark Ashurst of the African Research Institute argues that it is important to support African farmers for ethical reasons. He notes, “Two thirds of Kenya’s horticulture harvest is exported in the holds of passenger aircraft that bring tourists home from Africa’s natural parks and beaches. If we are to avoid buying African vegetables, as local food activists advocate, we are penalizing some of the world’s most vulnerable people for the carbon footprint of holidaymakers.” Perhaps we should be looking at “fair miles” instead?

In the end, the best advice I can give is to buy mostly in season, from pretty close. Overall, it will be cheaper for your wallet, fresher and taste better to boot.

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    February 7, 2011


    Justin McKeel said:

    An interesting take, and something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

    One thing I’d like to point out is that by supporting African and South American farmers you are also supporting their shift to monoculture farms and a domestic price increase.

    A great example of this price increase is with quinoa in Bolivia:

    I think instead of trying to justify our global food economy we need to be focusing on buying local foods and pushing towards making our own local food production more sustainable.

    “Buy mostly in season, from pretty close”

    The best advice anyone could give.

    I’m enjoying your blog – wish I would have stumbled upon it earlier!

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    February 7, 2011


    Crystal Cun said:

    An excellent article–on one hand, farmers can send their children to medical school; on the other hand they soon may not be able to buy the quinoa that they are producing.

    In the end, it is probably best to develop strong, locally sustainable food systems that are less prone to the vagaries of far-away political, economic and environmental change.

    Thanks for reading!