Eating locally can sound like yet another crazy food trend. Something sure to be complicated, expensive, and difficult. Here at Huntsville Eats, we believe that eating locally is both important and accessible–and even small shifts count. Dedicating just a small portion of your food spending to local sources can have a big impact. But before we give your our top five reasons for eating locally, let’s first define what we mean by that.
What Is Local Food?
For the purposes of this blog, we define “local food” as as food which is grown, produced, or sourced within a 100 mile radius (light green) and/or food which is prepared, cooked, and served within a 50 mile radius (bright green).
(Note: The definition of “local food” is subject to some interpretation. For instance, The United States Congress in Bill H.R. 2419 defines “local food” as food for which “..the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product; or ‘‘(II) the State in which the product is produced.”)
Why Does it Matter?
There are a plethora of reasons that people choose to eat locally. Here are our top five:
1. Food Security
Current trends in agriculture are moving our food system towards consolidated food processing, reduced diversity in varieties produced, and increased imports without additional FDA oversight. All of these undermine the security of our food system by undermining food safety or availability. If all of the processing of a specific food item is done in just a handful of factories, then an ecoli outbreak suddenly has the potential to touch a lot more lives. When the dominant variety of apple or tomato or banana is affected by a blight, that item may cease to be available. Food being imported without proper inspection may carry disease or unsavory additives. By buying local we help mitigate the risk by isolating the effects of outbreaks and having a deep bench of alternatives ready to fill in for afflicted crops.
2. Self Reliance
Our food is often a global traveler, and all that trucking, shipping, and flying uses a lot of oil. So when oil prices spike, so does the price of our food. Buying locally reduces our vulnerability to external forces.
3. Improved Local Economy
Dollars spent with local businesses tend to recirculate within our economy for a longer period of time than money spent with a multi-national corporation. This has a “multiplier effect” when that money is used to create local jobs and support other local and regional businesses.
4. Higher Quality and Less Waste
Food which is being shipped globally is manipulated (often by exposure to ethylene) to appear ripe at the time it reaches the grocery store. The “beauty contest” standards of our local produce sections means that large quantities of produce are tossed simply for not conforming to artificial standards (for instance: being crooked, falling outside standard size parameters, having small cosmetic blemishes…). Local food is fresher by default–it hasn’t had to travel across the globe to reach you–and you can be the arbiter of cosmetic standards for yourself.
5. Personal Connections
Buying locally allows you to have a personal connection both with your local makers and your food. You can meet your farmers, bakers, and chefs and talk with them about their process. Concerned about the humane treatment of animals? You can engage with a farmer directly. Curious about why one variety of tomato is more prevalent instead of another? You can ask! You are also able to get a more intimate knowledge of your food–how it’s grown and what it looks like when curated solely for taste.