An email inquiry from a local high school student asked me:
What is the importance/benefit of eating locally grown foods?
Do you think people here are conscious about imported foods and eating locally?
If so how did they become conscious? If not what can be done to inform them about the benefits?
Thank goodness he’s asking!
There are many important things about eating local food, but I think one of the most important is the connection consumers make with the farmer who is a member of your community and the farmer’s commitment to you and the quality of the food they grow. When you eat local food there is accountability to the food. The environmental benefit is that the food doesn’t travel far; the health benefit is that it is fresher and packed with more nutrients, the financial benefit is that the money you pay for food stays in your community. Local food is believed to be more important than organic for the environment, with the argument being that while organic food is better for the environment because of less pesticides, it’s actually the savings on fossil fuels to deliver the food that outweigh the organic benefits (to the environment). The best news is, most local food, because there is a face to it, requires some accountability and follows most organic standards even if not “certified.”
Here? Meaning Jackson or Teton Valley? I would say that sadly consumers from Jackson are more conscious, but the actual farmers from Teton Valley less conscious. The problem is that local food is neither cheap nor easy to get. The wealthier you are the more you are able to “eat local.” This is one of the great inequalities I try to address as a food activist and I’m now running for Teton County Idaho County Commissioner. That being said, I think Teton Valley residents are more likely to grow their own, and for a century have been the original cheerleaders for local food.
I think people are conscious, that is not the issue. The issue is changing their attitude to accept the fact that local food will always cost more than food coming from huge corporations where the cost of food is “externalized” meaning the cost is less because perhaps the people who grow it are paid very little, or the people who sell it don’t have health insurance, or the people who buy it are getting sick from obesity and poisoning over time from toxins in our food. Until we have a paradigm change where people value more paying for good food than they do an ipod or a car or clothes or a SUV, local food will never be a viable option.
There are some downsides to local food. One, of course, is the cost. The other is the reality that while local food is a nice idea, it can’t feed entire cities/countries. We are beyond that point. Another is concern for the people around the world who do grow food and depend on the global market for any kind of prosperity. There are some global social justice issues re: what happens to banana farmers in Ecuador if the US pulls out of the global market? So importing food is not necessarily bad. I think what’s bad is the processing of food.
Me? I have a philosophy of “virtuous globalization” where I try to be conscious of what I buy and if I can get it locally/seasonally then I do. But there are many things like cheese, wine, olive oils, artisan foods that are from around the world that if we don’t buy her in the US and Western world risk the loss of entire cultures. For example, some artisan cheese or salami from Italy that has been made for generations, the global market becomes its only chance for survival.
That’s what I think! Please send me your final report and good luck.