These days, fewer trends in food and diet are hotter than “eating local”, prompting more and more people to consider where their food is coming from and how it is being produced. Eating local is widely hailed as being great for local business and most agree that local fresh produce simply tastes better. Locally produced fruits and vegetables help to support the livelihoods of small local farmers and typically offer consumers the freshest (and most delicious) produce at lower prices. But even despite these widespread benefits, the question remains: what are the environmental benefits of eating local?
The production of food can be highly energy intensive, requiring great amounts of oil that in turn releases CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. The emission of greenhouse gases is especially pronounced in large-scale agriculture where crop cultivation is heavily dependent on machinery powered by fossil fuels. On the other hand, local agriculture is often more environmentally friendly in this regard.
The other way that eating locally decreases your diet’s carbon footprint is by minimizing the distance your produce must travel from where it is grown to your home. When your favorite apples or peppers are produced on the other side of the country or even the world, they must be somehow transported thousands of miles, whether by plane, train, or truck. In each case, high amounts of greenhouse gas emitting energy must be used in order to bring the fruits and vegetables to you. Eating locally therefore reduces the environmental effects of your diet by decreasing the distance your food must travel from the farm to your home.
Yet eating locally is not only for those of us looking to be conscious of our carbon footprint. It is important to draw a distinction between organic (no pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or genetic modifications) and local produce because not all local produce is organic and not all organic produce is local. However, buying locally, such as at a farmers market, often provides more information about how the product was farmed. Usually, those that are actually responsible for the produce are there to explain to you how the produce was farmed and if they have used pesticides or fertilizers, what or how much of these have been used and what their effects are.
With so many choices today about where we can purchase our food, it is important to know as much as possible about where and how it is produced. By choosing to eat locally, consumers are not only opting for better taste, often lower prices, and promotion of their local economy, they’re also choosing to contribute to the betterment of our world for generations to come.
Photo by DC Central Kitchen