Search This Blog

Monday, December 10

make mine local please, with a snark-free chaser

I'm getting a mite tired of the compulsion to debunk the 'buy local' movement. The piece I read at NY Times almost careens into self-parody in the questions it raises because some dudes at UC Davis are apparently raising questions. Let's not forget common sense, folks. Use your brain, don't believe everything you read or are told, and don't forget to research organic options that are local. And for pete's sake, try to walk or bike to the market, don't drive your urban assault vehicle or hummer. If you have to drive, how about organizing a weekly shopping outing with friends or neighbors.

Buying local means purchasing foods that are raised nearby, of course, as opposed to trucked or flown in from hither thither and yon. It lowers carbon footprint, it supports local agriculture, and it puts focus back on family and smaller farms because those are the ones you see represented at farmers' markets.

It retrains our palates to consume in a seasonal fashion, which is something that Big Agro has nearly obliterated from our psyche. It also means not eating gassed tomatoes, not eating the same mesclun mix as my buddies on the opposite coast, and consuming something with (dare I say it?) more reverence and soul in it. Gah, that's airy fairy for this morning. Anyway,
While the research is not yet complete, Tom Tomich, director of the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, said the fact that something is local doesn’t necessarily mean that it is better, environmentally speaking.

The distance that food travels from farm to plate is certainly important, he says, but so is how food is packaged, how it is grown, how it is processed and how it is transported to market.

Consider strawberries. If mass producers of strawberries ship their product to Chicago by truck, the fuel cost of transporting each carton of strawberries is relatively small, since it is tucked into the back along with thousands of others.

But if a farmer sells his strawberries at local farmers’ markets in California, he ferries a much smaller amount by pickup truck to each individual market. Which one is better for the environment?

Mr. Tomich said a strawberry distributor did the math on the back of an envelope and concluded that the Chicago-bound berries used less energy for transport. Maybe. Regardless, the story raises valid questions.
What I wanna know, is if those strawberries were grown in soil treated with methyl bromide. I'd also like to know which strawberry distributor did math on the back of an envelope to argue that berries bound for Chicago used less energy for transport. (Dudes, less energy than what? Oh, sorry, you meant less energy than the biodiesel-fueled truck that is also transporting carrots, turnips, end-of-season tomatoes, peppers, and squashes. Silly me.) [/end pithy editorializing]

These guys are also calling packaging into question, which is legit, IMHO. Packaging is a non-issue if you're shopping at the farmers' markets, though. Most of the ones I frequent are quite serious on BYOB, and if you don't have your own bag, they'll begrudgingly give you a soon-to-be-banned polypropylene bag, which you will feel compelled to pack to the stretching point with all of your produce.

Eating local is about eating in a methodical fashion, rather than convenient. It means cooking all your meals, too; it necessitates meal-planning. I think this is what gets lost on some of the folks who think it sounds kinda neat, but boy it's awful hardcore to get into. Sometimes convenience wins out, sure.

It also means eschewing prepackaged foods wherever you possibly can (remember, Big Agro's high fructose corn syrup and dubious soy products make it into prepared foods in a plethora of ways), which eliminates the packaging that these guys at UC are questioning. Again, common sense. Seasonal and local means cooking, which eliminates most prepackaged foods.

In the end I'm glad to see this subject covered by the NY Times. Really. Any mention is better than none, and this is more positive than much of the knee-jerk, "What's all the fuss with this organic shit?"-type stuff. I'd like us readers to be credited with some horse sense on how to do the local thing in a meaningful fashion, though. It's a paradigm shift, and we really are all invited.

(Sara has quite a bit of experience in recycling and environmental issues. Please give her a warm Blondesense welcome. - Liz)

No comments: