by Jen Maiser
The Boston Globe published an article this week titled "The Localvore's Dilemma." In it, the author outlines the question of whether eating locally-grown food really is better for energy consumption than growing the food far away in an area meant to grow that particular product and bringing it in to the cities using energy-saving methods (ie., train vs. truck). This is the same discussion that comes from Peter Singer's book, The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter and has been echoed recently by several other sources. Local is fine and can be energy efficient, asserts the Globe, but not when you are using greenhouses to grow out of season food that isn't normally grown in your area.
"Local means local in season," states Michael Pollan in the article. And I think he makes a point that we don't often stress on this site. Eating locally grown food most often means eating root vegetables, kale, and spinach in the winter and cherries only in May and June and tomatoes only in the months that they're in season -- unless you preserve or put them up in another way.
Two weeks ago, I purchased the first fresh tomato that I had bought since last November. Sure, there are some tomatoes available before then, but I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to my tomatoes. I like to wait until they are dead ready and in-season. And then I go crazy for a few months eating them at every meal possible.
I haven't completely bought into the idea that energy consumption can be significantly larger when purchasing locally grown food. As Marc Rumminger points out in his meticulous post about rice growing practices for Ethicurean, the topic can be extremely convoluted and is not completely black and white.
But the good news? Even if energy consumption were taken out of the list of pro's for eating local, we have many more reasons to eat locally grown food. Eating local means more for the local economy, locally grown produce is fresher, it often tastes better, locally grown fruits and vegetables have longer to ripen, it keeps us in touch with the seasons, it's fodder for a wonderful story, it protects us from bio-terrorism, it translates to more variety, and it supports responsible land development. If you'd like to read more about our reasons for eating locally grown food, see our 10 Reasons to Eat Local.
So personally, I'm not sweating the food miles. To me, it's a no-brainer to choose locally grown foods over foods brought in from thousands of miles away. And while I would like to, and will continue to, assume that the production and transportation cycle of local food spends less energy than imported food, I have so many more reasons to eat local.
Jennifer Maiser is the editor of the Eat Local Challenge blog and the author of Life Begins at 30.