Friday, January 25, 2013

Is Local Food the Answer?

In this fascinating post, the authors of Freakonomics talk about a study showing that eating local food may actually increase environmental and monetary costs.  Why?  Economists know that specialization reduces cost.  It actually make take less energy to grow something far away and transport it by boat to California, rather than just grow it here.

So local food may not be the answer to global warming.  But, was that the problem it was supposed to solve?

Growing and purchasing food locally has other advantages.  It makes food-born illness easier to track, as we know where the food is grown.  In an even larger sense, it promotes social cohesion and social interaction.

Many of the problems in our food system arise because we do not know where food comes from.  We do not know who grew it or how they grew it.  For instance, let's take eggs.  For those that eat animal products, would you eat an egg if you knew the hens lived in a crowded, dark shelter with feces covering the ground?  Or would you prefer to eat an egg that came from a farmer that you could ask how the animal lived, what it was fed, and how fresh the egg was?  Buying directly from a farmer does not require a food label; it just relies on talking.

We have created a society that is not in touch with real food.  We don't know what food is.  We think a Big Mac is food.  Buying locally restores our connection to where our food comes from.  We have to weigh those benefits with the possible negative consequences of local food.

We don't need to eat all our food locally.  We just need to be more conscious of where our food comes from.  Eating locally is only part of the answer to the problems with our food system.  It surely solves some problems, but not all.