Locavorism, for those who haven't heard the term, describes the practice of buying food grown within a 100 mile radius of where one lives, in an effort to cut back on one's carbon footprint. Once upon a time, access to imported, specialty items was reserved for the rich or well-connected connoisseur. Now, however, the committed locavore has to go far out of his or her way to forage enough food from their local region to survive. This is especially true in Hawaii, where most of our food is shipped over thousands of miles.
Is it worth the effort? Some say locavores could save the world. How much damage are we doing to the planet by transporting our food over more miles than most of us will travel in a lifetime? Some studies say not much, comparatively speaking. According to a study cited in Canada's National Post, 83% of emissions involved in the food you eat result from its manner of production. Only 4% result from its final delivery to the retailer. So, for example, if you live in England and buy your tomatoes from local heated greenhouses, you are actually contributing to four times the amount of CO2 than if you buy them from Spain, where heated greenhouses are unnecessary. The National Post concludes, "If left-wing posturing and green-posing is your priority, then stick with your 100-mile diet. Leave it to average consumers, buying the globally sourced groceries at their local, corporate, big-box retailer, to do genuine good for the planet."
Hmmm....Genuine good? How about "leave it to average consumers, buying globally sourced groceries at their local, corporate, big-box retailer, to inflict comparatively less damage on the planet." The fact is that human activity generates greenhouse gases. If you want to get really serious about solving the problem, you could try not driving, lighting a fire, opening the refrigerator or, um, breathing. Short of that, there are very practical ways to cut your greenhouse gas contribution in half. James McWilliams at Forbes.com, after pointing out how difficult it is to calculate the impact of processing methods, packaging, water usage and fertilizer application for local versus global food sources, concludes, "Until our food system becomes more transparent, there is one thing you can do to shrink the carbon footprint of your dinner: Take the meat off your plate. No matter how you slice it, it takes more energy to bring meat, as opposed to plants, to the table. It takes 6 pounds of grain to make a pound of chicken and 10 to 16 pounds to make a pound of beef....Give up red meat once a week and you'll save as much energy as if the only food miles in your diet were the distance to the nearest truck farmer. If you want to make a statement, ride your bike to the farmer's market. If you want to reduce greenhouse gases, become a vegetarian."
The locavore movement is founded on very real, practical concerns about the impact of agribusiness on food security, soil depletion and genetic diversity of crops, but I think the above critiques point out a flaw in following the letter of the locavore law, rather than the spirit. Growing up in Vermont, eating locally wasn't an –ism; it was a practical reality. We planted our own garden, harvested our own apples, canned our own applesauce, picked our own blackberries, pickled our own dilly beans and boiled down our own maple syrup. Eating local wasn't about making a statement; it was about taking advantage of the food in our backyard. Essentially, the success of locavorism rests on our willingness to be satisfied with the kinds of produce that grow naturally in our own region without extensive fossil fuel inputs. However, whether we’re able to limit ourselves to food grown in our immediate area or not, simply adopting a vegetarian diet will cut food-related emissions of greenhouse gases by over 60 percent.
At Down to Earth our credo is that “the single most important thing an individual can do for their health, for the environment, and for the sake of the innocent animals is to adopt a vegetarian diet.” Down to Earth is a big supporter of buying locally, and we do it whenever possible, but as the National Post and McWilliams point out, sometimes it may have unintended negative consequences. The adoption of a well-balanced vegetarian diet, however, is always a positive step.