What is local food?
While there is no standardized definition, local food can be the food people grow in their backyard, the fruit and vegetables they buy from the farmer at the farmer’s market, or the calf raised to be taken to neighborhood butcher that is now sitting expectantly in the freezer. Local food is any food grown or produced in a particular region (to some it means within 100 miles, to other people it is defined as 500 miles) that minimizes food miles, puts money back into the local economy, and retains personal contact between producers and consumers.
Why buy it?
- Meat grown conventionally and from fast food restaurants is generally the product of factory farming. Factory farms produce on average about 335 milllion tons of untreated waste each year, and in fecal contamination of watersheds, 32-65% is from ruminant waste and correlates to high concentrations of bacteria such as E. coli.
- Local food is fresher because it has not traveled over 1500 miles (the average distance the average conventionally produced food travels!) to get to the dinner table, and it generally retains greater nutritional value. Read more about food miles and the benefits of a regional food system here.
Antibiotics, Health, and Economics
- About 18,000 Americans die annually as a result of drug-resistant infections, and the National Academy of Sciences states that health care costs due to antibiotic resistant bacteria come to $4 billion each year in the United States. Sustainably grown meat does not overuse antibiotics, and diverts water runoffs so that it does not enter the watersheds and makes meat safe for human consumption.
Support the local economy
- Eating local food has the potential to increase a farmer’s income by 5%, and 90 % of the money goes back to the local farmer. When a consumer shops at a conventional grocery store, only 7% of the money stays in the local economy - the rest pays the processors, packagers, truck drivers, and fuel cost for transporting the food. See this study for more information about the life cycle-based sustainability indicators in the food system.
- Get to know the farmers - learn their stories and the important role many of them play as they give back to the city, region, county, or state. Join a growing movement and support your community.
- (see 10 ways to eat local on a budget below)
Reduce water and air pollution
- According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, agriculture accounts for 72% of ammonia emissions, and it is the major contributor of methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Food produced sustainably comes from farms focused on minimizing use of herbicides or synthetic fertilizers that contribute to air and water pollution.
- According to the World Bank, over 8000 species of plants, 1500 species of mammals, and 1500 species of fish are threatened by the intensification of agriculture. Sustainably produced food uses such methods as crop rotation, cover crops, multi-species crops, and livestock herds to promote diversity and create a healthy ecosystem.
- Industrial farms produce more food per worker, but smaller, sustainable farms produce more food per acreage. Smaller, sustainable farming operations create more jobs and produce more food.
Reduce Environmental Stress
- Local and regional food systems produce 17 times less carbon dioxide than conventional food systems.
Eating local on a budget!
- Shop the bulk. The best way to save some money is to shop the bulk section. Bloomingfoods, Sahara Mart, and some chain grocery stores have bulk sections with nuts, rice, beans, polenta, quinoa, other grains, and more available in large quantities. They have cheaper prices, will last you a while (fewer trips to the store!), and they use less packaging.
- Selective vegetarianism. The vegetarian lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and for those who still like to eat bacon, there are ways to still reduce your carbon footprint. Try eating vegetarian all day except for dinner, or only eat meat on the weekends. Also, some meats have more of an environmental impact than others - check out this resource explaining the impact of different kinds of food. You can also monitor how much meat you consume by buying enough meat for one week, portioning it out, and using it when needed. While meat is delicious, cutting down on it is both environmentally and economically smart.
- Have a plan. Roaming through the aisles with no plan is the fastest way to spend too much money on food for only one or two days. First, establish how much money you are going to dedicate for food per week. Sit down, once a week, and plan out what you are going to eat. Write it down, and then make a grocery list based off of that. Buy bulk yogurt or bread and jam for breakfast. Make sure that the ingredients you purchase can be used for more than one recipe. Having a meal plan guarantees you have wholesome food every day while sticking to your budget.
- Use a basket or a cart. By using one of these you can visually see what you're spending money on. If it’s on the list, put it in the cart. If it’s not on the list, it stays on the shelf.
- Splurge on spices. Spices are a great way to flavor basic staples like beans, rice, and pasta. Save your splurge money on spices instead of junk food or snacks at 3 AM.
- Necessities. Canned tomatoes, bread, peanut butter, honey, salt, etc. A well-stocked pantry will ensure that you have the tools you need to make delicious food and that you don’t have to run out for every little ingredient that a recipe specifies.
- Utilize the market. The farmers' market has great deals, it just takes a little research. If a certain fruit or vegetable is at the start of the season, it will be more expensive. Opt for fruits and veggies that will last in the refrigerator for the week or that can freeze easily. When things are in peak season, then almost every table will have it and the price will go down.
- Make ahead and freeze. Making a large casserole, lasagna, or a big batch of soup will ensure that on nights where you are tired and don’t want to cook anything you don’t run out and spend money on dinner. Instead, have foods that you have made and frozen that you can just pop in the oven and relax until it is done.
- Freshness and fastness. The fresher an ingredient is, the less you have to cook it and the more nutrients it retains. Buy just enough fresh produce for what you need. It is quicker to cook, so you free up some time, and if you don’t buy too much, it won’t go to waste. If you happen to overindulge in those veggies, you need not worry! By the time the end of the week comes around, it is simple to mix those leftover veggies into a quick Sunday soup, stew, or salad.
- Don’t waste. Leftovers are your friend. Use whatever you made for dinner for lunch the next day, or as a small afternoon snack. Just make sure that they aren’t in your refrigerator for more than two or three days. If you buy the food, make sure you eat it. Otherwise you are just throwing money away.