Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Localvore's Dilemma- Boston Globe Article

A great article from Drake Bennett in the Boston Globe a couple of weeks ago. Discusses the environmental concerns and challenges of eating locally in a northern climate, with emphasis on the importance of eating seasonally. -elena
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AT VARIOUS POINTS in the coming months, a few hundred of Vermont's most ethical eaters will take the "Localvore Challenge." The actual dates of the challenge vary from town to town, but the idea is that, for a single meal, or a day, or an entire week, participants will eat only food that was grown or raised within 100 miles of where they live.

Vermont's localvores (also known as "locavores" or "locatarians") and their counterparts around the country are part of a burgeoning movement. In recent years, as large companies with globe-straddling supply networks have come to dominate organic agriculture, "local" has emerged as the new watchword of conscientious consumption. Over the past year and a half, the interest in local food has been fueled by best-selling memoirs and manifestos about local eating and dietary self-sufficiency, such as Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," Bill McKibben's "Deep Economy," and Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma."

The case for local food is several-fold: It tastes better, its proponents argue, and preserves species biodiversity. It shores up small-scale economies and communities in the face of globalization and cultural homogenization. It even, some of its advocates claim, protects against terrorism: a decentralized food system could limit the impact of a virus or other bio-agent introduced into the food supply.

One of the arguments most often heard, however, is about energy. And at a time of rising concern about climate change, the great distances that most of our food travels are a potent symbol of the system's profligacy and cost in greenhouse gases. For local-food activists, "food miles" have become a favored measure of environmental impact. Food activists in the US and especially in Western Europe have pushed to put the term on menus and grocery-store labels.

"[T]he typical item of food on an American's plate travels some fifteen hundred miles to get there," Michael Pollan writes in "The Omnivore's Dilemma," "and is frequently better traveled and more worldly than its eater."

But a gathering body of evidence suggests that local food can sometimes consume more energy -- and produce more greenhouse gases -- than food imported from great distances. Moving food by train or ship is quite efficient, pound for pound, and transportation can often be a relatively small part of the total energy "footprint" of food compared with growing, packaging, or, for that matter, cooking it. A head of lettuce grown in Vermont may have less of an energy impact than one shipped up from Chile. But grow that Vermont lettuce late in the season in a heated greenhouse and its energy impact leapfrogs the imported option. So while local food may have its benefits, helping with climate change is not always one of them.

"All things being equal, it's better if food only travels 10 miles," says Peter Tyedmers, an ecological economist at Nova Scotia's Dalhousie University. "Sometimes all things are equal; many times they aren't."

Read the rest of the article here


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