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The Eat Local Challenge
Erica Barnett, 29 Aug 07
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September brings the month-long Eat Local Challenge, hosted by the Eat Local Challenge website and Locavores. The emphasis this year--the third year of the challenge--will be on preserving September produce for the winter, when eating locally can be an exercise in monotony.

Why eat locally? One reason is that food grown locally did not travel far to get to your plate, thus conserving energy and emitting fewer greenhouse gasses in transport than something grown across the continent or half a world away. Another is that buying locally-produced food supports your region's smaller farms. Helping these farmers stay in business contributes to building local food security and keeping lands open instead of built up.

Here are a few changes Eat Local encourages people to make during September, along with some additional links, ideas, and information.

  • Commit to eating locally (however you choose or are able to define that, whether it be food from your backyard or produced within your state) for the entire month of September. Start small--for example, by replacing your fruit or vegetables with locally grown produce or coffee roasted in your region.
  • If you have a blog, write about your experiences and challenges, tagging them with an "EatLocalChallenge" tag so the folks at Eat Local can link to you.
  • Shop at your local farmers' market or subscribe to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. (For a guide to farmers' markets, farm stands, CSAs and restaurants that use ingredients from local producers in the US, go here. For a worldwide guide to open-air markets, including farmers' markets, go here.)
  • Can, freeze, or dry your summer produce so you can enjoy it year-round.
  • Ask your supermarket butcher or produce manager where their food comes from. Request locally grown produce, eggs, dairy, and meat. Do the same thing in restaurants you frequent, and get your friends to do the same.
  • Read some of the guides explaining why you should care where your food comes from, such as this one from FoodRoutes, this one from the 100-Mile Diet, or this slightly different take from the International Society for Ecology and Culture.
  • Grow some of your own food at home (even apartment-dwellers can grow herbs inside!) or in your community garden.
  • Find out about your local foodshed (there’s also this neat tool— available, unfortunately, for the US and Canada only—here.)
  • Modify your expectations. Not all food is available locally all year round; not all foods are available locally, period. Don’t like beets? Try winter squash, dark, leafy greens, potatoes, citrus fruits, apples, storage onions, winter berries, and other foods available from local producers during the winter. (And thaw the vegetables you froze over the summer.)
  • Finally, be realistic. Olive oil probably isn’t going to be available locally for most people; same thing with bananas, baking products, and many other items people eat every day. Don’t beat yourself up over a few ingredients from outside your foodshed; the point is to make as much of an effort to eat as much local food, and be as conscious about your eating habits, as possible.

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While I support the idea of eating locally grown and seasonal food, eating locally to avoid "food miles" only helps the environment if your local food can be grown energy-efficient. The concept of "Food miles" is not reliable to judge the eco-friendlyness of our food.

A Lincoln University, New Zealand study shows that food grown in New Zealand is more energy efficient than food produced in the UK, even when factoring in transport. See for more information.

Posted by: Gert on 29 Aug 07

For some of you living between Latitudes 30 to 45 (North or South), check out the work of Eliot Coleman and the "Four-Season Harvest." In essence, this involves growing cold-hardy crops under row covers inside unheated greenhouses. You can harvest fresh vegetables through the winter, without canning or freezing.

We do this. We've had fresh greens and other goodies from our unheated greenhouse all winter. Other things we grow are stored in a root cellar. No electricity required. I can't claim that this food is a large part of our calories, but it is a large part of our nutrition, since it's fresh and nutrient-laden.

By the way: that New Zealand study was about lamb, not food in general. It makes a good point about one foodstuff, less of a point about an entire diet. It does prove that if live in Britain, and you ate a diet of exclusively lamb, you'd use less energy importing the lamb from New Zealand than eating all British lamb. If that's your diet, more power to you - this study will be very useful. Otherwise, it's little more than one more data point.

Posted by: David Foley on 29 Aug 07

I need to apologize. The New Zealand study looked at lamb, dairy, apples and onions. This study seems to follow up one done earlier about just lamb. My main point is that a diet is more than any one foodstuff, so an analysis of local versus imported has to account for an entire diet, not just a few food items.

We all have a "diet footprint." Calculating it is hard. It's tempting to latch onto "local" or "comparative advantage" or another narrow viewpoint, but that won't capture what's really going on with our diets.

Posted by: David Foley on 29 Aug 07



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