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.
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 http://www.lincoln.ac.nz/story21175.html for more information.
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.
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.