Local food makes sense, right? Food that’s grown closer tastes better, travels fewer miles, and supports the community. My family likes to grow our own veggies, buy beef from a friend, and pick fruit locally and is quite partial to Michigan’s red haven peaches and Indiana’s cantaloupes.
Likewise, my family also enjoys pineapples from Puerto Rico, almonds from California, and strawberries in February from Florida—all thousands of miles away from my kitchen. Is it wrong of me to want fresh fruit for my family when there is snow on the ground? Not necessarily.
Eating local food seems like common sense, until you read The Locavores Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet. If you’re into food, I recommend the book, though it’s a very cerebral read. Authors Desrochers and Shimizu summarize “Turning our back on the global food supply chain, and in the process, reducing the quantity of food produced in the most suitable locations will inevitably result in larger amounts of inferior land being put under cultivation.”
As it turns out, producing food requires a lot more energy than transporting food, particularly if heating or cooling of the products is necessary during transport. For example, shipping freshly picked apples from New Zealand in that country’s summer to the United Kingdom during its winter is actually more sustainable because less energy is used in cold storage. Apples grown in the United Kingdom and stored for five to nine months (experiencing normal food loss rates) used 8 to 16 percent more energy in studies cited in The Locavores Dilemma.
To quote the authors on the myth of locavorism healing the earth: “A world with modern agriculture will dramatically curtail our impact on the environment. Increased competitive pressures cause farmers to constantly find new and better ways of doing things, including economies of scale, relocating their operations or increasing their purchases from businesses located in more suitable areas—which will spare nature while increasing production.”
How much does it cost to heat your house in the dead of winter? The same is true for a greenhouse in New York trying to grow tomatoes. But if those tomatoes are grown in sunlight and shipped in, they are likely to not only taste better, but also require less total energy use.
The same is true for frozen or canned fruits. The USDA’s My Plate calls for fruit and vegetables as an essential part of a healthy diet. Canned foods are comparable to cooked and fresh varieties in their nutrient contribution—all provide needed nutrients that make a healthy diet. That does not change whether the produce was grown 25 or 2,500 miles away.
Local is great when it’s available. Canned fruit also meets nutrient requirements. So does frozen produce. What matters is you are getting produce on your plate—not whether it was grown in the same zip code or not.
Read more at Food Truths to Farm to Table and take a trip around the grocery store to be armed with 25 truths you urgently need to know about food so you can shop without guilt, confusion, or judgment. Learn the truths so you can recognize marketing and move on. A new book, Food Bullying, is expected late 2019.