Eat Conscious and Local, Part 2

>> Monday, November 10, 2008

A comment on my last post got me thinking more about what I wrote, and as long as my last post was, I've found that I have more to say on the subject. Actually, the "local" topic is so broad that I have tons to say on the subject (and believe me you'll hear it at some point). I tried in my last post just to kind of introduce my thoughts, but now you get to hear even more.

I think it's easy to hear a new idea, think "That sounds like a good plan," and jump right in before hearing all sides of the argument. Then when you finally hear the other side, you're so deep into your own opinions that you don't want to listen for fear you might find out you could have been wrong.

I've been guilty of this mistake many times. Just ask my husband. But I try to look at both sides of an argument before making an opinion, and that's why you're often going to hear me say, "These people say this, and these people say this, and I think this..."

There are two sides to every argument, and most of the time, both sides have some merit even if I don't agree with them. Consider these examples.

1. Taking animals off of farms and feeding them government subsidized corn has made food unbelievably cheap, virtually eliminating hunger in the United States. On the other hand, the animals are cramped into too small spaces, corn is not their natural diet, and cheap food has contributed to rampant obesity.

2. Big businesses exploit workers all over the world and create a huge disparity between the really rich and the really poor. On the other hand, big businesses provide economic security both at an individual and nationwide level.

3. Cheap plastic crap wastes natural resources and energy and takes up space in the landfill. On the other hand, as Arduous so elequently puts it, "American demand for plastic shower curtains produced in China is helping to pull many Chinese young men and women out of poverty. While I might not encourage people to buy new plastic shower curtains from an environmental point of view, I cannot deny that shower curtain factories produce jobs for people who desperately need them."

If you're keen on the idea of eating local, at least make sure you're aware of the other side of the argument:

"As concerned consumers and environmentalists, we must be prepared to seriously entertain these questions. We must also be prepared to accept that buying local is not necessarily beneficial for the environment. As much as this claim violates one of our most sacred assumptions, life cycle assessments offer far more valuable measurements to gauge the environmental impact of eating. While there will always be good reasons to encourage the growth of sustainable local food systems, we must also allow them to develop in tandem with what could be their equally sustainable global counterparts. We must accept the fact, in short, that distance is not the enemy of awareness." - New York Times, Aug. 2007

"We find that although food is transported long distances in general (1640 km delivery and 6760 km life-cycle supply chain on average) the GHG emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase, contributing 83% of the average U.S. household’s 8.1 t CO2e/yr footprint for food consumption. Transportation as a whole represents only 11% of life-cycle GHG emissions, and final delivery from producer to retail contributes only 4%. Different food groups exhibit a large range in GHG-intensity; on average, red meat is around 150% more GHG-intensive than chicken or fish. Thus, we suggest that dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household’s food-related climate footprint than “buying local.” Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food." Environmental Science and Technology, April 2008

There's also this article I read in The Economist which I can't access anymore, but if you have a subscription to The Economist...

Personally, I think it's great to buy local: It supports your local economy. It may save the family farm. It's fresher. There's more variety in the types of fruits and vegetables available. The ultimate local - planting a garden in your backyard - will make you more self-sufficient, and if you have kids, will teach them where their food comes from and give them a connection to nature...But I think the jury is still out on whether it's best for the environment with our current infrastructure. And as I already said, I think it's also important to buy organic and fair trade, to support small businesses, and to build community by buying from people you know. Local is just one item on the big menu of good things you can do for people and the planet.


Joyce November 11, 2008 at 12:06 AM  

This is a nice balanced post, and brings up so many things I have thought about. I don't think there are any blanket solutions, but if the majority of the energy inputs are occuring at the factories, and with packaging, why not just work at making things from scratch, instead of using prepared foods? Other than gardening in your own back yard, that might be the quickest way to sustainable eating.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper November 11, 2008 at 6:54 AM  

Joyce, I woke up this morning remembering that I forgot to include what I felt grateful for yesterday. I was going to say: I am grateful for dissenting opinions, which help me clarify my thoughts, reconfirm my beliefs, or show me when I'm wrong, even when I don't want to admit it.

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