Why I’m not “loco” for the local food movement…

Local Food MarketWhat is wrong with the way we eat? Well if you have read my previous blog…. Lots! Today I will be discussing some of the flaws (and benefits) of one of the more recent proposed solutions to our food system. While I do believe in a hybrid approach to helping some of our food problems in answer to the response “What is wrong with the way we eat?”, I do not think eating local alone is the solution.

Eating locally has received a good reputation for many reasons including the documented benefits to the environment, increased wealth in the local economy and personal incomes, and the establishment of a sense of community. Oh yeah- and local food may also taste fresher and arguably have more nutrition due to harvesting timing. Kind of makes me want to get to my local food market ASAP! Here I go! … Oh, except that it’s winter now and there is no local food market… Hmm, and now with some of the flaws:

It seems that while the local food movement is concerned with the environmental practices, critics may argue that a reduction in the miles food travels will not have a large impact on reducing pollution. Currently, not much is being done to reduce energy spent on other aspects of the food system including the harvesting, processing, consuming and recycling stages.  According to David Suzuki and several reports (Via Metro Connection, U of T), carbon emissions responsible for the delivery from farm to market accounts for about 4% of all emissions it takes to produce food, while 83% is dependent on how the food is produced before it leaves the farm. What about our personal food miles? I thought this was interesting- according to some new research conducted by professor Pierre Desrochers at U of T, the real problem to our environment is that most people drive to grocery stores! (You don’t say!). And our personal accountability doesn’t end there, according to Lisa Johnson, a CBC environmental reporter, she found that nearly a third of the environmental impact of the food we purchase is actually accounted for in the food that we throw in the garbage!

Mr. Desrochers  continues to say that certain places are better, that is, they use less energy to produce certain foods. For example California’s consistent weather conditions enable farmers to produce more strawberries using less energy because in Ontario we would require energy to heat production facilities.  This got me thinking… although I haven’t seen any research on the environmental impact of food production compared across the globe- this would be an interesting comparison as I would imagine that foods grown in less affluent countries  (less accessible oil, for example) would have a lower carbon footprint in the harvesting and processing stages as they may make greater use of manual labour.

Overall, while I commend the local food movement in making steps to reduce the cost of food our environment bares, what about all the other energy consuming activities? Anyone?

The local food movement may also increase jobs and local wealth as well as the economic accessibility of foods to consumers. Controversy may exist in terms of how ethical some of these new jobs are, since farm worker wages are often not regulated by the government (El Contrato, 2003). Some farms contract workers from across the globe and pay them low wages to be competitive in today’s market. Thus, an increase in some types of jobs may not actually be in the best interest of human dignity and does not reflect acceptability of the food system. Although, recent exposure of this issue in the media has largely stopped this from occurring (in Ontario) and many farms do pay their workers acceptable wages also. Some may also argue, that the sustainability of our food system depends on globalization because a local food approach may be a funny joke if you live anywhere outside of California. For example, where would we get our delicious OLEARIA SAN GIORGIO olive oil from?! Further, globalization helps build relations with other countries that have far greater implications then just having a variety of foods on the menu.

While the local food movement claims to initiate “community building,” critics argue that current policies of the local food movement are not all- inclusive and instead foster alienation and racism of individuals within the community. More specifically, an imbalance of power is created when a heterogeneous group- that of white, middle class individuals make decisions for a homogeneous population- which, I might add, is super multicultural in Toronto! Individuals may be left out due to lack of city planning for access and the fact that every local market would be limited in the amount of culturally acceptable foods they can provide, thus individuals may feel socially isolated.

Essentially, the local food movement has some definite potential benefits, that is in my opinion namely, the local food movement may provide us with an array of produce at its freshest and most nutritious… and my friends, I cannot find anything flawed about this! So eat up and enjoy. At the same time, the local food movement is not without its flaws. A system that speaks to a balance of local food markets and imported foods integrated into the system is likely the best food strategy… which is sort of what we have now in Toronto minus the “ switch to just local foods!” chanting I hear from time to time.


This blog was written by Elis Halenko

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