When we think about buying and eating local food, it’s usually a personal concept: What does eating locally do for me in terms of nutrition, flavor, economics, and my immediate environment? While this is a valuable and necessary way to think about it, let’s take a moment, step back, and look at the bigger picture.
What if we think about what we eat as a more holistic system of growers, producers, distributors, and eaters? What if it’s not just about us as individuals, but about everyone in our community and even the world? If we are ever going to actually change the industrialized global food system, this viewpoint is imperative. Eat locally, think globally.
Why support a local food system?
“Food system” is a term that gets thrown about quite a bit, but what does it actually mean? It encompasses everyone involved in growing, raising, harvesting, transporting, processing, distributing, selling, cooking, serving, and eating food; but just as importantly, it includes the connections between all of those people.
In a healthy and vibrant local food system, those connections are strong and direct. In the industrialized global food system they are weak almost to the point of being non-existent.
When you look at a food system this way, the benefits to keeping things as local as possible become clear.
- Greater Transparency: When the consumers of food have direct access to the people who grow and process it, they are able to see for themselves that their food is being produced in a sustainable and safe manner.
- Food Security and Accessibility: This is a huge and incredibly complicated topic, but to put it simply: a strong local food system means that the community is self-reliant and able to produce and access (both economically and geographically) plenty of fresh, healthy food without passively depending on the global industrialized food system to bring it to them. Despite our incredible wealth of local food here in Madison, we have some work to do in this realm.
By growing our local food system here at home, we are also helping to create a world where communities in food-insecure areas across the globe are better able to sustain themselves. Right now, for example, India is fighting the World Trade Organization for the right to buy food at fair prices from Indian farmers and re-distribute it to the poor. The governments of many developed countries don’t want developing countries to have this right—they’d rather push an agenda of “free trade,” which often works in favor of the industrial agricultural sector of rich countries (like the US), and at the expense of poor farmers in developing countries like India. What if instead of growing cheap non-nutritive corn and soy for processing and export, American farmers were encouraged to grow healthy food for their own communities and in turn Indian farmers were allowed to do the same?
We’re a far way off from a world as simple as that, but by creating a healthy local food system here at home, we’re setting the stage for that future.
- Economics: Because food is a daily necessity that everyone has to have, it’s a huge economic force. By putting more people to work in our local food system, we are growing our local economy in ways that benefit all of us.
- Preserving our rural heritage: I don’t know about you, but to me, rural Wisconsin is one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. A strong local food system is imperative if we are going to preserve our farmland and this area’s strong farming heritage. Our rural communities are nourished by cities like Madison and Milwaukee, where the market for fresh, locally grown food is strong.
By choosing to eat locally, you are dictating what our rural landscape physically looks like. As you eat more locally grown organic food, more land will be converted to the organic production of real food, and less will be used to grow conventional corn and soybeans. By insisting on grassfed beef and pastured dairy, you are insisting that more cows get to spend their days outside grazing rather than passing their lives in confined feedlots. By choosing to purchase food that was grown as close to your home as possible, you are helping preserve productive farmland in suburban areas that may otherwise be developed.
This September, help us celebrate Eat Local Month by challenging yourself not to eat just a little more locally, but to actively work on strengthening the bonds between yourself, your farmers and producers, your Co-op, your fellow eaters, and everyone else in our food community.