Monday, July 30, 2007

Eating Local, Buying Local

farmers and produce
Not long ago I was in North Carolina visiting a beautiful garden at the Biltmore estate. I asked the gardener if it was organic and he got very agitated. "Let me get on my soap box" he said. He then proceeded to explain that most pesticides in the US were organic and that just because something is organic doesn't mean it is free of pesticides and that some organic pesticides are not very effective. He said that sometimes he would have to use an organic pesticide 6 or 7 times instead of using a non-organic pesticide once. The gardener then told me about an integrated insect approach that he used, attracting beneficial insects to do the work to help keep his garden as healthy as possible. But when he must resort to pesticides he chooses whatever he thinks is best, organic or not. Is organic always best? Clearly, it's not that simple.

Because a few years back I was critical of a campaign to "eat only local food", I left some people under the impression that I disagree with the principles of eating local. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some of the reasons I felt it wasn't sustainable then are now changing. Here are the main reasons why I like "eating local" and why I have subscribed to a local CSA for over 5 years.
* Local food is likely to be fresher and fresher food generally tastes better and is healthier
* Buying local helps support local farmers and producers

But as with eating organic, it's not that simple. Here are the reasons I doubt I will ever limit myself to eating ONLY local food.
* Many products I love (such as mangoes!) can't be grown in my region
* The quality of local products is not always acceptable to me
* Some local products are just too expensive for my budget
* There are too many non-local ingredients that increase the diversity in my diet such as spices, imported cheeses, grains, wines, etc.
* Buying local doesn't necessarily mean saving resources--a recent story in the Boston Globe called The Localvore's Dilemma explored the issue of energy costs associated with local produce and found sometimes more energy is used than when food is imported.

A few weeks ago I did a taste test with Sonoma lamb versus New Zealand lamb and not only was the New Zealand lamb cheaper, but it tasted better to me. As far as I'm concerned, taste trumps everything. I hope one day the local lamb will be tastier not to mention cheaper than the imported lamb. But until then, I'm sticking with whatever tastes best to me and fits my budget. Diversity in my diet is too important to me to forgo eating foods that aren't produced locally. But will I seek out local fruits, vegetables, meat? Yes. I will and I do!