What Are the Benefits of Buying Local Food?

Why Buy Local?

eating local foodThere are a number of reasons to consider buying local food. Among them, eating better tasting foods that stay fresh longer, supporting local communities and protecting the environment are probably the most prevalent. Concern for the treatment of animals is another common reason for adopting a locavore diet.

Availability and cost are some of the more prohibitive factors for most people, but lack of awareness of the possibility of purchasing local food (and the benefits of doing so) prevents most consumers from even engaging in those considerations.

No matter what stage of the buy cycle you find yourself at, exploring the benefits and limitations of buying local in more detail is a worthwhile exercise in evaluating your options. Read on to learn more about what the local food movement is all about–and why you might consider joining up.

Reason #1: Environmental Stewardship

Most food in supermarkets travels extravagant distances. With the cost of food production radically lower in some parts of the world, it has become economically beneficial to import many foods. Almost 80% of all fish and shellfish are now imported into the U.S. and nearly a third of all fruits and nuts. In total, the U.S. imports 15% of all its foods.

The environmental costs of transporting food all over the world are substantial. Carbon emissions, depletion of finite fossil fuels and pollution of the oceans are some of the biggest concerns arising from the food shipping industry.

Buying local food greatly reduces these issues. Regional food systems can lower carbon emissions by up to 17 times, not to mention decreasing the amount of fossil fuels needed to refrigerate and ship food.

Reason #2: Freshness and Taste

Another great (and far more tangible) reason to buy local is that locally produced foods are fresher, last longer and taste better. Local produce can last twice as long as that found in supermarkets before wilting or going bad, keeping its flavor and texture better while giving consumers more flexibility in food purchasing and preparation.

The taste tends to be better as well, as many small farms tend to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as well as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, all of which can impact the flavor of produce.

Small ranches and cattle raising operations also tend to feed their livestock grass and allow them free-range, giving them a remarkably improved flavor profile and vastly reducing the amount of fat in the meat. Nutritional benefits like these are additional reasons to consider buying local.

Reason #3: Keeping Money in the Community

Currently, only 7% of money used to purchase food stays in the community, with the other 93% going to pay the massive global food infrastructure and huge multinational corporations that operate it. Compare that to 100 years ago, pre-globalization, when 40% of food dollars stayed in the local economy–helping communities thrive and creating local jobs that have since been outsourced.

The State of Local Food Today

Every year, more than $600 billion is spent on food in the U.S. Most of that is purchased in grocery stores and supermarkets. However, the local food movement is beginning to grow and the local food market segment has shown promising expansion in recent years.

A recent article on local food purchasing in the Asheville, North Carolina area reported that it was up 400% over the past several years. Nationally, the local food market is expected to hit $7 billion this year–only about 1% of the entire domestic food industry, but a dramatic increase nonetheless. These trends signal a changing consciousness and a rapidly transforming market, promising a better food future, both environmentally and for consumers.

Should You Buy Local?

That depends on your needs, wants, values, budget and local availability. In consideration of the significant benefits of buying local food, it’s hard to dispute the superiority of doing so when disregarding cost and availability. Unfortunately, those are decisive factors for most people and until the benefits are seen to outweigh the costs, they will likely remain so.

The growth of the industry heralds cost reductions and increased availability, which will hopefully mitigate these issues and make the decision to buy local more appealing for most consumers.

Resources for Buying Local

Local Harvest – Great database for locating CSAs, farmers markets and other vendors of local food.

Local Purchasing – Definition on Wikipedia, covering additional reasons for buying local and policies that support local purchasing.

Eat Well Guide – Another searchable database for local food vendors and restaurants that source locally.

[Photo Via: WakeUpWorld]

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