What does it mean to be a Locavore?

By Alexis Wojtowicz, UMD Green Dining intern

“Locavore” and organic eating  have grown more ubiquitous by the year, identifiable by the expansion of farmers markets, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and the like in closer and closer ranges.

Local food is often defined as anything grown between 250 and 300 miles from the home of the consumer.

And it’s no wonder eating local is all the craze.

These tomatoes, from UMD’s Community Rooftop Garden, will have a chance  to ripen on the vine.

These tomatoes, from UMD’s Community Rooftop Garden, will have a chance to ripen on the vine.

  1. Local food tastes better and is better for you. Local farmers harvest crops whenthey are full of flavor and at their nutritional peak. Nutritional value declines as time passes after harvesting. When food needs to travel greater distances, crops are harvested when they are not ripe and then chemically ripened during transport.
  2. Buying local food supports the local economy and the families and farms growing the food. By selling directly to consumers at places like The Farmers Market at Maryland, farmers are able to make higher profits off their food compared to the slim profit margin when selling through a middleman.
  3. Buying local helps preserve open space. Farmland is constantly threatened by urban sprawl. By supporting farms financially, there is less risk that the land will be sold for development.
  4. Supporting local farms helps keep taxes down. The American Farmland trust has produced several studies that indicate farms pay more in property taxes than they require in services.
  5. Buying local reduces carbon emissions. According to Clemson University Extension Programs, food travels about 1,500 miles on average before reaching the table of the consumer. These “food miles” contribute to the burning of more fossil fuels and necessitate use of preservatives in produce so they will last on the truck, plane, or ship. Your local farmer drives a much shorter distance to provide you with produce, eggs and meat.

But, is it that simple?

Would knowing that the amount of fuel your farmer uses to get to all the markets at which he sells exceeds that of one large corporate truck change your choices about choosing to shop at a market? Probably not, if you are committed to supporting local businesses and the type of good agriculture practiced by your farmer.

What about your own fuel consumption in the process of buying local? If trekking to your farmers market, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and then a mini-mart to acquire the perfect combination of local and organic ingredients contributes more to greenhouse gases than one trip to Wal-Mart, why do it? Let’s not forget that during half those trips, you forgot your reusable grocery bags.

How do we reconcile all of these factors with our desire to make reasonable, ethical, and environmentally conscious choices?

Choosing how we buy our food isn’t so simple as “organic” or “local”? Choosing how we buy our food opens a variety of ethical questions – and their isn’t a “one size fits all” answer.

No, driving your Jeep to the farmers market to get one zucchini (even if you use your reusable shopping bag) does not exactly pave the way for low-carbon eating.

That being said, consuming mindfully and ethically, isn’t an all-or-nothing affair. In fact, maybe driving to get that one zucchini is the best choice if you want to support local farmers and know what you are getting for our money.

Ultimately, our choices around what we eat are complex and personal. There is no singular straightforward solution to responsible, healthful eating.

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This blog post is brought to you by Green Dining. Click to learn more about sustainability initiatives at UMD Dining Services.

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