Locavorism or local food movement, a fairly recent trend in food circles, encourages environmentally-minded consumers to limit themselves to eating food grown within 100 miles from their home. <!–more–>
A locavore would argue that transporting food relies on fossil fuels and contributes to global warming. While shopping at farmers markets makes for a lovely pastime and supports some local farmers, it is hardly a sustainable alternative to the food supply chain that ensures that Americans have access to plentiful, affordable and nutritious groceries.
Talking from personal experience, I grew up as a locavore, albeit not by choice. As a young child, I was raised by my grandparents, as traditionally most Eastern Europeans of my generation were. My grandparents were school teachers in a village in the north of Moldova (part of the former Soviet Union). In addition to a full workload at school, they also practiced subsistence farming to get around the constant food shortages of that era. They had a fairly large garden, in which they grew everything from potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, to berries, herbs and fruit trees. As a child, I had a blast eating fresh raspberries off the bush and cherries off the tree. For my grandparents, however, the garden was an all-consuming second job whose outcome was often threatened by drought, frost, plant disease and pests. A poor harvest meant less food for my grandparents, as well as for my parents and uncle, who lived in the city and experienced empty shelves and long daily lines in the grocery store for the basic staples.
Yes, our food supply was local, but it came at a huge price in terms of time and labor, and it was seasonal. Fresh strawberries were only available during the growing season. My grandmother spent weeks canning fruit and pickling vegetables to preserve some of the bounty of summer and fall. Oranges were available only around New Year’s, when state companies gave out a small packet of candy and one or two oranges to each employee. Bananas were an exotic delicacy that I tried only a few times until the Soviet Union collapsed and the market economy started replacing the state-run system.
Americans are blessed to have access to plentiful and affordable food and it is impossible for most to imagine what a grocery store would look like if it were stocked only with products grown within a one-hundred-mile radius, especially in areas that have winter. In these areas, during the winter and spring, produce isles would be practically empty, with no bright greens or colorful fruit. One would also have to forgo tea, coffee, spices and other ubiquitous ingredients that are imported from elsewhere.
Meat production within a local food framework warrants a separate conversation, since cattle and poultry producers need massive amounts of feed to supply meat at rates that keep it affordable.
In a modern, technology-dominated society like ours, it is only natural that people don’t have a strong understanding of where food comes from, how it is produced and what makes it affordable. While buying from a local farmer or farmers’ market is a pleasant way of spending a weekend morning, and a good way to supplement the rich and varied diet Americans have come to appreciate, living as a true locavore is a practice more suited to prosperous consumers who could get around limited seasonal choices by buying expensive local products. A locavore should also expect to dig his or her hands in the dirt and invest significant amounts of time, energy and space to grow enough food to feed themselves and their families. Price-conscious consumers are fortunate to avail themselves of many other options and take comfort in the fact that they spend a smaller percentage of their income on food than almost anyone else in the world.
Here’s a nugget for comparison purposes. Americans, whose median household income is approximately $50,000, spend about 10 percent of their disposable income on food. Moldovans, whose average household income is a little over $3,000 a year (no, I did not miss any zeros), spend more than 40 percent of their disposable income on food. Thanks to globalization, food prices are the same or even higher for some items in Moldova, compared to the U.S. Hard to imagine? Yes! But is sure provides some perspective.