We have herbivores who eat plants, carnivores who eat meat and omnivores who’ll hoover up anything that isn’t nailed down. Then we have locavores. No, it’s not the latest techno festival; it’s a commitment to eating local food. Locavores try to eat food that’s been grown or produced close to their homes, and aim to cut down on food miles and transportation greenhouse gases. It’s a worthy idea, but how hard is it to do? Fortunately for someone like a landlocked Swiss with a passion for crayfish, locavores are pretty relaxed about their ideas and make it easy for everyone to get into the locavore way of eating.
What is a locavore
It’s a person who’s interested in the sustainability of their food, and buys food grown within their local area. If you wanted to put a limit on it, locavores generally eat food that’s been grown within 100 miles (that’s 160 kilometres) of their home.
Why go locavore
Locavores are concerned with the often massive distances food travels to get onto our plates. A food mile is the distance between you and the place where the food was grown or produced. Fossil fuels are burnt up getting the food to you on road trains, refrigerated transport and aeroplanes. Oftentimes the same food is available fresh from a local seller.
Buying food from a local farmer means you can talk to him or her and ask what pesticides or herbicides, if any, were used. It also means the food is fresh and tastier. It has its natural nutrients and hasn’t been pumped full of preservatives to keep it on any shelves. To buy fresh food, you can go to local farmers’ markets or to the open-to-the-public times at farms around you. That way you eat in season, mostly organic and support local businesses.
Buying locally hones your tastes to regional foods. This links into the ideas of the Slow Food movement, which encourages people to look at their local ecosystems and grow food within that. For example, it would be going against the local climate of Melbourne to attempt to grow pineapples there. But before any Melbournians give up tropical fruits, locavores are an easy-going bunch who are pretty relaxed about how strictly people follow their ideas.
Where did the locavores begin
Probably not so surprisingly for such a cruisy crew, the locavore movement began in San Francisco. In 2005, a group of chefs and foodies set themselves a challenge to eat only food grown and produced within the bay area for a month. They found there was a feast of food on their doorsteps. There was locally-caught seafood, sustainable chickens, spring lambs, fruit and vegetable farms, wineries, cheese and milk. No one went hungry during that month and the ideas of the movement soon caught on. By 2007, the word was made word of the year in the Oxford American Dictionary. Now every year, usually at the beginning of spring, there’s an eat local challenge where people are asked to live like a locavore for a month.
How do you eat like a locavore
Most locavores aren’t militantly hardcore about their system of eating. Even the person who coined the term, Jessica Prentice, says that she doesn’t live purely on local foods. Instead, it’s a way to enjoy and become conscious about local foods.
The original locavores came up with a chain of eating that makes it easier to make decisions about local foods. It’s a fairly loose and easy way to be more aware of food’s origins. First they suggest you do some research and find out exactly what is local in your area. The easiest way is to go to your local farmers’ market. Talk to your farmers, and find out what’s around.
If you can’t get local food, the locavores suggest you get organic. If you can’t get organic food, then buy food from a family farm. If you can’t get to a family farm, buy from a local business. If you can’t buy from a local business then buy food that’s called terroir—food grown from a certain area that’s well-known for a particular food like brie from Brie in France. As you can see, there are plenty of options, and all of these favour small family farms and businesses before multi-national agribusinesses.
Another helpful tip is what is called the 90 per cent rule. Some locavores can’t live without their coffee or chocolate, and that’s where they feel free to buy something from out of town. They don’t go all out, but limit it to about 10 per cent of their daily food, but it’s enough to stave off crazy caffeine flip-outs.
Criticism of locavores
James E. McWilliams is a history academic at Texas State University and has written a book called Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. He believes that locavores’ emphasis on food miles focuses on one small problem rather than on the many huge problems of globalised food production.
He uses the example of New Zealand lamb. Although it may be counterintuitive, it is actually more sustainable for a Londoner to eat imported New Zealand lamb than to eat local lamb. New Zealand lamb is produced with a low carbon footprint with minimal water, pesticide and fertiliser use. English lamb, on the other hand, is produced with a high carbon footprint in intensive farming conditions. So although lamb is flown over to the UK, it is actually more sustainable.
As a vegan, McWilliams makes the point that the meat industry uses much more energy than any other kind of food production. He argues that if we want to reduce greenhouse gases we could aim to not eat red meat once a week.
For more information:
- For the homepage of the locavores who started the whole movement, go to: www.locavores.com
- Dr. Veronica Anderson, a Medical Doctor, Homeopath and Wellness Coach share her to 5 reasons to join the Locavore movement. Go to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-veronica-anderson/locavore_b_7483218.html?ir=Australia
- A US group blog about eating locally and has some great ideas about how to eat like a local. The wide variety of contributors makes for interesting reading (beware of tangents though: you’ll be engrossed for days). Go to: www.eatlocalchallenge.com
- An excerpt of Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly by James E. McWilliams explains his problems with the locavores’ emphasis on food miles. Go to: www.forbes.com/forbes/2009/0803/opinions-energy-locavores-on-my-mind.html