Eating local is one of the inviolable tenets of the environmental movement. Ask any greenie, they'll tell you: To help the planet, eat locally grown food.
But just how important is eating local food? Maybe not as important as one might think, according to a growing number of studies. Writing in The Huffington Post, Tom Zeller Jr. says that recent analyses "suggest that the economic arithmetic underlying our food production and distribution system is profoundly complex, making it increasingly difficult to rely on bumper-sticker solutions."
One such report, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, explored fruit and vegetable production in Santa Barbara County. The authors found that even if all produce grown in the area was sold and consumed there too (as of now, 99% is exported outside), the impact on greenhouse gases would be negligible, reducing agrifood emissions by less than one percent.
"Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs or a vegetable-based diet," the authors found, "achieves more [greenhouse gas] reduction than buying all locally sourced food."
Professor David Cleveland, who headed up the research, spoke to HuffPo about his findings. "The takeaway here is that if you just focus on localization — well, food miles have a lot of cache, locavores and all that," Cleveland said. "But if you allow that that to become your strategy or the goal for your food system, you can get deceived and not really improve anything."
Photo via Greenhorns