Friday, 15 June 2012

Locavore—or not

Locovore
lo·ca·vore noun.
  1. A person who primarily eats locally grown food.
I was never impressed by the idea of buying food grown locally. I have no objection to local food, but some things cannot be grown in the local climate, and if something could be grown halfway around the world and still be cheaper than a local option I was happy to buy it. And I had heard that the cost per item of transporting large quantities of food may be similar to a farmer bringing in produce to the market.

But it turns out the cost of transport is only a minor component of the energy used producing food anyway.
In the real world, not everything is equal. Some places have more water or better pasture land. It makes more sense to grow a tomato in an unheated greenhouse and truck it then to heat a local greenhouse. A U.S. study showed that about 4 per cent of food energy signature was from long-distance transportation and 83 per cent from production.
Fresh food may sometimes taste nicer: mangos in season in Australia or Asia certainly beat our imported ones from Mexico; I buy canned here. But buy what you like at an acceptable price and ignore the distance it took to get to your plate.

3 comments:

  1. Another factor to consider with local food is that there is no economy of scale. And with that means that the trucks aren't full and therefore use more fuel per lb than a full truck. And the fleets that tend to do the shipping for large companies are newer and better maintained and so are more efficient and less polluting.

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  2. I'm not sure I follow your argument here. You seem to be suggesting that since local food is not always the more sustainable option, we should therefore purchase solely based on price. But surely we should rather investigate the external costs of each product, and choose based on which option (local vs. long-distance) has a smaller "food-energy signature." Just because locally produced food is not always the most sustainable doesn't mean that price should be the only deciding factor, right?

    ReplyDelete
  3. DMM, yes. Many reasons may exist including growing food in a better climate may require less external energy in irrigation, fertiliser, etc. And the transport may be small per item even for long distances, including refrigeration costs.

    Anon, I don't buy the locavore argument, however according to their premises they are incorrect. Because travel is a minor energy input it can be effectively ignored.

    But you are correct, locally grown food may still be more energy efficient. Energy is probably a reasonable cost, but often so is labour: price may be an indication of energy use, but it not the only variable.

    One can have an energy cost argument as you suggest, but the locavore argument is incorrect. I don't know that one can easily know the energy cost for all the food he eats. So for those who care about the energy cost but cannot know, and for those who don't care, cost and quality are the main considerations.

    However, as I care little about energy cost, I weigh cost versus quality

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