Ok you don’t have to stop eating rice, but I did want to get your attention. I will explain toward the end why I say this, but let us begin by revisiting a common topic on this blog; local food. There is so much to be said about local food. It is such a buzz word these days. Everyone is talking about it. I get a lot of questions at work all of a sudden, about who sources our products. About local honey or produce specifically. People are becoming more aware, which is good. However I think people, while having good intentions, still are unsure of what they are really becoming aware of.
As I mentioned in an earlier post this year, local food is important, but it cannot be the only answer. It is not a silver bullet, and cannot be decreed as a mantra. “I try to eat only local.” This is an increasingly common statement these days, but it must be fully evaluated. With books such as “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver, where she and her family attempted to eat as locally as possible for a year, largely growing everything they ate, people seem to think that this is the goal. It is certainly true, that if we all sourced our own food entirely, we could come to a more sustainable system. No question. And it stands to reason that by this logic, any attempt to eat more locally sourced food will at some consistent rate, reduce our impact and increase our sustainability.
What people may or may not realize are the sacrifices that must be made if we eat only locally. If you live in warm climates with better growing seasons, like Kingsolver in her book, then the sacrifices are smaller, but still apparent. If you live in the bitter cold of the Northeast or the Midwest, the sacrifices only increase. Let’s look at a few. For example, if you live anywhere in the continental United States, get ready to stop eating bananas, mangoes, pineapples, coconuts, papayas, and the like. Living in Massachusetts, there is no such thing as a local banana. So that’s gone. Same with a local orange. Doesn’t exist.
Surely those are big sacrifices, but they are also a bit obvious. Produce is easy to determine where it was grown, and it is kind of the poster child for local food. Whole products, like produce and meat, are easy enough to imagine whether or not they are local. But what about a product that derives from whole produce? These days everyone loves to cook with extra virgin olive oil (or EVOO as the pretentious snoots call it, myself included). But if you eat locally say goodbye to your precious olive oil. Most olives are grown in the Mediterranean region. There is no local olive oil in the northern United States.
A huge example that many people do not consider is rice. Rice is such a basic staple, and while people will avoid buying out of season produce in the winter (shipped from California or Mexico usually), they will blindly grab for a bag of rice, probably grown in either China or India. It is true that rice is grown in the US, and globally we produce about 12%. However, much of that rice is grown for use in alcohol or processed goods. And of the states that do produce rice, all are in the South. So again, if you live in Boston, say goodbye to rice.
I do not wish to imply that eating locally is a futile pursuit. It certainly has many benefits, and by all means, I encourage all to eat as locally as they can. In the summer, I try to get all my produce from farmer’s markets or a CSA. But again, while it is part of the puzzle, and will help us to be more sustainable, I do not see an entirely local food system ever returning to the United States. I do not ever see Americans giving up bananas or olive oil, and certainly not rice. So while an effort to eat more locally is still admirable and helpful, I advise you to think twice about how strictly to keep to this ideal. Maybe buying that out of season produce is still better than substituting those calories for a processed good or an animal product that has a larger negative impact. Eat locally wherever possible, but use other rubrics in combination when choosing what to eat.