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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Locavorism: Good for the Environment?

Localvorism (or locavorism) refers to the practice based on the belief that eating food grown locally is better for the environment because less resources are used transporting food. It seems like a logical argument, but as I pointed out in an earlier post, "eating local" doesn't benefit the environment as much as you might expect, if at all ("Is Going Local Good for the Environment"). In fact, David Cleveland, a UC Santa Barbara environmental professor, looked at what effect a 100% localization of the Santa Barbara County food system would have on greenhouse gas emissions:
We found that it wouldn’t make a lot of difference. Our savings in greenhouse gas emissions, per household, as a proportion of the total food system greenhouse gas emissions, was less than one percent (emphasis added).
Cleveland’s research built on the research of Chris Weber and H. Scott Matthews (“Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States”), who found that most of the energy associated with food production is in the production rather than the transportation phase. In particular, 83% of greenhouse emissions are associated with the production phase and only 15% with the transportation phase (11% = long-range transportation; 4% = producer to retailer), which means that buying locally produced foods can actually increase greenhouse gas-emissions. Thus, Weber and Matthews argue that the best way to help the environment is to concentrate less on where the food we eat is produced and more on what we eat:
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 achieves more greenhouse-gas reduction than buying all locally sourced food.
There could, of course, be other reason to embrace localvorism. It help supports the local economy (this, of course, assumes that people in one's community are more important than those outside of it); it may be healthier because locally-grown food is less likely to be processed and contain preservatives; and locally-grown food may taste better (although this is almost certainly debatable). However, if protecting the environment is the primary reason why one practices localvorism, then one may want to reconsider one's focus.

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