Saturday, June 27, 2015

Enjoying "local" food

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, "Studies estimate that processed food in the United States travels over 1,300 miles, and fresh produce travels over 1,500 miles, before being consumed." A more recent study found “up to 90% of the US population could be fed a standard American diet consisting only of food grown and raised within 100 miles.” Yet another analysis notes “Minneapolis, St. Louis and Kansas City could all become self-sustaining in under a 40-mile range…"

locally produced (backyard, gleaned) food
Photo by J. Harrington

I've come across those factoids while doing some research for a presentation I'm helping to organize. The USGBC-MN's Green Scene later this Summer  centers around a presentation and discussion of Minnesota's local food system in Minneapolis-St. Paul. I'm intrigued by the disconnect between 1,500 miles for fresh produce (admittedly from an example focused on Chicago) and 40 miles or so for Minneapolis-St. Paul's theoretical foodshed. Related systems questions of seasonal versus year-round availability of supply, the energy consumption associated with transport versus heated greenhouses, and energy sources used for each element in the system once again point toward a necessity for life-cycle analyses, or, even better, a whole systems evaluation, as the basis for fair comparisons. All of this compounded by the estimated 40% of foods produced that we waste. However, from what I've read so far, no life-cycle or energy consumption factors directly address the taste bonus related to fresh locally produced food. That then also affects how much of the food we eat is healthy for us and how that in turn affects our mental, emotional and physical health and the costs associated with treating any nutritionally-related ailment. There are lots of cost and benefit differences that we've come to take for granted based on the systems we're used to. As those systems change, with some effort and luck local could become the new "California" in our food resource system. All of this before we consider local foraging, gleaning, foods indigenous to our bioregion and a whole host of related topics. Kermit the Frog once sang It's not easy being green. Should that be updated to It's not easy being local?

FOOD

By John Updike

It is always there,
Man’s real best friend.
It never bites back;
it is already dead.
It never tells us we are lousy lovers
or asks us for interview.
It simply begs, Take me;
it cries out, I’m yours.
Mush me all up, it says;
Whatever is you, is pure.


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