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Published on August 10th, 2009 | by Steve Savage

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Five Good Reasons to Eat Non-Local Food (Part 1 of 2)

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I love eating locally produced foods when I have the chance.  I enjoyed having access to fully tree-ripe stone fruit when I lived in Davis, CA. Today I get to enjoy the ultra-local herbs, vegetables and fruit from my garden part of the year, and I make 10-20 gallons of wine from my little vineyard.  I feel that I am fortunate, not noble.  In January our county (San Diego) is one of the few places producing strawberries and I certainly enjoy those, but it doesn’t mean I don’t buy them later in the year when they come from further North.  Local food can definitely be a treat, but to think that it is a noble thing to be a “locovore” is a bit silly and often quite pretentious.  There are plenty of non-local foods that you should eat with no sense of guilt. In this and my next blog I’ll talk about why.

Limited Food Diversity

Humanity depended largely of “local” food for thousands of years. That didn’t always go so well.  The most common limitation was a lack of fresh produce options during the off-season in the temperate zone.  Even when I was growing up in the 50s in Colorado, we were mostly stuck with canned and frozen fruits and vegetables in the winter.   Until some time in the last century, most people had very limited diets for much of the year.  The bigger issue was that nutrient deficiencies caused serious health problems in many places because the locally available food didn’t supply all that was needed. Finally, famine was a very real threat.  Clearly, we would not want to go back to true, “old-school local” food.  Most Americans need to eat more fruits and vegetables, not less, and we need to be buffered from production ups and downs, particularly in an age of climate change.  We really need food from other places to have a stable, balanced diet.

Quality Issues

Most people know that the best wines, teas and coffee come from specific places where they have just the right conditions for quality.  This is true of other foods as well.  For instance, a region centered around North Dakota is one of few areas with the right conditions for growing high quality Hard Red Spring wheat – critical for making high dough-strength baked goods like artisan bread.  It is also a good place for growing quality malting barley and durum wheat for pasta.  Some foods really do need to come from specific places.

Water Issues

Much of the US population lives in places where it does not rain very much, or in the case of California, where it does not rain in the main growing season.  In these regions there is already an issue of dividing water resources between urban and agricultural use.  There is definitely not water available to pursue the goal of local production of crops that can be grown well outside of California.  We need to use our water for the things that we are uniquely able to grow.

In part two of this blog, I’ll talk about Productivity Differences and The Mathematics of Land Availability.

Photo of an outdoor, Swiss produce shop by Steve Savage (it most likely represents a good mix of local and shipped items)



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About the Author

Born in Denver, now living near San Diego. Agricultural scientist for 30+ years with a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. Have worked for Colorado State University, DuPont and Mycogen and for the last 13 years consulting for all sorts or companies, universities and grower groups. Experience in biological control, natural products, synthetic chemicals, genetics, GMOs and agronomic practices. Have given multiple invited talks on the interaction between agriculture and climate change (both ways)



4 Responses to Five Good Reasons to Eat Non-Local Food (Part 1 of 2)

  1. Steven Mandzik says:

    Not sure ur point here. Nobody is eating local. The vast majority of peeps eat processed foods and those that eat salads/produce are coming from 1000s of miles away. So yeah ur right we can’t go 100% local. Guess we should ditch the whole campaign. Thx for setting us straight.

  2. Steve Savage says:

    Steven,
    I wouldn’t say that no one is eating local. There has long been a significant local tomato market around the country in the summer. As I said, I’m all for that sort of thing. My issue is with the people who act as if 100% local was possible or even good.

  3. Rachel says:

    Thanks Steve. I appreciate your highlighting the negatives of the locavore movement, especially the water issues. I tried to google “locavore” and there were no arguments against it. I came across one locavore blogger in Arizona and it really got me thinking. Americans by and by savor a variety of foods. Its what we were raised on. And, most likely, people have little time to research what really does grow naturally in their area versus what needs extra water, fertilizer, and pesticides, to grow. Its a narrow-minded and probably naive way of thinking that very few people who claim to be true locavores do right.

    And the whole “it tastes better” thing – I am not convinced this is all in some people’s head because they expect food to taste better.

  4. Pingback: The Pesticides I Wish I Could Buy : Sustainablog

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