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.
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.
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)