Is Eating Local Best? Perhaps Not

There are many within the Primal community, I know, who also like to eat local. Some months, of course, allow for the confluence of these priorities more than others. Right now, we’re at the height of harvest season. Farmers’ markets are overflowing, CSA boxes are brimming, and backyard gardens are gratifyingly bountiful. Nonetheless, all good things must come to an end. In a few short months, farms and gardens will be snow-covered in many parts of the country. If you live in balmy Southern California like I do, that’s not much of an issue. If you live in Minnesota or Maine, it is. We Primal types love our produce, and winter complicates that relationship for some of us. Must locavore-minded Northerners relegate themselves to frozen and canned vegetables for several months of the year? Are root vegetable remnants really the only acceptable fresh produce before the spring thaw? Last week I stumbled upon a guest editorial in the New York Times that took on the nagging locavore guilt trip.

The author, Stephen Budiansky, personally embraces eating local. He happens to tend an impressive garden and even raise sheep. Although he freely acknowledges the many culinary benefits of eating local, he’s got some words – and numbers – for those who preach the environmental angle of locavore living. The crux of his argument revolves around the total energy expenditure for the agricultural sector in the U.S. – and the comparatively small role of transportation in that equation. Budiansky first goes after some allegedly fuzzy calculations that have been thrown around within the locavore and environmental communities. One claim he assails: the common assertion that it takes “36 (sometimes 97) calories of fossil fuel energy to bring one calorie of iceberg lettuce from California to the East Coast.” This oft-quoted bit is a load of hooey, he says. The number, a misguided comparison to begin with, actually reflects the total energy expenditure invested in that head of lettuce from the time it’s planted to the time it’s served. Since it only requires “about a tablespoon of diesel fuel to move one pound of freight 3,000 miles by rail,” transporting that lettuce is practically inconsequential in the grand scheme of production and consumption.

Budiansky doesn’t end his argument there. He submits other statistics to quash the transportation guilt that troubles locavore-minded consumers everywhere. Citing Department of Energy analysis, he contends that the concept of food miles is a red herring. Whereas shipping constitutes approximately “14 percent of the total energy” used within “the American food system,” consumers’ activities account for some 32 percent of that pie chart, and that doesn’t include the trip to the grocery store and back – the real haulage hog. Once we get the goods back home, Budiansky says, we’re running up the meter to store them and prepare them in our individual (i.e. inefficient) facilities. Touché. (Maybe the guy’s got a point there.)

Budiansky spends the rest of his editorial illustrating a larger perspective on American agriculture. Although today’s farms are responsible for supplying three times the populace and exporting ten times the product, he explains, total farm acreage is essentially the same as it was in 1910. Growing and raising food where it most flourishes, he says, makes the most environmental sense. Not only does it save us additional soil erosion, added chemical usage, and vegetable greenhouse heating costs, it spares countless acres of land for wilderness. In other words, geographically suitable trumps the proverbial “sustainable” message that circulates through the locavore movement.

Readers of Budiansky’s article questioned his sources, and he happily offered them up in a follow up blog post. Yes, there are plenty of gaps in Budiansky’s presentation. For one, environmentalists would argue that transportation’s impact isn’t simply measured by diesel use but by added pollution. And his assessment doesn’t take on the more substantial energy expenditure of importing food from as far away as China or South America. On another note, it takes additional energy to refrigerate produce and meat during transit.

Nonetheless, I think, Budiansky presents good food for thought. While the spirit of the eat local movement encourages positive changes in communities (e.g. supporting small-time area farmers and locally-based businesses) as well as better eating choices (e.g. wider variety, fresher and more nutrient dense produce), the practice eventually hits up against a reasonable limit. My point here isn’t to debate the benefits of regional economies, the environmental impact of small versus larger farms, or the safety issues surrounding imported food. There are plenty of solid arguments to be made within the full spectrum on these issues.

For me, Budiansky’s editorial offers useful perspective, and I always love seeing these kinds of conversations fully played out. As someone who wants to maximize nutritional benefit in my diet, I buy local items when they provide the freshest and thus most nutrient dense options. In the winter months when local harvests are sparser (even here), I happily take advantage of modern technology and trade to buy what I want to maintain a healthy diet. I don’t go out of my way to purchase the farthest flung imported items, but I’m not going to wallow in guilt either when I feel like eating bell peppers in January.

Eating Primally is foremost a commitment to your personal health. It’s about optimizing your diet and other lifestyle choices to cultivate genuine wellness and disease prevention throughout your lifetime. Nonetheless, going Primal doesn’t have to discount other priorities in the social and environmental realm if they’re important to your personal values and lifestyle choices. I think the big picture comes together differently for all of us, and the PB offers a surprisingly versatile outline for our personal, cultural and value-based preferences.

Along that vein, I believe the most interesting point in the locavore discussion was actually mentioned by a reader in her response letter to the Times. Characterizing the locavore movement from a different angle, the reader described the “holistic approach to the plate” that locavores ultimately hope to achieve. The food miles concept isn’t a red herring. In fact, it’s not even the central point, according to this reader. Transportation is too often part and parcel of a much larger issue with food, she suggests. When it comes to food related energy expenditure in this country, she says, the real elephant in the living room is our taste for processed, packaged and prepared foods. She cites her own statistic (from the Dept. of Agriculture) to reveal that nearly 58 percent of food related energy expenditures comes down to the “processing, packaging, transportation, wholesale and retail, and food service energy use that locavores are seeking to avoid.” The real difference, she suggests, is made by rejecting the manufacturing of food products to begin with. A “real locavore,” she says, wouldn’t touch a Twinkie with a ten foot pole even if it were made down the street. According to this reader, “eat real” food is as much or more of the locavore message as “eat local” is.

Have your own thoughts on the locavore perspective? Share those comments, and thanks for reading today.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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75 thoughts on “Is Eating Local Best? Perhaps Not”

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  1. “According to this reader, “eat real” food is as much or more of the locavore message as “eat local” is.”

    This is what resonates with me most. I am wholly supportive of my local food system, buy my produce from the farmer’s market when things are in season, and buy 90-95% of my meat from local sources (and have my own chickens for free-range eggs!). I think supporting your own local food producers is extremely important, because it lets them know that you are interested in what they are doing. The more we buy from them, the more likely it is that they will be around in 10 or 20 years when our own children will hopefully be buying local foods as well.

    When the dead of winter hits, I still buy my meat from my local sources or hit up my freezer full of grass-fed beef, but I don’t mind buying citrus from California or Florida or other fruits and vegetables from further away. Feeding my family real food and lots of fresh produce is important to me, and during the winter what I care about most is that it is organic. I still think eating local food and supporting local merchants is extremely important, so the question of whether eating local is best isn’t the best one to ask. If you appreciate the local farmers and food producers and procurers that grow and serve what you want for your family, then support them by buying as much from them as you can. If you still need more produce to fill out your week after that, then go to the grocery store!

      1. There are so many issues the NYT editorial ignored.

        + Food that’s grown locally with care is far more nutritious & tastes better than food bred to withstand the rigors of shipping and grown in depleted soils.
        + By getting to know the people who raise our food, we serve as highly self-interested inspectors.
        + By supporting local farmers, we help increase our community’s food security, enabling us to withstand potential world-wide shortages and prepare for the end of cheap oil.
        + Eating with the seasons teaches us to accept putting off our desires, an important lesson, and to enjoy the exquisite pleasures of heirloom varieties (like Hood Strawberries here in Oregon) at their peak of ripeness, training our palates about the flavors of real food at its best. I like having something to anticipate with every season, how a winter of eating sauerkraut, kale, and braised meats enables me to fully anticipate nettles, asparagus, eggs, and cream in the spring.

    1. This is exactly how I feel as well. My husband and I have family that raises grass fed, pastured beef. We know a local pastured pig farmer, and a farm just down the river produces all of our poultry. In the summer we get our fruits and vegetables from them too.

      Come summer though, we have some of the summer bounty frozen, canned or pickled. But once in a while you get a hankering for an avocado, or god forbid a fresh cucumber. I’m totally on board with just going out and buying those things.

      Buy local when you can if your budget supports it, otherwise, just make sure you’re eating real food!

    2. This is also how I prioritize my food purchases. The biggest pluses to buying local to me are:

      1) benefits to the local economy
      2) supporting small farmers and becoming friends with them
      3) fresh, unrefrigerated food (tomatoes taste SO MUCH BETTER if they’ve never been refrigerated)
      4) the environmental benefit (Not so much food miles/transportation, but rather knowing *how* the farmer farms. Unfortunately, supermarket labels such as “organic” don’t tell you much.)

      That said, I don’t hesitate to buy bananas year round (the kids LOVE them and they’re great in smoothies), coffee, Australian wines, chocolate, coconut, and the occasional out of season vegetable or fruit.

      I also agree with the commenter that said it’s more important to avoid packaged, processed, and refined foods than it is to buy locally.

  2. Mark,

    I was just thinking about this issue today. I live in Minnesota and know that in a couple months most of the fresh vegetables and fruits that are available now at farmers markets will be out of season. I want to eat better and eat local but what if I want some blueberries in January? Do I only eat what would be seasonally available in my particular area?

    I think that I am going to adopt your philosophy and eat the best food that I can all year round. Otherwise I would be eating pemmican all winter and waiting until spring for a salad!


    1. I agree. I live pretty far north and I buy locally in the summer but when winter comes I still eat the best food I can (organic ideally and often from california and florida).
      As far as the berries go fresh berries are great but you can freeze the farmers market ones and still use them at times in the winter….although the effects of running the freezer could be debated.

      1. I live in Michigan and buy as much local food as I can today. I still enjoy avocados year round and coconut as well even though those never grow in Michigan.

        I picked blueberries about 6 weeks ago and will have enough to last through the end of the year and into the first half of next year. Same with peaches.

        I purchased half a 100% grass fed cow a few months ago and when its gone I will buy another one to last through the year.

        I plan on going hunting in November and I do plan to kill a deer. When I do I will freeze plenty of deer meet.

        All of this is local food. But, when the winter rolls around I will have to buy food from the super market and therefore will be enjoying food from Fla, Cali, etc.

        We live in a different world today – much different then when Grok lived.

        One of the big things with going to the farmers market is your chances of buying real, primal food is thousands times greater then if you go to a supermarket. And the food is simply fresher.

        That reminds me… Eating a fresh Michigan Strawberry is so incredibly tasty where as a Strawberry that is shipped from Cali is hard and not that great. The difference is truly ridiculous.

        My 2 or 3 cents.

        1. The Michigan strawberries are fantastic. Small and juicy. I only wish they were around for more than a month or so! 🙂

  3. I try to eat as much local produce as I can, but in the winter months in the Pacific Northwest, that would mean potatoes, onions and turnips. I tried that last year through a CSA and was not a happy camper. So this year, I am accepting that I will have to use a grocery store in the winter months, and it’s ok if the produce comes from further away. I’d rather enjoy my meal times instead of dread them because I’m going to eat another turnip!
    Grok on!

    1. That’s funny, we had a truly atrocious CSA last winter too and we’re in the Pacific Northwest. It *should* be possible to have greens in the winter here though, if your CSA is on the ball. I wish ours had been. We’re hoping to be able to harvest our own kale at least for this winter. Even in colder climates, it’s possible, though not easy, to have a four-season harvest. I’m also thinking about doing rotating trays of micro greens under lights one of these days too.

  4. I read that editorial too. What I took away from it was that the best things you can do to reduce your food carbon footprint are: (1) make a garden and grow as much as you can at home; (2) get an energy efficient refrigerator; (3) cut down on multiple trips to the supermarket and farmer’s market, for example by shopping only once a week; (4) cook outside, using sticks that you find in the yard, instead of electricity or gas.

  5. Most of the stuff I eat doesn’t grow well in Florida, not much in the way of a brussel sprouts crop. I rarely eat citrus, cane sugar is out of the question and you can only eat so many strawberries.

  6. Although there is an ‘energy cost’ using an extra freezer to freeze the glut produce during the summer and autumn can allow you to continue to eat locally for at least some of the winter, and often the glut produce is pretty cheap too – says she eyeing her heavily laden plum tree; there is no way they will all be eaten fresh (green faced emoticon!)! Last year I made jam (but that was pre-Grok) several lbs of sugar isn’t a great idea!

    1. Worth reading if you want to realize the locavores can be nearly as rabid and judgmental as many vegans.

      1. I did mention that it was a “harsh review” of the article. The criticisms seem to be valid though.

        And one of her main points (in fact the title of the article) is that locavores aren’t all rabid and judgmental. The reason she’s upset in her reply is because of the “…dishonest misrepresentations and tiresome stereotypes about the eat local movement.”

        1. That’s actually the first negative thing I’ve ever read about the movement. It seemed the editorial was more about not justifying the locavore movement by trying to argue the shipping cost angle.
          I like the idea of buying local foods, just for the nutritional value and to support organic methods.

    2. I was interested at first, but the article lost me at “At a time when global warming is SURELY[emphasis mine] fueling fires, floods, and drought all over the world” Obvious agenda there. Next.

      1. Thanks for spotting that misinformation. I don’t think the article is worth reading if the author stoops to that.

    3. I concur with the Huffington Post review of the article.

      That New York Times article reminded me of an article I read which purported to prove that a Prius used more energy than a Hummer.

      Self-serving, bogus talking points making false comparisons and mis-identifying his opposition.

      There is so much wrong with the American food supply and with industrial agriculture.

      1. subsidized cheap carbs, which have to be highly processed before anyone could eat them without gagging. Grown in ways destructive to land, water, air, and genetic diversity. Monocultures, huge machinery.

      2. long transportation distances, so that fresh food is tired before it arrives at the sales site. Fruit and veggies bred to be indestructible, picked green and ripened with ethylene. Some people don’t even know what a tree-ripened piece of fruit tastes like anymore.

      3. A culture of “labor-saving” food preparation, where people eat out too much of the time, and many don’t even know how to cook from scratch. This leads to a cloud of ignorance about the sources, nutrition, and quality of what people are eating.

      4. The supermarket produce sections demand uniformity and cosmetic perfection from produce. Hence, many tons of food are wasted in the field. Much more is lost by sitting in the stores unsold till it is thrown away.

      5. By having a year-round uniform food supply, people no longer change what they eat with the seasons. Human biology evolved and adapted to changing temperatures, day lengths, and kinds of food available. When there is no longer the rhythm of spring greens and sprouts, late summer produce, or winter stored food, meats, cheeses, and especially lacto-fermented food, these subtle biological processes are thrown out of kilter.

      6. There’s the matter of social justice. Importing produce from South America, and now from all over the world, leads to powerful interests taking land from indigenous farmers to grow food for export. Taking food from countries when their own people aren’t properly fed is just plain wrong. We can get around a little of this by spending more and buying “fair trade” chocolate, coffee, bananas, and so on, but the fact remains that many defenseless people suffer to give Americans their year-round unchanging season-defying produce.

      7. Last, perhaps least important biologically, but it may still trump everything else: industrial agriculture, heavily processed food, and long transportation distances all depend on fossil fuels, which are depleting as we speak.

      The Locavore Movement changes consumption patterns away from all of these disastrous Petroleum Age problems. In fact, it’s quite amazing how such a simple idea could bring about such far-reaching and beneficial adjustments in how we eat.

      It all comes down to this: are we willing and able to adjust to the natural cycles where we are living, by cooking and eating what can be grown nearby, and by learning to store it in ways which are healthy and reasonably energy-efficient?

      Or do we keep riding the industrial food-like-substances train till the wheels come off?

  7. I don’t get too serious about the whole eat local thing. I live in Canada, for crying out loud! I buy and eat local when I can, but am I supposed to avoid things like coconut products, olive oil and coffee just because there are no coconut or olive groves in Ontario? Don’t think so. Buy local when you can and avoid processed crap and otherwise don’t sweat it.

  8. Eating locally doesn’t mean you can’t have items out of season – buy in bulk when items are in season, then freeze, dry, or can them for use in the winter. that’s how our ancestors made it through. I grew up in WI, and we canned the fruit from our trees, froze berries we bought in July, and kept root vegetables in a root cellar. We also kept some apples and pears in the root cellar also. This may be more work than some might prefer, BUT, if you want to eat well, I guarantee the taste of the food you “put by” will be far superior than the express shipped bell peppers you eat in January in Minnesota.

  9. A newcomer to the PB diet (this is my first full week and so far, so good!), I too like the idea of buying local fruits and veggies as much as possible, though I also am not limiting myself to it 100% of the time either. There is a convenience factor – the best source and pricing for local products is a market clear on the other side of town in a direction I hardly ever travel. My solution: I try to go once every couple of weeks and load up my cart to last until the next visit. I’ll do my part to support the local farmers (since our garden didn’t do so well this year), but I also won’t feel guilty for eating veggies from out of state in the middle of winter (especially since I’ll be eating a ton more of them this fall/winter, thanks to the PB diet!). I think the reader hit the nail on the head with our culture’s obsession with processed/prepackaged foods (which are mostly made from grains and full of carbs that are unhealthy for us, right?!).

  10. The best way to eat local is to garden. And in the winter, those in Maine (and elsewhere) don’t have to be relegated to the root cellar. Just read the work of Eliot Coleman.

    A winter garden is probably not possible for us this winter, but after building some cold frames, I hope we can next year.

  11. I’m not completely buying this.

    First off, the energy footprint numbers seem slanted. In my experience, I happen to live in a town where the majority of the people ‘walk’ or bike to the farmers market, Coop, butcher, and grocery store. If they are driving, they are coming from a 1-2 mile radius. So I have a hard time envisioning the added energy footprint at least in my community.

    Second, that some places are better suited to grow things over others. Sure, for things like pineapples, avocados, or other exotics – these things don’t grow locally for me – ever. So for me, I eat them a great deal less. I strive to eat what is in season, and that works out about 80/20. When I do consider the imports, if I can’t validate where something is coming from, I need to think about who I’m buying it from and how many hands it changes along the way. The more people in the chain,the higher potential to get an inferior diseased product. When I get something from California or New Zealand, I have less security in knowing how it was handled from its origin point and how its been treated, or what its been exposed to along its travels. A great example – Iowa eggs; tainted water stream, rats and rodent feces, all sorts of lovely things. I’d be willing to bet some of those eggs were stamped ‘free range’ because of how they can dance around some regulations for the ‘free range’ tag.

    For me, I try to go with what’s in season. Example, when making a decision on adding a ‘fat’ item, I’m probably going to go with local bacon or sour cream over say an Avocado 4 out of 5 times. Making those decisions supports the local farmers and economy while minimizing variables. I know the farmers, and in some cases have even visited the farms myself.

    Lastly, People tend to wonder what they can do in ‘this economy’. Spend locally – the economic stimulus comes from spending locally, and the multiplier effect is far greater on your local community. That’s a whole other thread though, but important to mention.

    In the end, does this mean I won’t use salt and pepper, avocados, NZ lamb, California wine, or pineapples? No. But I will think more about it and use those items less. I feel it’s important to consider what is in season and work around that as best you can. Using the author of the OP-ED article’s argument it would be safe to assume that he would say that if you can’t get local oranges, importing the oranges is fine because where you live the oranges would probably not taste very good or be good to grow. But maybe your local farmer grows apples – and supporting him would guarantee a fresher product and be far better for your local community. I guess you could say for once that apples to oranges makes sense.

  12. Looks to me like there are a lot of “quasi-Groks” that can’t live without their veggies in the winter. Get out your Paleo pressure canner and put up a few dozen pints of produce, eh?

      1. Here we go again…

        Did grok have a computer? Internet? Airplane? Car? Phone?

        No, no, no, no, no. Do I or have I used all 5? Yes. Same with thousands of other things… Stove, Oven, Slow cooker, etc.

    1. Great link and great website in general.

      I would also add Matt Ridley’s site to the list for those interested. (Buy the book too!) I think this fits in nicely with the PB given the rationality of the lifestyle in general, the positive message, and focusing on what the data tells us – not opinions or biases!

    2. Thorough? Not the word I would use to describe it. “Naive” is where I would start. Price doesn’t equal value. Economic utility is not an accurate measure for social, environmental, biological well-being. Economic costs are externalized or absorbed from other realms. Thats why prices are not good indicators of true cost or value.

      The other of that blog post could learn a lot from Raj Patel’s The Value of Nothing.

      1. Naive it was not. It was concise and perhaps didn’t elaborate to the extent needed to contradict your beliefs. I have a feeling those beliefs wouldn’t be changed by any amount of logic.

        1. Feel this: Try me.

          Is it not possible that the price consumers pay for certain goods does not include all the costs in the production of that good? Is it possible that sometimes other agencies partially subsidize the production of certain commodities, causing the price of that good to be artificially low? Is it possible that part of the production costs of goods could be reduced by externalizing those costs into other realms (e.g. pollution). Is it then possible that prices might not be a precise tool for measuring the TOTAL value of a good?

          Your turn. My beliefs are ready to be changed. Any amount of logic will do.

        2. Ahhh, good response. Yes, I will grant that there would be some lowering of costs to the producer due to subsidies. And since you bring up the cost of externalities, then no price is ever going to show the whole cost – you’d have to include the opportunity costs such as your time in going to the market to buy stuff. In that same regard, the price isn’t going to show all the benefits, such as your time saved by not having to farm and purchase equipment as well as the benefits of growing in an area already set up for that. So I’d have to say that in looking only at the external costs and not looking at all the benefits, you’re simplifying it to a one-sided standard.
          I’d still contend that the price does a damned fine job of condensing all the costs into a precise little indicator.

          I love the idea of breaking up the larger ag-businesses. But these are kept afloat and benefitted not only by subsidies, but by regulations, tariffs and all forms of protectionism (let’s eliminate the FDA for starters). I am vehemently opposed to subsidies – all of them, including the so-called ‘fair-trade’ movement, which really translates to unfair trade.

  13. I’ve started buying what I can at the local farmer’s markets for 2 reasons…it’s typically fresher and I believe in keeping my money as close to home as I can.
    If I can’t find it there, I have no qualms of buying it ‘imported’. 🙂

  14. Funny, I was at a local restaurant yesterday who mainly sells food made from local sources. There was a flyer on the wall for a locavore challenge of eating one day a week for a month, only local products. That would probably not be all that hard for me here in CNY, being that my pork is already purchased from a local Amish farm, and I mainly eat venison (self obtained) or Salmon (husband obtained). I guess I could pay some attention to where exactly my chicken comes from besides Wegmans!
    Seriously we have a huge harvest right now, my own garden included. It really wouldn’t be a challenge but I agree with Mark, in the winter I don’t always want frozen vegetables. Sometimes I really want a salad.

  15. Very interesting post. I know that New Zealand (where I am from) can export their Dairy, Lamb and Beef products to Europe and the USA with less carbon emissions, and for cheaper, than local farmers in Europe or USA can. So this shows just how efficient it can be when you grow products in areas that are well suited to them.

  16. I live in Chicago and grow my own veggies this time of year (it took our tomatoes until last week to ripen!).

    Foods like brussels sprouts, squashes, avocado, and sweet potatoes are staples in our house year round. We grow our own, buy local when we can, and make due in the winter with what the stores have to offer.

    That said, I do plan to experiment this winter with living more like Grok and with my environment, because I am privleged enough in this country to do so. In other parts of the world, people are lucky if they eat one meal a day, and when they do eat it is often the same food day in and day out for months. We shouldn’t forget this in America where we can get bananas in 3 feet of snow! Local or not, food is life and we’re lucky to have it in abundance and debate things like delivery costs, buying local, not eating processed, etc.

    So, this winter, i’m going to hanker down like Grok would have; fast a couple days a week; eat more meat and less fruits and nuts; and test my own mental fortitude.

    The experiment continues!

  17. Yes, Grok didn’t have canners, freezers, and many of the conveniences we have today. But you also have to remember that grok also moved around a lot. Basically, he always went where the food was. Today we all have things such as jobs that keep us from being able to live a nomadic life chasing down our next meal. One of the conveniences we do have now days is being able to bring the food to us. I agree, buying local is better as much as you can get away with doing it, but not everyone lives in a place that produces lots of local produce. Here in louisiana all they farm is sugar cane and soybean and rice. None of the things I can eat on a primal diet.

    Now, yes I could garden, but not everyone has the luxury of living on a large enough piece of property to do so. There are local community gardens, which do provide some, but everything here is limited. Not to mention, I have to drive almost an hour to get to the closest place to me that sells grass fed beef.

    So while yes, doing local is superior, some people have to take what they can get.

  18. A good response to this article is found here: .

    I try to eat local most of the time, or at least seasonally. For me it has to do with greater taste, supporting local economy, making sure my food options don’t just come from one place (food security issues) and it’s just healthier. I also appreciate the environmental reasons, but understand that any system in our day and age often comes with environmental negatives.

    I just thought the response I linked to was good.

  19. Environmental issues is just one piece of the local food movement puzzle. For me the biggest reason I aim to buy and eat local is the politics of it all. In this day of a global food system there is an international food fight going on and not everyone is playing by the rules. When Big Ag makes the rules “Unconventional” farmers and growers struggle to survive while keeping their “alternative” values and integrity intact. Fortunately I (and every other citizen of the world who eats) get to play referee. While I tend to view the local food fight as operating more fairly, that isn’t to say all imported food is breaking the rules. In my eyes the fair trade movement is an essential companion to the local food movement. I am never going to procure local coffee, tea, chocolate, olive oil, fruits, or cotton, or exotic spices in Minnesota. But I can procure these through ethically and morally conscious avenues. Yes, there are more costs (typically externalized ones) in imported foods, but if I Choose to absorb them with a little extra from my wallet, then all the fairer.

    1. Americans have the option of minimizing or eliminating the politics you speak of.

      1. Your right, but it is not just Americans with influence. Everyone who has choice over what they eat has some sort of power. And it is not just power from voting with your dollars. Systemic change is possible through community organization and social activism (collective power).

  20. The eating local article by Budiansky misses most of the point of why I buy local. The locally grown fruit, vegetables, eggs, goat cheese, and grass-fed beef just tastes better. When someone can pick it that morning perfectly ripe and ready it tastes better. Why does the beef taste better or just as good as store-bought prime? I don’t know, but it does. The eggs I get from the farmer is feeds his chicken stuff from his garden don’t even look like the eggs at the grocery store. It was a good article for Mark to post and discuss since it definitely will test whether your BS detectors are working. Mine went off immediately which triggered some fact checking and it was easy to find out the faulty conclusions, misstated and left out statistics, and falsehoods. Thanks to other commentators who did the same.

    1. That is a good point. Taste is one of reasons this type of eating is easy to stick to. I also like helping local farmers here in Wisconsin. I’m willing to spend more also, as a way to vote for this way of eating, so that eventually everyone will be able to eat this way.

  21. Thanks Mark. As usual, a common sense approach. Living in Sacramento, California, I buy mostly fresh, local food. I have no guilt when I buy things from outside the Sacramento Valley.

  22. My eating “local” (I am a member of 2 CSA’s – meat and vegetables) has almost nothing to do with politics or the effect of “food-miles” on the environment (really, foodmiles? can we pick a more insignificant factor in food production?). It has to do with the excellent quality of the food from small farms and the connection to the people that produce. They are only de-facto “local” because they do not have the scale to export it. I happily give up eating “local” when I am guaranteed that the food I receive will be of the same quality. For example, in the winter my CSA in Western MA trucks in produce from a consortium of small-scale farmers up and down the East Coast. I trust my CSA, so I know that it will be quality. For me, eating “local” is a ridonkulous philosophy… I would rather just eat at “farm-scale” instead of at “military-industrial complex” scale.

  23. Grok didnt care about the environment so I am not going to worry about having my steaks and coconuts driven or flown in from a few thousand miles away.

    I like my Kobe Beef. What should I do, get a second job delivering pizza or driving a taxi so I can buy carbon credits to offset my guilt of not being a localvore?

    Mark if you wanted to support my effort to cook what grows in my backyard, lets have some dandelion and thistle soup recipies!

  24. I came to a decision on the local thing a long time ago, after debating the “support your local brewery” thing endlessly in craft beer circles many years ago. Basically, I think of my support in concentric economic circles:

    I like to support the local guy; when that’s out of the question, I like to support the regional gal; when that misses, I try to support the national player; when that doesn’t work, I try to support the international player.

    In those larger choices, there’s some deliberation to who to support (I tend to prefer producers who make good stuff in a responsible way, no matter where they are).

    That said, economic realities of the checkbook sometimes default to whatever’s cheapest. I kind of hope for reasonably-responsible regional producers, but also don’t dwell too much on it, since …

    One of the other PB keys is stress reduction — I put enough effort into most of my food purchases, that I don’t worry about the ones that are “out of bounds.” One can also apply the 80/20 rule here just as easily.

    The energy portions are too easy to go down a rabbit-hole with — and I say that as someone with a keen interest in energy issues (I chair a local committee).

  25. Ok, maybe this is completely unfounded and irrelevant, but I wonder if eating things from your own area (and I’m talking about genetic origin, not temporary residence) could be better for you than eating imported food? and perhaps the opposite – are coconuts really good for someone originally from a nordic country? Is is possible that our genetic makeup is adapted to where we live? Just like fair skin absorbs vitamin D better than darker skin, perhaps there’s a similar link to food.

    Just a thought.

    1. Short answer, yes. It is pretty much the same idea as the PB philosophy: eat things your body is designed for. But as for variation among populations, that is trickier to support without speculation. I feel one good example of this is world population’s tolerance to lactose. In this case historically pastoral societies digest lactose better. There are varying degrees of lactose tolerance ranging all the way to zero. That is just one food type but I think it illustrates that it is possible that certain regional populations can be better adapted to certain foods than others. There is a book that discusses these same questions called, “Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity” by Gary Paul Nabhan. I never read it but I had a professor who knew the guy and loves him. The book has mixed reviews on Amazon.

  26. I live in Az where vegetables and fruits are grown year-round.

    I would buy local, but the produce market down the street that sells fruits and vegetables brought in from all over the world is — cheaper.

    1. If the producers abroad can grow the food, pick it, pack it, ship it to AZ, and STILL have it cheaper than local, how can they do that?

      The logical conclusion is that they don’t have to abide by U.S. minimum wage standards or food safety regulations, such as pesticide rules.

      You never get something for nothing. If it seems to you that you are, someone else is paying the price.

  27. I buy 25kg of 100% chemical free grass-fed beef and 20 kg of the same in lamb per month transported from about 10 hours away because I cannot get it anywhere else. I can get plenty of pumpkins locally when they are in season and try to get what else I can fresh or local. But I have to get my coconut, coffee and cocoa imported from elsewhere [albeit organic] but they just don’t grow them in Australia. I am currently trying to get a garden going to grow some green vegetables, they are so hard to get where I am. I also like tomatoes that have never been in the fridge. Yum.

  28. A few things.

    1. This is one man’s study. While I do respect his work, there’s also a volume of work for the other side.

    2. Even he says there is a small amount of fuel used to move produce. What does it matter if it’s small or big? If I can save it and get better quality food that way, why wouldn’t I?

    3. Keep in mind that the fuel costs of modern agriculture aren’t just in the transportation. Fertilizer, refrigeration and harvesting are also big components, and one which this article seems to ignore. I’d much rather buy from some local organic farmer than a far away industrial farmer.

    That said, I’m not going to buy local if it’s 10 times the price. At that point, I’ll just find a cheaper local alternative.

  29. I agree that only eating local is not necessarily great. Eating the right foods will ultimately use less energy because we will be healthier!

    Think of all the energy expended in our healthcare systems because of poor eating habits (research and manufacture of drugs, hospital infrastructure, bypass surgery, etc). If everyone ate real, good food despite where it came from, perhaps that would lower our total communal energy use. You have to think about food energy on a larger scale, taking into account the energy expended on the consequences of our eating habits, too.

    This is one of the most appealing aspects of the PB for me. The fact that I am just a healthy person makes me less of a burden on society. I suffer no chronic maladies and can more easily prevent accute injury and illness, even if I have to drive to the store to get the good food.

  30. I’m glad to be Zero Carb and not think about what fruits/vegetables are seasonal. I just go for grassfed or organic meats and Kerrygold butter, and that is my plan.

  31. I started our Locavore eating three years ago with concerns mainly about energy usage. As we’ve been eating this way for three years now, it’s really about the Food! The quality, the flavor, the freshness, the freedom from worry about contaminants and recalls. Supporting your local farmer. Spending your money in a way that benefits your local community.

    You as the taxpayer are ALREADY supporting the commodity foods: soybeans, wheat, and corn; and they’re coming back to you as fast food, junk food, transfats, high fructose corn sweetener.

    Yes, we drink tea and coffee, we use olive oil (California), we eat salmon (Alaska) occasionally. I buy a little California produce in the winter. I also can, dry, and freeze the local bounty. I don’t buy strawberries in January.

    Local eating is about taking your food supply back from the megacorporations, and supporting your neighbors.

  32. Forgot to mention…

    I get all my seasonal vegetables from an urban farm that delivers weekly to my work through a CSA. The urban farm was started as a jobs creation program for local low wage workers. Not only can these farmers now provide for their families, but there is a renewed sense of community between the farmers, their families, and the buyers here at work. The farms are designed as a learning tool for the children and a sustainable business for the adults. In this regard, the value of the farm being “local” — actually IN the city — is that we now have a community space where we can build valuable personal relationships.

    Last year, one of the farmers’ brothers died unexpectedly and the other farmers and the buyers agreed to use some of the farm funds to help with the costs. This social interaction is so essential in life and is lost when we start shipping things around and packaging them and removing the face from the product.

    When you do buy local (or even from a distance) I urge you to attempt to get to know the people making your food. They will get satisfaction from your hapiness and it will all eventually lead to a stronger, healthier society.

    Is that enough touchy-feely stuff for one post?

  33. You fell for Budiansky’s contention that locavores care only about being local! As though no one else noticed that it’s a complex issue and that food miles don’t tell the whole story. I heard him on NPR a few months ago trying to stir up controversy on a panel, but as soon as the other panelists corrected him on the above issues, he had very little to add to the dialogue.

  34. We eat locally produced food – protein and vegetables – not because of transportation issues but to avoid all the processed junk out there. Our lives have changed for the better – and it tastes better too.
    I have found that you have to watch some items. I recently found a case of tomatoes at a local farm that was shipped 300 miles to get here. No problem except they had chemicals on the fruit to preserve them. Next day went to the Farmer’s Market and got fresh, chemical free produce.

  35. Hello all. I am a total advocate for eating local and a localized market in general. But not for energy foot prints or anything like that.

    1) I believe that the food that grows locally is all that Grok had to go on and I belief that the food that is available in that season and in that area are what the animals (including us 2 legged ones) need to best cope with the climate and the terrain and other elements in that area. It seems logical right? It was only possible for Grok to eat what was around right? No imports for him or any other animal on the planet as far as I know.

    3) When it’s local (within 50-100 miles) the food doesn’t need to be stored as long thus causing rot or insect/bacterial infestation. Thus require less pesticides and refrigeration and other special techniques that could possibly alter the food on some level.

    Those are my two cents. I LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog Mark. I just started my own that links to lots of great information including yours of course!

  36. Looks like it’s time to boycott the local Farmers Market :]

  37. Most environmentally appropriate food is best you say? Budiansky’s starts down the right path but can’t see the real story here.

    So the real news story is that the perennial grasslands that supported 90 million buffalo for 10,000 years might be better used as grazing land rather than torn up every year and dumped with chemicals to grown annual crops.

    Budiansky seems to have forgotten the old journalist anecdote: A high school newspaper teacher is showing his charges how to write a lede. He tells them that Thursday the teachers will attend an all-day off-site training. He asked the students to write a headline. All of them write something along the line of “Teachers to Attend Training Thursday”. NO!!! the headline is “Classes Canceled Thursday”.

    It’s a journalist’s job to think through the IMPLICATIONS of the facts they are presented with. Budiansky’s is right to point out the tiny cost of transportation. But the real implication here is that sustainable, minimal impact food systems mimic the natural environments of a given ecological area. That means that there is very little space for the wheat/corn/soy trifecta. That’s the real story.

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  39. He speaks of growing in the best geographical area for the plant is the most efficient way. This while true it seems as if he is saying you should only grow tomatoes, pepper and eggplant and those non frost tolerant crops in the south, and frost tolerant crops in the north: garlic, cabbage family, lettuces etc..I personally am a gardener and there is no reason why I cannot grow non frost tolerant crops in the North when it’s the right season. Starting those plants early inside in a window requires no more resources then it would down South starting them in the ground outside. I can guarantee the tomatoes I grow from my own seed year after year are much more efficient then some tomato from down south. Also a root cellar takes no energy to heat or cool and if you store your proper veggies there you are not adding to the energy expenditure of that group. Also there are varieties that are made for different climates!