‘Eat Local’ Uses Distance Paranoia to Scam Your Wallet – 12,450.5 Reasons Why!
Every year there is a new trend, a new passion, a new way to get fit and save the planet. The ‘eat local’ label, which has been invading the minds and grocery stores of people for ages, has slowly and sneakily embraced the packages of your hydroponically grown grocery store fare. If you look, and not that close at all, you’re likely to see it advertised in bold letters right next to the part that reminds you that your asparagus is, indeed, gluten-free! It is all so exciting, so feel good, and soo missing the point.
In today’s article let’s look at what eat local wants to do, how it fails, and the real eat local (hyper-local) that makes sense. If you’re a regular of the site, you’ll already know what we mean before you get there, but the journey will still be worth it!
Speaking of a journey, let’s start with…
…the 12,450.5 mile reason not to eat local:
“Why eat local?”
“Uh, because I don’t want to destroy the planet just to have a tomato shipped halfway around the globe!” The answer feels so obvious, so right, and certainly quite conscientious. Yet, the eat local environmental logic falls apart with just a bit of digging.
The first is the constant assumption that our food is shipped from some far-flung region of the world to our grocery store. Let’s start by establishing a range of distances our food probably travels before being chewed: Cutting the length of our equator, nearly 25,000 miles long, in half limits the distance of ‘far food’ being grown at a max of roughly 12,450.5 miles away from the mouth that eats it. A tremendous distance indeed! The real distance our food travels is much less than this, of course, as the worst-case scenario is rarely ever actually followed. At the height of the eat local movement, back in 2006, the idea floated around that Americans’ food traveled about 1,500 miles from source to mouth. You can see this coming from America’s favorite food (and psychedelics) writer, Michael Pollan, and then clarified a bit (the distance depends heavily on what city you live in) by Slate a bit later.
So, what’s the point…
Eat Local: Perspective and Paranoia
The point is that you are closer to eat local than you probably think just from buying stuff at the grocery store. The ‘eat local’ sticker on one crate slaps an imaginary ‘eat far’ sticker on another box right before your very eyes! A dirty psychological trick, if I may say so.
Internally, we worry about the great distances of the Earth and assume the worst. Actually, a lot of the eat local movement is about assuming the worst. We already know that the food isn’t coming from the farthest place possible (far from it) so what else do we get wrong? A lot!
We worry that far away businesses don’t have our best interests at hand because they are so far away. Yet the local business might be smaller, under less scrutiny, using worse equipment and worse water.
We worry that the business far away is just big business, it’s all about money, and doesn’t care about the environment. The ‘eat local’ guy, the little guy, the humble grower across town, they must really care! Yet can they afford the proper disposal of wastewater? Might they let some of the little things slide? Changing our perspectives can ultimately change the way we think about ‘eat local’ and many other hot buttons, emotional issues.
“Fine, fine!” you say, “But what about this tomato?! This tomato could have traveled 1,500 miles! That’s further away than I’ve been in at least a couple of years! Eat local is about not giving my tomatoes their own personal chauffeurs, carting them around the planet!”
Alright then, it is time to talk about…
MPT – ‘Miles Per Tomato’
Where people really get distorted in their perception is when they view that humble tomato sitting on the plate. Or, THEIR tomato sitting on THEIR plate. It feels so important, so big. In the process of looking at a tomato, we’ve forgotten all of the others it sat next to on the bus ride to your front door.
It turns out they are sitting next to a lot of other tomatoes. Just look at the DSV ‘reefer’ (That stands for refrigeration, not what you’re thinking!) trailer. It has an impressive 85 cubic meter storage capacity (that’s over 3,000 good ole American cubic feet)! If you take a standard tomato that is about 4 inches wide and pretend that it is a cube, you get 16 cubic inches per tomato or just under 1% of a cubic foot. Therefore, that ‘reefer’ up there can carry about 300,000 tomatoes minus a few to make room for storage containers.
So, that really scary worst-case halfway around the world scenario? That’s just about 0.04 miles per tomato. The much talked about 1,500? A mere 0.005! Is this really what eat local people are afraid of?!
Avoid Eat Local, Eat Hyper-Local
When you get carried away with eat local, you fall into the trap of limitations without results. You give yourself fewer choices and settle for lower quality while dealing with higher chances of low-quality water, poor growing practices, and careless chemical applications.
The real eat local is and always has been the eat local you do at home. “Hyperlocal” if you will. The farming we’ve been encouraging you to do here at growwithoutsoil! With hydroponics you control the system completely, can make the decision about whether or not to use potentially environmentally harmful peat on your own, and can go directly from the farm to your fork…
Speaking of which, I know I’ve been rather harsh on eat local today. Sometimes the math just doesn’t check out and some ideas deserve a harsh reexamination. So, please, be sure to check out this article’s “brother article” on farm to fork for the flipside perspective!