HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >


Eating local is not good for the planet?

I have a feeling their is some bad math going on in this report. It is certainly thin on details.



  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. But do the advocates of 'eating local' do any math? Often 'eating local' sounds more like a slogan than the result of careful analysis.

    1 Reply
    1. re: paulj

      I don't, but I don't do maths. Just kidding. Their big stat is 83% of the energy used is for production and the larger producer has economies of scale. That may or may not be true. Depends on the farmer. Joel Salatin runs his farm with very little fossil fuel usage. Here's an interesting piece he wrote recently - http://polyfacehenhouse.com/2012/04/j...

      I have found another article about the eat local myth. It has more detail. I'll post after I've read if I think it's any good.


      1. Interesting stuff, jb, thanks for the links. The issues are certainly more complex than the Huffington article deals with and I think World Watch is getting closer to considering more of them. I look forward to reading their next installment.

        At bottom, the local food movement is moving the discussion and behaviors in the right direction. Problems certainly exist, but it would seem that awareness of them will help lead to mitigation. The one thing no one seems to be able to dispute, however, is the superior quality of in-season, truly fresh, local produce.

        1. The problem with eating local is that there are so many people living in areas where there is no local produce or other foods. The locale is not suited to growing. There might be some family gardens, but even at the "local" farmer's markets, most of the fruit and vegetables are trucked in from another state, or from a few farms several hours away.

          1. It depends on the definition of "local", the "local" growing conditions, and the product. An oft-cited study by Lincoln University in New Zealand found that importing lamb into Britain resulted in less carbon dioxide emissions than those produced locally due to a number of different reasons (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknew...).

            If you live in a place with a long, harsh winter, growing a few hundreds tons of locally-grown produce in greenhouses would probably be worse (ecologically-speaking) than importing them from a warmer growing region.

            Additionally, many items cannot be grown locally even during the warmest part of the year. For example, coffee plants, cacao trees, pineapples, etc., usually cannot be grown outside of tropical areas.

            1. Even without math, you can see where our food supply is massively wasteful. Why when I go into a grocery store on the East Coast of the U.S. do I see apples from New Zealand? It isn't as if there aren't plenty of apples from the U.S. at the same time, and many from the East Coast at the same time. Why should apples be flown from New Zealand to the United States? And yes, when I was in Auckland, I saw apples from the East Coast of the U.S. in their grocery stores, alongside their own apples. This is just nuts. And dragging water around the world. So wasteful in so many ways. We don't have to eat fresh berries in January. We can wait a few months and meanwhile eat frozen. The nutritional value is the same.

              Obviously there are some things you can't get local in the U.S. such as coffee, but water? Apples?

              1 Reply
              1. re: Just Visiting

                What were you doing in New Zealand? Weren't there enough people already? Think of how wasteful it is to ship people half way around the globe just to eat local apples. :)

                The fact that NZ apples can be sold at competitive prices in the USA, and v.v., is evidence of the efficiency of the transportation system. The same system, probably, that you used to travel to NZ. In fact the USA apples that you saw in NZ might have traveled in the cargo hold of the same plane, and helped reduce the cost of your fare.

              2. Eating local helps your tongue, but I'm not convinced it helps the environment.

                1. Why not support local growers AND eat less beef? The best way might be to eat local beef, but less.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: sueatmo

                    I think the point the video was making is that supporting local growers isn't helping.

                    1. re: sueatmo

                      Local growers? That's a good one. There are only individuals here that offer some produce (and not much of it), during July and August at our farmer's markets.

                      1. re: sueatmo

                        Why do growers 20 miles away from you need your support more than ones 200 miles away?

                        Do you just respond to local posters?

                        1. re: paulj

                          I like to think of it as supporting a global economy.

                      2. Depends on what one means by "hurt the environment".

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          I can think of three main areas that would be in my definition. Energy usage, how waste is treated, quality of the food produced. I would like the lowest energy usage to produce the food with the lowest waste product that escapes the farm that creates the most healthful food for me to eat.

                          How do you define "hurt the environment"?

                          It is also good to define local. I have seen several definitions based on what I see in stores. At one local store that promotes it's local food I sometimes see veggies from a valley I drive through every day to work. That would be as local as you can get. Other times I see veggies from California and Mexico. I never see fruits and veggies from beyond Mexico. Their meat comes from within the state, but it travels 300 to 400 miles. So local is relative and affected by seasonal availablilty. I don't hink it only means getting it from a farmer around the corner.

                          And as Paulj pointed out it may be in the cargo hold of a plane or ship that is bringing other things and is making that trip regardless of where the food was grown. A ship filled with electronics from China or Japan could easily fill extra space with food items. How does that figure into the energy usage equation?

                          Then also figuring out how efficient and effective a farm is in producing food that meets my 3 criteria would make figuring out the carbon foot print of a potatoe nearly impossible as there are too many unkowns. The assumptions made by the research in the stories above, cost of production, mode of travel and distance are too specualtive to really be useful.

                          I realize that as I'm writing this, if I were to put those three criteria in order of importance, I'd put good healthful food at the top, contains production waste second and local as third.


                          1. re: JuniorBalloon

                            "the lowest waste product that escapes the farm"
                            All food production involves waste. There are edible parts, and inedible parts to all plants and animals. On farms the inedible can be composted, recycled, plowed in, or even burned (common in traditional farming practices). But there is even waste in the edible stuff that leaves the farm. Getting produce from farm to market in a timely fashion has always been a challenge for the farmer. If it's not sold in time, it's going to rot and be tossed - regardless of whether production is local or distant. In many cases modern technology reduces that sort of waste (compared to traditional farming), with faster transport, controlled storage environments, vermin control, high yielding varieties, and preservation methods (canning, freezing).

                            In the early years of the USA, corn growers on the frontier transformed their produce into whisky to efficiently get it to market. Most facilities for canning or freezing produce are located close to the fields to minimize cost and waste of transporting the produce in its most perishable form.