Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What is Local Food ?

Blueberry fields in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia.

I've talked before about the benefits of local eating. The benefits are obvious and compelling.

-Local food supports the small, family run farms, which supports the local economy & leads to job creation
-Foods are fresher, more nutritious and taste better. Local foods are picked at their peak of freshness and delivered to you within a few days.
-It's better for the environment. Local food means reduced emissions as food doesn't travel as far to get to your table. It also means less packaging and less waste.
-In the case of dairy, poultry and meat producers, you often get a more humanely raised, healthier products.

It's easier said than done though. Most large, corporate grocery stores do not carry local products. (Safeway, I'm talking to you.) In larger cities, local products, especially meat products, are often impossible to find. Local products can also cost more because they are often of better quality and produced in smaller quantities.

First of all, what is "local"? I learned there is no standard definition. The term "local" can be interpreted differently depending on whom you ask and what you are looking for. The broadest definition of the term "local food" is anything that is produced in the province/state in which you reside, even if it's several hundred or thousand miles away.

Others define local as anything that takes one day or less to reach your table (thereby reducing emissions involved in transporting the products). A reasonable distance for food to travel in one day (known as DGD or days-good-distance), is 400 miles. Source.

The 100 Mile Diet movement sees local food as anything grown or produced within 100 miles of your residence. If you live in British Columbia, you can check distances between cities here to see if your local farmers/food produces fit within the 100 mile guide. In the Lower Mainland of BC (Greater Vancouver), we are quite lucky to have so many products and food producers within 100 miles. Fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, dairy and seafood. Our area has it all.

The most narrow view of a local diet is anything produced within a city and its surroundings; For example, the Metro Vancouver area (ending north of the Fraser in Maple Ridge and south of the Fraser in Langley). This wouldn't be a very easy diet to follow since many farms and producers are in Chilliwack, Abbotsford and beyond. The Canada Food Inspection Agency also follows this narrow view, stating that for goods to be advertised as "local" or "locally grown", it must originate within 50 km from where it is sold - 50 kilometres is only about 31 miles! Source.

My personal view of "local" changes depending on what product I'm looking to purchase. My most general sense of local is 100 miles, because it's easy to define and like I said, there is an abundance of food items grown and produced within 100 miles of my home. If you look at this map on the 100 Mile Diet website, you will see. A hundred miles from the Vancouver area covers much of the southern tip of Vancouver Island, northern Washington, Whistler and the Fraser Valley.

I know from all the searching I have done, that grass fed beef is not readily available within my 100 mile radius. I know that Okanagan wines taste better than Fraser Valley wines (in my opinion, of course), and some of the best BC fruit comes from the Okanagan as well. For some products, I redefine my idea of local to anything grown or produced in the entire province.

Now with all that said, my diet isn't based around local products. In fact, I eat very few local products. I would like to eat local and support local growers and producers but like I said, it isn't easy and it isn't cheap. Aside from weekly community Farmer's Markets and small local grocers, the only way to get many local products it to go direct to the producer. I don't have the time or desire to be driving all over the Lower Mainland to buy my weekly groceries from several different sources. This is why I appreciate the Farmer's Markets. This year, I will try to go weekly and if not, at least every other week. I will try to buy most of my fresh produce from the farm stand and when I can't, I will seek out as much local produce as I can from the produce store nearby.

Another source for local foods is via home delivery services such as Spud or Organics@Home. Come Fall and Winter when the Farmer's Markets are over, I will be joining one of these services. Not only can you get in season, local produce, but you can also get grass-fed beef and organic grocery products - all delivered right to your door step.

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