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Language Arts: Locavore

Unless you live under a rock or high up in a mountain peak somewhere, you are probably all-too-familiar with the trendy phenomenon known as the Local Food Movement - also known as "food patriotism."

You know, good for you and good for the environment.

Or is it? Let's take a look.

*

Per Wikipedia, the goal of the Local Food Movement is "To build more locally based, self-reliant food economies [through] such processes as sustainable food production, processing, distribution and consumption are unified as a means of enhancing the economic, environmental and social health of a particular geographical region."

"Eating locally" is customarily defined as eating foods grown within 100 miles of home - hence the 100-Mile Diet. It does not mean going out to dinner.

Adherents to the movement have coined the term "locavore" (or "localvore") to describe people committed to eating and learning about foods grown close to home. The Oxford Dictionary liked the term so much it recently named "locavore" as its favorite new word of 2007.

"The significance is that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way," explained Ben Zimmer, editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. "The word 'locavore' shows how food-lovers can enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment."

Amazingly, as recently as two years ago, there existed no such word; it was coined by four San Francisco women in 2005 (Jen Maiser, Jessica Prentice, Sage Van Wing and DeDe Sampson) as a result of the group's proposal that local Bay area residents strive to only eat foods grown or produced within a 100-mile radius.

The San Francisco women had been inspired by the book by Vancouver-based authors Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon, The 100-Mile Diet (called Plenty in the U.S.), describing their year-long trial to geographically limit their consumption.

The Bay Area effort spawned Eat Local Challenges throughout the country, which follow these guidelines:

If not LOCALLY PRODUCED, then Organic

If not ORGANIC, then Family Farm

If not FAMILY FARM, then Local Business

If not a LOCAL BUSINESS, then Fair Trade

The movement is certainly hot. Consider a brief list of recent multi-media attention-getters.

* Time magazine's "Eating Better than Organic"

* Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

* Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma

* The website Food Routes

* The documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John

Yet, the notion of eating locally is hardly new. In fact, eating what you grow is a practice that can be traced all the way back to the prehistoric hunter-gatherer era whereby individuals were relegated to subsisting upon foods from within a limited, concentric geographic region.

It's an idea literally as old as the hills. But in these days of all-things-green, the Local Food Movement is gaining currency among a diverse group of people and communities looking to not only eat healthy but to reduce carbon footprints by reducing energy emissions used in transporting food long distances.

There are, however, skeptics.

While Joel Stein's January 2008 "Extreme Eating" essay (subhead: "One Reporter Goes Global - Actually, Just To Whole Foods In Search Of The Perfect Meal") was, more or less, a well-positioned opportunity to parody the popular fad while throwing in a couple of convincing factoids, The Economist's December 2006 article, "Voting With Your Trolley: Can You Really Change The World Just By Buying Certain Foods?" presented a persuasive argument against the Local Food Movement's bounty of benefits.

Discrediting the movement by citing statistics indicating that it does not necessarily reduce the carbon footprint involved in transporting food products the public has been led to believe, The Economist quotes from a British government report that says "A shift toward a local food system, and away from a supermarket-based food system, with its central distribution depots, lean supply chains, and big, full trucks, might actually increase the number of food-vehicle miles being traveled locally, because things would move around in a larger number of smaller, less efficiently packed vehicles."

So consumption of local food may not save the Earth after all. It may, however, relieve our shame of thinking we are the world's worst sinners by eating such imported foods as Petrosian caviar from Russia or drinking a nice Pinot Gris from New Zealand.

There is, of course, another advantage of buying local: boosting your local economy and buoying up your local purveyors. Regardless of the amount of energy conserved, are local growers/producers still not deserving of your patronage?

Amid stiff competition from large, industrial food czars, these are the folks who maintain a steadfast dedication to consistently delivering unique, quality offerings in small batches.

So even though you may not be directly contributing to the preservation of the world's energy supplies, you can still have peace of mind knowing that your efforts are helping to support the little guy so that one day his business will look very attractive to a big corporation that wants to buy him out.

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Previously in Language Arts:
* Pushback.

-

Comments welcome.



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Posted on January 28, 2008


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