You’ve seen the bumper sticker. Maybe you even talk the talk; but do you walk the walk? The world is perhaps more health conscience about food choices than ever. We are proliferated by ads online, on TV and in print for healthy choices as well as eco-friendly options in many purchasing decisions from food to fun to fad. Is buying “healthy” or buying “green” the same as buying “fresh” or “local?” Not always.
We operate a grass-fed livestock enterprise raising cattle, sheep, and chickens on grass, doing our best to minimize chemical or other artificial inputs. While we need to use equipment occasionally and still need to drive from here to there daily; we try hard to minimize using fossil fuels. Our products are sold direct and via farmers’ market to local consumers. Rarely is anything shipped out of the area. It’s accurate to claim that our products are indeed fresh and local.
So, what of the majority of consumers who do their buying at the supermarket? How fresh and local is that, and what difference does it make if it’s not? A lot.
Most of the food products, including meat and produce, have been mass processed at central locations and shipped to various markets to display for sale. Most of the beef in the U.S., for instance, is produced by only four large operators of feedlot/slaughterhouse facilities in just a few central locations. The resulting packaged product is then shipped via air, rail, and truck to thousands of retail venues throughout the nation and the rest of the world, burning tons of fossil fuels and crowding roadways throughout. Indeed, this process employs many people and supports the economies of lots of places.
The answer for many consumers is to make more eco-friendly buying decisions, sometimes even eliminating certain foods like meat and dairy from their diets. Vegetarian and vegan diets have become very popular. Does this make it all better? Not always.
Chances are pretty good that the all-veggie burger available at the local market as an alternative to meat products has been mass processed in a facility far from home and shipped a long distance via a complex supply chain prior to finding its way into your shopping bag. Close examination of the label might indicate that it includes several artificial flavorings and preservatives as well. Further, what do we really know about this “healthy” veggie burger? What’s really in it? Where and how was it produced? How were these “veggies” grown? Probably not fresh, and probably not local. Not even close.
People make buying and dietary choices for a variety of reasons: health, moral and otherwise, and I’m not asking anyone to change their mind about that. The only suggestion here is to consider the implications on the local economy as well as the value added by way of freshness when making those decisions.
Hey most of us have shopped at Walmart. Sometimes it’s the best choice. Price, convenience, and choice very often drive buying decisions for any of us. Sometimes, however, price, convenience and choice have a higher cost. Just think about it.