A Seat at the Table

In today’s society and business, big corporations rule the agriculture and food industry. They are fueled by the population’s reliance on quick, easy, ready-to-consume products. I argue that when a community begins eating local food, that by shying away from corporate food production, the people can benefit individually and as an entire community. In this post, I will address important questions that are present about eating local food. I will define local food, describe the history of eating local, and address other questions about the ease, cost, and state of local food. I want to show the benefits of eating local, as well as the disadvantages. I hope that this post will answer any questions about eating local. With a focus on the local food movement in North Carolina, I will look into the seasonal aspects of eating local. Within this blog post, I will acknowledge various philosophies and political positions about eating local, as well as present both biased and unbiased arguments. All of these points will explain how embracing local food instead of global, corporate food can lead to significant benefits. After asking students about eating local, I’ve found that it can be difficult to execute a local lifestyle, thus I will provide insight to the locavore movement on college campuses. Throughout this blog post I will also illustrate the connection of eating local to major global topics including:

  • carbon footprint
  • global warming
  • local economy
  • nutritional crisis
  • community networking

“Eating local food” somewhat speaks for itself. According to definition, a “locavore” is someone who strives to eat only foods grown or harvested within a 100 mile radius. The term was coined by Jessica Prentice, when her and two friends decided to narrow their geographical point of view. FUN FACT: “Locavore” was even the 2007 Word of the Year for the Oxford American Dictionary. Prentice and her friends created a tool for eating local called the Local Foods Wheel, pictured below. These have been created for all regions in California and hopefully will be spreading to other states. A California wheel can be found here.

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The significant shift to eating local came as a reaction to the 1970s federal farm policy. President Richard Nixon promised to cut food prices. Before these changes, the federal government used to help out farmers by supplementing their costs. In executing his promise, Nixon moved the money that provided aid to all farmers to just giving money to the major economical crops, like corn and soy. Thus, hundreds of small farms were consumed by big companies. Due to the versatility of corn and soy, our diets changed completely because substitutes were created. Processed foods, saturated fats, and and feedlot meat spread across the country. This sparked the idea for change and for a better, healthier lifestyle. The solution: eating local food.

Political infrastructures have allowed big box companies to either monopolize or narrow down the competition to a few companies. This causes the small farms, that rely on local business, to either be bought out or to close all together. Many of these controlling companies farm corn as their main crop. The corn is used to produce biofuels. However, recently, the ethanol tax credit program expired, ending an era in which the federal government funded more than $20 billion in subsidies for the use of this biofuel. Even more steps have been taken that encourage local farming. Although they are small fractions of the USDA’s budget, they continue to give grants for community initiatives to promote eating local food.

To look into the costs and implications of eating local, I looked at a specific case that exists at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. They have fully embraced a farm-to-college system. According to this situation, it is a misconception that eating local is more expensive than have a global food diet. In many cases, it can be more expensive. However, at Kenyon, they “have established a system of food acquisition whereby it’s nearly as economical to buy local as it is to purchase through industrial sourcing.” One of the bases for this idea is the that because local food is fresher and of higher quality, that both students, administrators and chefs are more inclined to fully utilize the products and waste less. Just being more conscientious about food choices, can lead to significant benefits. By implementing “Trayless” Tuesdays and Thursdays. This initiative was created in an attempt to waste less. By eliminating trays, students could only grab what they could hold, thus, they end up throwing away less. The local food system balances itself out in terms of cost. While meat costs more due to higher quality and smaller production, the expenses are compensated when it comes to produce, which is cheaper at the local level than the international level. Also, the fact that Kenyon is an institution, they buy their food in bulk, which lowers costs as well. All of these factors come into play when purchasing locally. Kenyon realized that although in the beginning they were spending more on food, that as time went on, things eventually leveled out.

In a recent article from BuzzFeed, specific advantages and disadvantages were highlighted regarding eating local food. Eating local can be a very important choice for our lifestyles and for our community, however there can be possible bad outcomes. Below, the concrete implications of eating local are listed. The five disadvantages that BuzzFeed highlights are:

  1. Locally grown foods can be expensive.
  2. Locally grown foods spoil faster.
  3. There can be a smaller selection of products.
  4. Eating local can cause a increase in national unemployment rates.
  5. Brand name stores can lose customers.

Although some of these claims are possible disadvantages, there are also plenty of benefits for both the community and overall health.

  1. It can cause less pollution.
  2. It can help our local economy.
  3. Local foods are often fresher, better quality foods.
  4. Local food can create jobs and provide opportunities for the local community.
  5. Eating local can build a stronger community by fueling interaction.

With both advantages and disadvantages on our community, eating local comes with various implications. It has an definite impact on us and our planet, according to an article from Earth’s Friends. There are economic, health, environmental, and social implications. Economically, on varying levels, having a global food view is cheaper, yet recently, the “hidden costs” of cheaper food are coming to light. Often when food prices go down, its due to the creation of a substitute for the good that is a byproduct of a versatile crop like soy or corn. As mentioned above, these two crops lead to more processed, sweetened, and saturated goods that have less nutritional value. Due to this increase of unhealthy foods, the severity of obesity in America has quickly augmented. This leads me to the health implications of eating local. People have been forced to conscientiously make decisions about the foods they eat because it effects their health. Eating local provides many healthy choices that combat obesity. The increase of corporate food production has caused many environmental issues. Greenhouse gas output is increased when food production becomes more industrialized. Small, local farms produce significantly less fossil fuel emissions than big corporations. Socially, the locavore movement has “fostered a sense of identity” within communities. People are able to share thoughts, feelings, and ideas about local food while caring more about where their food comes from and how far it travels.

Going deeper into the environmental consequences of the corporate food industry, people are concerned with the sustainability of their food traveling, on average, 1500 miles.

“…between the fuel costs and the contribution all the transportation is making to global warming and climate change, I just can’t do it. It’s not sustainable and I don’t want to contribute to it.” – Robin McDermott

Sustainability is one of the specific reasons that people are inclined to move towards eating local food. It is hard for any person to mindlessly contribute to the continuous pollution of our planet. However, one person may not think that their actions alone, can make a difference. Thus, community initiative and involvement is crucial. It may be a slow movement, but people, communities, and even schools are gradually changing their choices to become more sustainable. School districts are starting to grasp the farm-to-cafeteria idea. According to the National Farm to School Network, almost 43,000 schools have adopted this initiative, which is 42 percent of schools in the United States.

The situation surrounding community based agriculture on college campuses is quite different. Some college students don’t even eat one serving of fruits and vegetables in a day. It can definitely be a challenge due to the possible high costs and the unavailability of fresh organic goods. Programs like the one at Kenyon College, as mentioned above, is a good idea for smaller schools. However, at large college campuses, like UNC, clubs like the Sonder Market, and others that support the locavore movement, are significant steps in the right direction.

If a members of a community can depend on each other within the world of what they eat, many things will benefit. There are less fossil fuels being emitted. There is better social interaction and higher nutritional value of products. If people can just put in a little more effort and rely less on the corporate supply, then everyone can have a seat at the community table. With everyone working together, eating local food is a reasonable, and beneficial mindset.

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6 Comments

  1. I really liked your article and your topic in general is really interesting. You do a great job at clearly defining both advantages and disadvantages of eating local, while also taking a stance on this subject, supporting the advantages of the locavore movement over the potential costs. One thing I’m interested in is how this movement varies across the country, especially for areas where farming is not prevalent, like the desert in Arizona, or cold seasonal temperatures in North Dakota. How do these communities eat local, or is it even possible for them to do this on the same scale as say, an Indiana or other midwest state where farming is common?

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    1. Thank you for your comment and I’m glad you enjoyed this post! I am definitely looking into doing a post that is focused on geography and historical regions that are unable to locally produce as much goods. Thank you again, and stay tuned for a geography-based post.

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  2. You make a very good argument for the benefits and reasons why consumers should attempt to change our eating habits. Eating local definitely has the ability to help spur local economies, increase local jobs, and all around improve consumer’s nutrition. Yet, despite these benefits, I still find it very challenging to get fully on board with eating local. What still is unclear to me is how consumers of all varying incomes can afford to eat this way. I understand how upper middle class families could afford this luxury, but in reality the vast majority of working class families do not have this spending flexibility. I think it could be really insightful if you were to do a post on the real cost of eating local and compare it to the cost of buying from your average grocery store. Monetary statistics could really strengthen your argument and offer tangible evidence to your claim.

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    1. Thank you for reading! I definitely want to do a post regarding monetary aspects of eating local, and how monetary flexibility pertains to shopping local. Hopefully that post will clear up the questions you have. Please stay tuned!

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