More Than Science: The Sense of Security When Buying Local
It’s important to understand the facts surrounding the benefits of locally sourced food.
Knowing the healthy attributes of grass-fed, pasture-finished beef or the ideas behind techniques such as rotational grazing are important to fully understanding the dedication and responsibility felt by local farmers for their customers.
But there are issues that reach beyond facts and numbers. In a world transformed by industry in the past century, there’s a comfort in actually knowing the person who produced the food on your family’s dinner plates.
That’s a hard feeling to quantify. But one area that illustrates it in a concrete way is the food supply chain and understanding the meaning of the term “food miles.”
Industrial Supply Chain
The Industrial Revolution put into place mass production and assembly line manufacturing. It’s associated primarily with Henry Ford’s car-building plants and the refinements later applied to the process by companies such as Toyota.
That worked well for building cars and other machines. Shipping hundreds of dishwashers from a factory in Ohio to retail stores in New York allows businesses to create and control efficient supply chains. And consumers aren’t so concerned about knowing the people who built their appliances.
However, this type of approach also was applied to the production and distribution of food.
Over many decades, giant food companies centralized the locations of where food is produced and set up supply chains to deliver it to the four corners of the country. The result is that the average number of miles food travels from the farm to your table – what is known as “food miles” - has reached 1,500 miles, according to PBS.
That’s an efficient model for the food industry. But what about consumers?
At the very least, “freshness” is certainly not something to be expected. It’s reasonable to expect food to lose nutrients over a 1,500-mile journey. At the very worst, there are concerns over the potential contamination of food traveling along lengthy supply chains.
That’s troubling enough. But the concerns for many go far beyond that.
In 1939, Canadian born Weston Price – a dentist and medical researcher who attended the University of Michigan – published “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.” In it, he posited a relationship between the emerging industrial food industry and the various diseases and health issues suffered by those living in Western culture.
He did detailed research into the eating habits of various groups around the world. They included Native Americans, Polynesians, and Aborigines.
Price’s research led hm to some disturbing conclusions about the Western approach to food manufacturing.
He focused his 10-year research project on cultures where people typically have excellent health. In attempting to discover how they had achieved that goal, he found a common theme: people ate indigenous food.
He also discovered that when these same people began eating modern, processed food such as white sugar, flour and refined vegetable oils, they began to develop health issues. They ranged from arthritis and crooked teeth to lower resistance to tuberculous.
In his view, ongoing challenges with diet and health – which have only worsened since his time – were the result of the disruption of natural ecological systems. Price believed that producing local foods in local soils and selling it to local people created a positive nutrient cycle through the ecosystem.
The Value of Buying Local
While Price’s work has been forgotten by many, that isn’t the case in academic circles and among the thousands of farmers and millions of consumers who have joined the “buy local” movement.
Universities across the country routinely post information about the value of eating locally sourced food. Almost all hit upon the same themes, many of which seem like echoes of Price’s long-ago findings. They include promoting diversity, preserving the environment, eating healthier, supporting the local economy and simply eating food that tastes better.
Also, you can cut the food miles traveled by your dinner tonight from 1,500 to just a dozen or so.
What’s not always mentioned but should be is this: You can meet or easily contact the local farmer who produced the food you are buying. You can bike or drive right by the pastures where the cattle graze and the crops are raised.
How can you possibly quantify something like that?