Local Food, or Just Quality Food?

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In July, the show Outdoor Idaho, on Idaho Public television, ran an episode titled, “Eating Local.” This excellent show explores “the growing fascination with eating local.” But while I appreciate and love my own local food scene, I wonder why the desire and search for high-quality, non-industrial food almost always ends with the “local” argument.

Oddly enough, I note that the question always asked in Locavore circles is this: “Do you know where your food comes from?” This question is usually couched in terms of geographical region and stresses the importance of adhering to the principles of buying food from somewhere near your home base. I think the more appropriate question is, “Do you know where your food comes from, and how it is raised/grown/manufactured?”

When I think about buying my food, I immediately place emphasis on having the knowledge of how my food is raised/grown/manufactured. This information is a necessary condition of my purchasing and consuming food, as I have very little interaction with the industrial food machine. As this show notes, at the 18:00 point, people do love to meet the producers, growers, and artisans of the food they buy. They experience joy in meeting the producers, and they get a level of comfort from being able to ask questions directly to the food seller and obtain answers that inform and satisfy them. The reason that I love to support my local farmers is that I am not only able to ask direct questions about each farmer’s methodology and principles for producing quality food, but I also visit and tour the farms, socialize with the animals, and often, I make a connection with my farmers and their way of life.

There are scores of reasons that folks are attracted to the local food movement. They may be overcoming health problems – such as obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, metabolic derangement, or other disease – and therefore they make an effort to make food quality a priority in the lives. Or they may just enjoy the interactions and shopping experience at their local farmers’ markets.

Either way, I think another reason folks are attracted to eating fresh-grown food is the new spirit of self-sufficiency that has become popular once again, especially since the boom-bust and the reality of a financial meltdown that changed the way many of us will chose to live in the longer term. Additionally, witnessing the epidemic of obesity and modern disease has caused many folks to take a step back and rethink their lifestyle and food choices.

Unfortunately, “fresh-grown” and “quality” have come to mean that it must come from a “local source,” with “local” having some very unique and varying definitions. I get plenty of amazing quality food that is not local for me at all, but I understand, approve, and appreciate the origins and production of those foods. This includes tahini from the Middle East, water from Fiji, olive oil from Greece, coconut oil from the Philippines, grass-fed hot dogs from Minnesota, and grass-fed beef from Texas.

Watch Eating Local on PBS. See more from Outdoor Idaho.

5:58 pm on October 1, 2012
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