Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Price of Local Food

The two most common complaints I hear about local food are the cost and the inconvenience. The latter I have and will continue to tackle by covering the local farmers markets and restaurants that feature local ingredients. The cost, however, is an entirely different matter.

In his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma (book review to come soon), Michael Pollan discusses at length the true cost of food. He says we all like to think that what we buy from a grocery store or chain restaurant, what he calls "industrial food", is cheaper because the actual money leaving our pockets is less than if we were to choose local options. The reality, however, is that industrial food actually comes with a higher societal cost. Petroleum products are used at almost every step in the production of these foods – they are included in insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers and used in the transport of the food itself - not to mention the other numerous bi-products of what we consume (the packaging, the preservatives and so on).

On the flip side, food bought at a farmers market or at a restaurant that supports local vendors uses far fewer fossil fuels and other natural resources. Consider lettuce bought at your local farmers market: it was most likely not grown with pesticides or other chemicals, traveled only a short distance, and has little or no packaging since farmers transport the lettuce in large crates and you, the consumer, can bring a reusable bag to the market. Compare that to lettuce that has been flown in from California or South America that has been packaged and repackaged, flown thousands of miles, and required preservatives to remain fresh-looking throughout its journey.

Thus, local food may have a higher price tag but the actual cost to the environment and to society is much lower. Furthermore, all of the money that you spend on that bag of local lettuce stays right in your community with that farmer and supports your local food chain. Like many households, I try to feed mine on a budget limited by a mortgage, bills and other costs on a single income. The trick is making food a priority, not an afterthought, in your weekly budget.

Of course, eating a 100% local food diet is unfeasible. However, replacing some of the ingredients that you use on a regular basis or patronizing a restaurant that supports local vendors can go a long way in reducing your carbon footprint and bolstering your local economy. So next time you go shopping, check the label of the food you buy at the grocery store: is it from the US or some other country? Is there a local food alternative? Grocery store chains are catching on to this trend and have begun to highlight food that is locally or regionally grown so try to support those options with your dollars!


  1. Great blog! Another thing consumers don't realize about industrially produced food is that it is often subsidized, making it artificially cheap. Subsidies are your tax dollars at work. So the government is in a sense manipulating your choices.

    Thanks for being willing to take a stand on hard issues! -Lynn S. Caldwell