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  • A small grocery chain uses food mileage as an advertising tactic

    Roth's, a tiny (11 store) grocery chain in Oregon's mid-Willamette Valley, is promoting a "Go Local" campaign that's interesting in many respects, including its "Support our Northwest food system" slogan and ads:

    1. "Go Local" products are grown, caught, or produced in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, or Northern California.
    2. Look for the "Go Local" icon on products in your weekly Roth's ad. Buying these products will help build a regional food economy, ensuring farms in our community [sic] and protecting our food security for years to come.
    3. Where does your food come from? If it's a "Go Local" product from Roth's, then it comes from right here in the Northwest. If you think about the average distance food has to travel from farm to plate (around 1,500 miles), and think about how it got there (fossil fuels), you might be left wondering about the negative impact it will have on the environment. "Go Local" products are produced locally which in turn helps the environment and helps to support our local food system.

    Perhaps even more interesting is that it gives the number of miles the featured foods traveled to reach the Roth's stores in Salem. A few items of note:

  • The vexed question of exactly how far our food travels.

    Update [2007-8-24 9:4:33 by Tom Philpott]: Now this is really getting vexed. As Gristmill blogger JMG comments below, the Department of Energy did not exist in 1969. (Jimmy Carter started it in ’77.) Hmmm. Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center, mentioned below the fold, emailed me with his source on the 1969 study: a paper […]

  • Is it really a savior for smallholder farmers in the global south?

    In the latest Victual Reality, I addressed the "eat-local backlash" — the steady trickle of media reports seeking to debunk the supposed social and environmental benefits of eating from one’s foodshed. Some of the charges are easy to refute. Hey, in Maine, it takes more energy to produce hothouse tomatoes in January than it does […]

  • If buying locally isn’t the answer, then what is?

    Is long-distance better than local? Photo: Sheila Steele Attention farmers’ market shoppers: Put that heirloom tomato down and rush to the nearest supermarket. By seeking local food, you’re wantonly spewing carbon into the atmosphere. That’s the message of a budding backlash against the eat-local movement. The Economist fired a shotgun-style opening salvo last December, peppering […]

  • This store takes its green role seriously

    Last month, we reported on a few regional grocery chains that are earning organic certification. I went to one of them, a Hannaford, the other night, and have been meaning to publicly praise them ever since. Not only do they have huge, clearly marked organic sections (none of this shy, tucked-away business), they also had […]

  • Think again

    This article in today's NYT highlights new research that shows that locally produced food in some instances may actually be more energy intensive than food imported from hundreds or thousands of miles away. While this may surprise many environmentalists, it shouldn't.

    A lot of factors contribute to the total energy/carbon footprint of food, and the distance the food travels is only one dimension. But there are many other reasons to question the "local is always better" logic.

    For example, importing grains can be an amazingly efficient way for areas lacking in water to conserve water resources. Dried grain is light, doesn't require refrigeration, and is nutritious. Areas like the Midwest that receive lots of rainfall are great areas for grain production, while deserts in California are not.

    There is an added dimension as well. Many developing countries rely on agricultural exports to generate foreign currency so that they can buy medicines, cellphones, clothes, and all sorts of goods that help them improve their material standard of living. If everyone in the developed world suddenly stopped importing their food, they would be further impoverished.

    None of this is to suggest that food miles are not something to be conscious of, but they aren't the only thing. One of the insights from economic analysis is always to focus on the root of a problem, because of the law of unintended consequences. If energy consumption or carbon emissions is the real problem, then policies aimed directed at energy or carbon costs are the best way to address the issue, not a secondary dimension such as food miles.

  • For now, local politics is the way to effect ag-policy change

    Over the past few years, grassroots support has swelled for new federal farm policies — ones that promote healthy, sustainably grown food, not the interests of a few agribusiness firms. Udder madness. Photo: iStockphoto The target of much of this organizing has been the 2007 farm bill. If past farm bill debates have been the […]

  • An oasis amid slaughterhouses and monoculture

    When you make the three-hour drive from Des Moines to Sioux City (pop. 100,000), the heart of Woodbury County, nothing you see raises your hopes for a good dinner. All along the way, lush farmland lies smothered by what seems like one big blanket, alternately colored light and dark green: corn and soy. At a […]

  • Grist’s own Tom Philpott and his farm get written up

    Grist’s own Tom Philpott is apparently too humble to draw attention to the media adulation with which he is being showered. It’s a task I’m happy to take up. The Winston-Salem Journal has a fantastic long piece on Maverick Farms, the small organic farm Tom runs with his co-conspirators. As the piece describes in detail, […]