Eating locally is a growing trend across the U.S. and around the world as people tune into local food, interested in making connections with local farmers, exploring the bounty of their regions, and enjoying the environmental benefits of cutting down on food miles. (For a really ambitious project in locavorism, check out Eat Mendocino, in which two young women set out to only eat food from within the boundaries of California’s Mendocino County for the next year.) As it becomes a hot topic, and people discuss the benefits and complexities of the locavore lifestyle, we’re learning more and more about some of the unexpected trickledown effects of eating locally.
Over at Grist, the latest Ask Umbra column points out something I hadn’t even thought of: eat locally, save a seal!
Bear with me here.
Umbra was asked about those nifty little net bags the grocery store uses for things like mandarin oranges, onions, shallots and other loose bulk items (like avocados, if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where they’re stocked in bulk bags!). A concerned reader said she was worried about the environmental impacts of mesh bags and wondered if she should do something special with them to prevent entanglement. Smart reader: entanglement, especially with marine debris, is a huge issue worldwide that puts tons of animals in danger.
The short answer to the reader was “yup, plastic is bad.” Fortunately, there are a couple of ways around it. One, of course, is to reuse and recycle as much as possible; Umbra provides a whole list of handy craft tips for people interested in reusing plastic mesh. It’s also accepted at some recycling facilities (including collection points at grocery stores, handy). And you can also reduce, by purchasing things that don’t come in mesh bags.
Here’s where the locavorism angle comes in. As Umbra points out, many items sold this way are bulk goods produced far outside the region; mesh is used because it’s cheap, cuts down on shipping weight, and makes things easier to handle. Eating things locally reduces the need for highly durable shipping materials, and tends to result in more environmentally friendly packaging; farmers’ markets, for example, typically use apple crates and similar supplies for transport and display, and encourage customers to use reusable bags and baskets for their goodies.
She points out that if you live somewhere with grim winters where you start craving fruit, the solution lies in the summer months. Get preserving when peaches, apricots, and other delights are at their peak, so you have something enjoyable to look forward to in the winter. You’ll support local farms, get more connected with your food, and, apparently, save a seal.
Okay, so maybe it’s a little bit of a stretch, but the underlying message still rings true. Reducing your reliance on goods produced outside your area really does cut down on packaging as well as miles needed for transportation, marketing materials and other wasteful components of mass-produced, non-local goods. That’s good for the environment, and sometimes it can be good for your pocketbook as well, because when you’re focused on reducing the amount of things you bring into your life, you tend to save money in the long term.
Image credit: NOAA's National Ocean Service