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During my recent trip to Seattle I happened upon a great market place called Eat Local. They make prepaired frozen foods, with Organic products grown by local farms. I was greeted by an enthusiastic employee, who readily introduced the company’s concept, so I asked them what local was to them? They said they purchase all their ingredients within a 300 mile radius. Then they proceeded to list some exceptions… mostly things from California, all within the US.
This caused me to consider, what is local?
When I go to my local market, I pick up local beef from Massachusetts and local crab cakes from New Jersey. I get local milk from Connecticut, local brie wheels from Vermont, even local blueberry honey from Maine. Is Maine really local to NY?
Local, as defined by Webster Dictionary is: pertaining to a city, town, or small district rather than an entire state or country.
Whole Foods defines local as “products that have traveled less than a day (7 or fewer hours by car or truck)”.
The New York Green Market, which is responsible for the Union Square market, among others, defines local to be “a circle extending 120 miles to the south, 170 miles east and west and 250 miles north of New York City”.
Congress and the USDA acknowledge local as, “the locality or region in which the final product is marketed, so that the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product; or the state in which the product is produced.
Meanwhile, the Local 1 Fire department of Cornwall, NY defines its local jurisdiction as, “It’s village limits or the next village over, if necessary.”
To me, local is colloquial for whatever you would like it to be. Distance is relative to the traveler however, as we do not read the law to the letter, but better the intent or spirit of the word, movement or ideal. Below is what I believe the spirit to be. I hope you feel the need to chime in and share your views or standards on what local is to you.
The spirit and ethical aspects of buying local has a few major benchmarks; one is to support businesses and build the economy in your residential area. This is a great idea because then you have less box stores and less homogenized shopping from town to town. It also means that you have businesses paying taxes into your towns pocket which helps improve the upkeep of civic services. A lot of the corporations have their businesses listed in Delaware to offer a tax shelter and draw the money out of your immediate area.
The next reason for purchasing local goods is to cut down on carbon emissions from transporting products long distances. Another, less direct reason, is to discourage monoculture farming and CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) livestock farming. If you refuse to purchase meat that isn’t grown on the opposite side of the country it decreases their revenue and increases purchases in your area and encourages more production in a closer proximity.
Purchasing locally farmed and produced goods creates diversity. Rather than having all of the tomatoes of the country coming from NJ and CA, and all of the beef and corn coming from the Mid-West; every community and every county would have their own corn fields and beef pastures and create a more interesting landscape and lush environment for wildlife.
The main point is that local is not defined specifically or rigidly by one governing body so we are meant to define it ourselves. This is a great responsibility and it is important to consider what it means to us and define the term for ourselves so we are not just buying a word but actually staying involved in our food.