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The locavore awakens

The gimmick of eating local food

Locovoure online colourEating locally-sourced food feels great, but has unseen consequences.

The movement to eat local has become so trendy that the term locavore has come to be used by those who subscribe to the movement.

The term locavore was created by Jessica Prentice, Local Food Wheel co-creator, based on a challenge to San Francisco Bay Area residents to only consume food from within a 160 kilometre radius.

There is no clear-cut definition when describing a food as local or not, so the idea of the radius is typically used as a guide. Alternatively, some locavores define local food as products that are available 24 hours after being harvested.

While the intentions behind eating local are good, these murky guidelines demonstrate how complex and problematic the ideologies behind the movement can be.

These definitions exist in a grey zone that can be easily manipulated into a gimmick by restaurants and producers to make money.

“I [shop local] just to support our local food industries,” said Sara Witt, a library information technology student at SAIT.

“I don’t actively look for [local food], but will buy when I see it.”

The locavore belief systems argues that locally-grown food is more nutritious, more economical and better for the environment.

Yet, these values can all be debunked.

Alberta has a lack in the variety of produce that can be locally produced, and this can lead to large dietary nutritional gaps.

“Buying local cuts out the middleman,” said Kyle Decoste, an employee at the Cherry Pit at the Calgary Farmers Market.

The Cherry Pit sources local products to the fullest extent possible, but not all items are grown locally.

Decoste acknowledges that there are pros and cons to buying local food only.

“[Products] are fresher, it helps the local economy, and the price is usually better.

“It may not be as energy efficient, for example growing strawberries in the winter,” said Decoste.

While it can be economical to be a locavore, at first the expenses are staggering. To launch a truly local food economy, communities must start from scratch leading to an investment in the tools, material, labour and transportation.

It is intrinsically more effective to avoid certain food groups than to buy local in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, in Alberta, a dietary shift away from red meats, which produce around 150 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions than other produce, would be more effective in helping the environment than just eating local food.

If you are looking into becoming a locavore, there are steps you can take to ensure you’re getting the best product, including visiting farmers’ markets, lobbying your supermarket to carry local food, choosing specific foods that you can buy locally, preserving local food for the winter, finding restaurants that use local food, asking about the origins of food and visiting a local farm.

Farmers’ markets serve as a great option for buying local food, because they carry meats, dairy, eggs and produce for locavores. As well, farmers’ markets offer the opportunity to talk face-to-face with farmers.

“I’m supporting small produce community,” said Jan Daku a frequent customer of the Calgary Farmers’ Market.

“It’s much cheaper than bigger stores. You get fresh products that last longer,” said Daku.

If individuals take the time to learn about local food and shop for produce based on that knowledge, eating within the community has can be great.

But, resist the urge to be manipulated into the blanket belief that all local food is great.

Understand that while eating local creates an exclusive community, the benefits may not be as advertised.

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