Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What Counts as "Local"?

With the growing popularity of eating locally produced and sourced food, this has become an increasingly important question: what is "local"?

If you look up the word “locavore” in the Merriam Webster dictionary, the definition reads “one who eats foods grown locally whenever possible.” This doesn’t actually give a clear meaning of the maximum (or minimum) distance needed to be "local", however. The locavore movement started in San Francisco based on an idea of a 100-mile diet, meaning that the food they eat is within a 100 mile radius of where they live. Other people define local a little more loosely, though, and think it means anything that they can drive a reasonable distance to get. What is "‘reasonable" is also up for debate.

I found my favorite description in the book “The Locavore Way” by Amy Cotler. She defines local this way: “as close to home (or wherever you are) as possible, the closer the better". This really struck me as the most unpretentious and easily accessible definition of local that I’ve come across.

My personal definition of local fits along the same lines as Cotler’s. I really try to eat locally, but I eat seasonally as well. During the summer months in the Boston area, I constantly buy my fruit and vegetables from the farmer’s markets around the city. I also harvest from my own garden and, starting this year, will have a CSA share. However, eating this way is not completely possible during the winter when the markets have stopped and most produce is not in season here.

When I can’t get produce locally, I buy it from places that are as close as possible and where the food is in season. More and more, supermarkets (even big chains) are labeling where food is actually from. Whether products are from Vermont, California, or Mexico, it's nice to see their origins noted and be able to make an informed decision about where I'm getting my food.

Certain foods, however, can be hard or nearly impossible to get from a local source, such as coffee. Coffee beans will not grow in New England, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a bit of a local touch. There are a few places in Boston, such as Flat Back Coffee Company, which roast their coffee beans in house. This keeps the beans fresher for a longer period of time.

The bottom line when it comes to the meaning of local is that it is up to you! Don’t be intimidated by the “100-mile” locavore definition, or think that if you don’t get it from your region that it can’t be considered local. Make your own rules, don’t be confined to one "definition", and enjoy eating good, fresh food, wherever local means to you!

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