Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest


More about figuring out ‘local’

A little more about defining what’s local, what’s local enough (2/11 posting) . . .

These are excerpts from This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2001) discussing her point of view about eating locally/sustainably:

            In much of the continental United States, of course, and certainly in regions where the ground freezes in winter, some tropical plants just can’t be grown.  Would eating locally mean we had to give them up?  Perhaps not; trade in some of these foods might be managed in a fair and earth-friendly fashion.  But most fresh fruits and vegetables probably aren’t among them.  The high water content of these foods (88 percent of a peach is water) and their tendency to rot if they get warm, means that we are, in effect, burning lots of petroleum to ship cold water round.  Because the value of unfettered global trade is unquestioned and petroleum is artificially cheap, these sorts of costs are not being examined.  So when the only tomatoes my local supermarket offers are air-shipped from Holland – in August, when local tomato vines are heavy with fruit – I’m supposed to ignore the energy cost of chilling, packaging, air-shipping, and trucking those flawless-looking objects to my neighborhood. (p.82)

And a few pages later she talks about ‘exotics’:

            Exotics such as coffee, tea, chocolate, and spices are in some ways easier to deal with than fruits and vegetables.  They are durable, don’t need to be kept cold, and – because they’re dry – are comparatively light, so they cost much less to ship than succulent produce does.  Some of these products can now be purchased from fair trading companies that buy directly from growers with whom, as their name implies, they trade fairly by paying more than the going price.  But the environmental costs of processing and transporting these foods still needs to be considered in any rational planning for sustainability, as do possible alternative uses for the land on which these crops presently grow.  (p.86)

The exotic I’ve grappled with the most – around eating locally – is olive oil, traditionally imported from Italy and Spain.  Not that I’ll end that relationship, which I’ve grown to love, but I’ll buy more California olive oil from now on. 

We’ll return to Joan Dye Gussow’s wisdom when we begin a conversation about garden plots, even tiny ones.  Coming soon.                         



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