Making it a priority to save energy shouldn't stop at the actual energy consumption of your home or your car's gas mileage. Every element of modern life requires some amount of energy, and having a better understanding of how much energy is necessary for all aspects of our lives is crucial to finding ways to reduce our personal and collective impacts.
Sure you use a lot of energy on powering your lights, television, computer and the kids' video game system, but what about the energy needed to not only wash clothes but produce new ones or the energy required to package and deliver the mail six days a week? There's one aspect of life in particular that often gets overlooked when discussing energy consumption: our food.
Today more than ever, food often travels great distances from farm to table but there is a growing trend supporting a return to more localized food production. The organic food movement has helped increase overall consumer awareness of the source of our food and the processes involved. As more people become informed, more people are embracing locally grown foods to help reduce the impact their diet has on the environment. But as with any such trend there are many sides to this story.
The food miles argument
Proponents for the local food movement often employ the 100-mile rule, suggesting that all your foodstuffs should originate within 100 miles of where they will be consumed. The argument for instituting this rule is the carbon footprint of transporting foods great distances. In some cases, this is a valid argument – particularly if foods travel primarily by truck. In other cases the carbon footprint of transporting foods, by sea for example, may be surprisingly low.
Critics of the food miles argument point to several problems with the theory. In many places, limiting your diet to foods originating within 100 miles of you could mean you'd wind up with a pretty bland, or even unhealthy, diet. What's more, producing foods that aren't indigenous or particularly well suited to an area can require an abundance of resources just to harvest a potentially inferior product.
The fair-trade argument
Other critics of the local food movement come at the issue from another angle entirely: the well-being of needy world populations. In the globalized food market, consumers also have the option to choose to purchase food produced in faraway lands on farms specifically designed to offer workers the rare opportunity for a living wage. Their argument is that rather than dedicating our efforts to supporting local foods, we should be spending our consumer dollars on foods supporting fair trade.
Proponents of the local food movement sometimes turn this argument around on itself, suggesting that buying local foods goes to support members of our own communities. The point being that as selfish as that may seem, poverty in our own backyard is a more pressing problem than poverty worldwide.
The argument for anything besides massive agribusiness
Still another argument made by many local food movement fans is that the current system of massive agribusinesses is something we should be avoiding for several reasons. Of these, many people are apprehensive about today's agribusiness culture and its support of technology. After all, many industrial farms freely incorporate technologies including pesticides, herbicides, genetic modifications and hormone treatments. On the other side of the yard are those who argue that today's agribusiness system has been in development for hundreds of years, allowing the human race to produce more food than ever before with less effort. Why unravel what works?
The future of local food
The reality is that local food will exist as long as there are people working to produce it and people willing to pay a premium for it. The question of whether buying locally is beneficial or harmful to the environment or society is a more complex issue. If you're lucky to live in an area with ready access to local foods, there's nothing wrong with dividing your support as you see fit. Ultimately, just being conscious of the energy costs associated with your diet is a step in the right direction to making smarter choices.