The environmental consequences of eating locally


In the past twenty years, the consumption of locally-produced food has been associated with
eating ethically, healthier and sustainable.

Locavorism has been praised by food writers of repute local authorities as well as think tanks
and big environmental groups, marketed as an obvious solution that could improve our industrialized, ailing food system. It will do this by helping local economies grow and assisting small-scale farmers in providing healthier and more fresh food items to those who are
overwhelmed by fast food and also aiding the environment by cutting down on “food miles” — the distance food travels as well as the energy the process consumes, in order to reach your

Certain studies indicate that the growth of farmer’s markets and community-based agricultural
(CSA) programs where farmers routinely provide food items to customers’ doorsteps have
helped increase the health of those who frequent them. They also could help local economies in
agriculture. However, a predominantly local-based diet isn’t commonplace in the US, and local
food accounts for less than 1.5percent of all US grocery sales.

Although the movement for food isn’t as centered on the local as it once was, however, one of
its tenets — that cutting down on food miles is a viable strategy to fight climate change has gotten into the public’s consciousness. More than two-thirds of Americans think that eating local food is healthier in terms of an environmental impact than foods that are produced in distant locations in a recent survey conducted by Purdue University.

There’s only one issue It doesn’t necessarily be accurate.

“It doesn’t have a major impact on greenhouse gas emissions to have a shorter distance
between the farmer and the consumer,” says Laura Enthoven, a Ph.D. researcher at the
Universite Catholique de Louvain in Belgium which last year has published (with the coauthor
Goedele Van den Broeck) the first study of the most common assertions made regarding the
local system of food production.

Moving the distance

In the years following the rise of the movement for local food environmentalists began to study
the actual effects on food transportation. In 2008 a research paper that was published in
Environmental Science & Technology discovered that transportation was responsible for just 11
percent of the carbon footprint. The study later found it to be at five percent for the US and 6
percent for Europe.

The primary factor of a food’s environmental footprint isn’t just how far it took before it reaches
you, it’s rather what kind of food it’s and, more specifically, whether or not it originated directly
from animals.

Animals raised for food produce much higher quantities of carbon dioxide greenhouse gas
methane and Nitrous oxide by way of cow dung and manure of animals than farming the
cultivation of vegetables, fruits as well as nuts animal-based meats and grains as well as
legumes. The raising of animals for food takes up more space than cultivating plants to be eaten
by humans, because of the huge areas of land utilized to place animals in pastures and
rangelands as well as to cultivate the heavily subsidized as well as polluting grain as well as soy
that are fed to livestock.

According to a Bloomberg analysis, “41 percent of U.S. land in the contiguous states revolves
around livestock.” This represents a major “carbon opportunity cost,” as some of that land could
be reforested to sequester carbon — but not if meat consumption keeps rising.

Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and also packaging, processing, and
refrigeration in the retail phase are all insignificant when compared to the emissions resulting
from what happens on farms — and that’s the case regardless of where the farm is to the

For instance, less than 1 percent of the emissions generated by beef — which is the single most
carbon-intensive food item of all originate from transportation, with the majority of other
emissions coming from methane-rich cattle burps as well as the growing demand for animal

The following chart shows the way that removing food miles from various types of diets is not
enough to decrease greenhouse gas emissions from dietary sources. Instead, the quantity of
animal products used in the diet is what determines its carbon footprint.

Locally produced food is associated with emissions from transportation however the purpose of
this chart is to show the tiny impact they have regardless of the location where the food was
made. However, the majority of Americans are of the opinion that eating locally is beneficial to
the environment.

Based on recent research conducted by Purdue University, nearly two-thirds of rural and urban
Americans think that eating local foods is healthier for the environment, however, just more than
half of the urbanites and 38 percent of rural people believe that eating less meat is better in the
long run for our environment. Americans are also significantly more likely to prefer local foods
over other foods in comparison to those who choose protein sources from plants over animal

But people can do both. Just reducing meat, milk, or eggs consumption isn’t enough to achieve
the Paris climate goals; According to Hannah Ritchie of Our World in Data, cutting down on food
waste, enhancing yields on crops, and enhancing farming practices (like the management of
fertilizers) could contribute to cutting down on the emissions from agriculture. However, shifting
to plant-based diets is more effective than any other single action.

Although greenhouse gas emissions are only one of the aspects of environmental harm and
water pollution, there are also other issues and health problems for farmworkers that are caused
by chemical pesticides and fertilizers. As of the most current data of 2012, farmers selling
through farmer’s markets and CSA programs utilize the inputs at the same prices as farms that

It’s the farm’s practices and the products it produces more than its size or geographical location
that affect its impact on the environment in addition to the effects on farmworkers and animals.

What do we are aware of regarding the local food system

Despite the fact that scientists agree the fact that food travel is irrelevant in reducing America’s agricultural emissions, and what much farm proximity can tell us about the morality of a specific food item or farm and the need to buy more food near to home may gain some advantages.

“I don’t ever like to say, ‘Well, only 5 percent of emissions are transportation, so local food
doesn’t make any sense,'” Christine Costello, associate professor of biological and agricultural
engineering from Penn State University, told me. “Localized foods can provide more diverse
foodstuffs for people, more access to produce, more access to more quality foods … and then
potentially it can stimulate economies.”

Enthoven from UCLouvain in Belgium The UCLouvain research team has examined the common myths surrounding local food and concluded the existence of advantages to be gained by purchasing local produce however, she warns that most of the research conducted is correlative which means that separating the impacts from local foodstuffs can be difficult.

The main benefit is that the accessibility to farmer’s markets and CSAs are closely associated
with increased vegetables consumed, fewer food items consumed at restaurants, a lower intake
of processed food, and lower levels of overweight or diabetics. But these benefits that are, in
some cases, self-reported — have mostly been reserved for those with higher incomes however
CSAs, as well as the federal as well as state officials, have made significant progress by making
CSAs and farmers ‘ markets more accessible to those with lower incomes in recent years.

A few studies have also suggested regional food system boosts the agricultural economy of a
particular region and creates more jobs, however, it’s unclear if buying more local produce
consistently can boost the income of small farmers. Although farmers who sell their products
through short supply chains may occasionally get some increase in their income, their income
can also drop mostly due to the amount of time and effort needed to sell their products in
farmer’s markets or through CSA programs.

Stacey Botsford, who grows vegetables and keeps a small number of pets in the Red Door
Family Farm in Athens, Wisconsin, told me that diversification is essential for her business.

“I’m not making as much money [through wholesale] because there’s a middleman, but I’m not
doing as much work,” she explained. “The farmer’s market where I earn the most per unit,
however when people don’t show up due to rain it doesn’t mean you make the same amount of
cash. Diversification helps greatly. It’s similar to trading on the market … you’ll want to disperse it
a to spread it out.”

Tess Romanski of the Fairshare CSA Coalition in Madison, Wisconsin, notes that both
consumers and farmers get engaged in the local system of food to enhance the social bonds
which can be lost in a time of fast food and mass-market retailers. Consumers’ desire to be an
emotional connection with their food has intensified during the pandemic and its disruptions to
supply chains Botsford notes. “People are becoming more aware of the fact that food systems
aren’t perfect and are important significantly. We have sold out of the CSA we had in CSA this
year at a faster rate than we have ever.”

But Botsford’s farms will always be at a disadvantage as long as US policies on agriculture favor
soy and corn production, which is primarily used to produce unsustainable biofuels as well as
animal feed. Food systems that are localized will always be strained by “economic, logistic,
topographical and even arithmetic reasons,” according to Washington Post food columnist
Tamar Haspel, herself a farm.

In an article in a newspaper article from 2017, Haspel explained that fresh local food is
extremely seasonal, particularly in cooler Northeastern climates in which around twenty percent
of the US population lives. However, most of the modern American diet is based on staple crops
that are grown at a large scale in just a handful of regions, which are then stored and eaten for
months, or years in other regions.

Haspel mentions that some of the densest regions of the US including the Northeast and the
Northeast have only a small amount of cropland while “the northern plains (the Dakotas,
Kansas, and Nebraska) have 24 percent of the land but 2 percent of the population.”

It shouldn’t be presumed that those who make the food, or who manage or slaughter the
animals within the local system of food production are treated more favorably. Farming
businesses that use less than 500 “man-days” which is a day during which an employee has to
work for at least one hour — are not exempt from having to pay an hourly wage of the minimum
federal rate and farms with less than 10 employees are not subject to OSHA safety supervision
and investigation (though certain crucial states do their best to fill the space).

Advocates for farmworkers along with researchers are able to report a variety of health and
safety problems in the field of agriculture and farm work, which is listed in the top ten most
hazardous jobs within the US. Every farm is unique and the benefits of food that is locally grown
isn’t a reason to ignore the problems wherever they happen.

This is also true regarding animal welfare. Smaller farms tend to be less likely to employ the
most traumatic and disturbing characteristics associated with factory farms, including small
cages or crates However, they’re not immune from accusations of carelessness and concerns
about welfare as well.

Injecting more of our money into local food systems will make little difference in reducing the
carbon footprint of our diet. However, one of the ramifications of the local food movement that
has been overshadowed by demands for “regenerative” farming which is a focus on soil health
and management of land has generated a level of enthusiasm in boosting the efficiency of the
food industry which other movements, including those that promote the public’s well-being as
well as livestock welfare, aren’t successful in achieving.

However, its limitations highlight an unavoidable fact about the struggle for environmentally
sustainable food system solutions that appear to be good for the environment, such as cutting
down the distance between the farmer and table might not be the case in reality. To address the
most pressing of environmental problems, we’ll need to reconsider our political and personal
relationship to meat and not just our distance from the farm.