Local is Better, and Its Not Just About the Carbon

farmers market photo

From the Ethicurian, by Bart Nagel

I sighed when I saw the headline in Salon "Is local food really miles better?" Here comes another analysis looking at the carbon emissions of one big transport truck vs ten farmers' pickups. No matter that environmentalism isn't just about carbon, that quality and taste matter, and that the local food distribution system is nascent and obviously needs work. It was like that study last year that "proved" that shipping lamb from New Zealand to the UK had a lower carbon footprint than buying local British lamb- debunking this story was going to be a lot of work.

Fortunately, Mark R. at the Ethicurian has done an excellent job of it, noting the the local food system is "far from ideal: too many small trucks, too much time spent on the road and minding the stand during the markets instead of farming. But with wholesalers and large grocery chains prizing low prices and efficiency above all else, there aren’t many alternatives right now. The big companies want to deal with as few suppliers as possible to reduce transaction costs, the transportation companies can’t go 40 miles out of their way to pick up a few boxes of peaches or salad greens." ::Ethicurian


The Missing Leg

Mark also points us to agoodfoodblog where the author writes:

"The article neglects to take into consideration is that farmers still need to make the delivery TO the wholesaler before loading up the semi-trailer. Additionally, small delivery trucks still need to drive the produce to the individual purveyors. AND the people still need to drive TO the suburban/rural grocery store to buy said produce. Each one of those steps might bear with it a financial burden in middlemen distributors’ fees in addition to the carbon cost, essentially nullifying or outright negating the savings gained through the use of semi-trailers in the first place. And most of the food stores serviced by these wholesalers are in suburban and rural areas, nearly requiring that patrons drive to them given the dearth of transport options in great swaths of this country."

The Silence of the Lambs

Finally, we learn that Michael Shuman, known to TreeHuggers for the Small-Mart Revolution, deconstructed the New Zealand lamb comparison quite effectively last year.

"The Saunders’ study is a nice promo for the New Zealand lamb industry, but it’s a lousy piece of analysis. It’s an embarrassment that the New York Times so sheepishly republished this disinformation about local food systems. Real localization means avoiding environmentally unsound inputs of outside fertilizer, feed, and additives. It means pruning away the vast economic waste associated with ad agencies and middle people. It means avoiding trucking food around either nationally or internationally. Account for these items comprehensively and fairly, and local food wins out environmentally over global food almost every time." ::Ethicurian
TreeHugger on Local Food:
Green Basics: Local Food
Freakonomists on the Merits of Local Food
10 Reasons to Eat Local Food
Pablo Looks at Carbon Footprint of Local Food
Local Food : The New Competitive Edge

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