What Is a Locavore?

You know one if you are part of the local food movement. You may even be one!

Agricultural workers cultivate romaine lettuce on a farm in Holtville, California
John Moore/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Locavore is a word often used to describe people who represent or take part in the growing local food movement. But what is a locavore exactly, and what distinguishes locavores from other consumers who appreciate the benefits of locally grown food?

What Is a Locavore?

A locavore is someone who is committed to eating food that is grown or produced within their local community or region.

What Do Locavores Eat?

Most locavores define "local" as anything within 100 miles of their homes. Locavores who live in more remote areas sometimes expand their definition of locally grown food to include meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, honey, and other food products that come from farms and other food producers within a 250-mile radius.

Locavores may purchase local food from farmer's markets, through a CSA (community supported agriculture) share program that provides weekly seasonal produce to its members, or at one of the growing number of national and regional supermarket chains that now stock a variety of locally grown foods.

Why Do Locavores Choose Locally Grown Food?

Locavores believe that locally grown food is fresher, better-tasting, and more nutritious than conventional or imported food; and that it provides a healthier diet than typical supermarket food that is often grown on factory farms, doused with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and transported hundreds or thousands of miles.

Locavores argue that eating locally grown food supports farmers and small businesses in their communities. Because farms that produce food for local markets are more likely to use organic and natural methods, locavores also believe that eating locally grown food helps the planet by reducing air, soil, and water pollution. Certainly, the use of mulch to suppress weeds naturally helps with water retention in the soil and reduces the amount of irrigation required to grow crops. Many of these smaller-scale farmers use cover crops and no-till methods to promote soil health, which is better for the environment.

In addition, eating food that is grown or raised locally, rather than being shipped long distances, conserves fuel and refrigeration requirements, while cutting greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and other climate changes.

Do Locavores Eat Any Food That Isn't Local?

Locavores do make exceptions in their diets for certain food products that are simply not available from local producers—items such as coffee, tea, olive oil, nuts, chocolate, salt, coconut milk, and spices.

Frequently, locavores who make such exceptions try to purchase those products from local businesses that are only one or two steps removed from the source, such as local coffee roasters, local chocolatiers, and so on. Many also strive to buy fair-trade-certified sources of these imported exotic goods to ensure that the local farmers in the goods' countries of origin are being paid fairly for their labor.

Jessica Prentice, the chef and writer who coined the term back in 2005, says being a locavore should be a pleasure, not a burden. She wrote in a blog post for the Oxford University Press in 2007:

"I am hardly a purist or a perfectionist. Personally, I don’t use the word as a whip to make myself or anyone else feel guilty for drinking coffee, cooking with coconut milk, or indulging in a piece of chocolate. There are things it makes sense to import because we can’t grow them here, and they’re either good for us or really delicious or both. But it doesn’t make sense to watch local apple orchards go out of business while our stores are filled with imported mealy apples. And if you spend a few weeks each year without the pleasures of imported delicacies, you really do learn a whole lot about your foodshed, about your place, about what you’re swallowing on a daily basis."

To be a locavore, as we see it here at Treehugger, should not be an "all or nothing" endeavor. Do not be scared off by the label, thinking your diet must change drastically. Introducing ever-increasing amounts of local food into your diet is a fun and worthwhile effort that supports local production networks and can make you feel good about reducing your carbon footprint. At the same time, if you happen to live in a cold climate, you'll quickly realize just how monotonous it is to subsist on root vegetables, hardy greens, and other cold cellar-type foods for months on end—no more imported lettuce in January! Ideally, that leads to a greater sense of appreciation for the abundance that does exist, and an aversion to wasting any of it.

"Once upon a time, all human beings were locavores, and everything we ate was a gift of the Earth," Prentice added. "To have something to devour is a blessing—let’s not forget it."