Sunday, January 31, 2010

Social Responsibility: What's the Real Benefit to Shopping Locally?

This post is one of a series I've been writing tagged as "Social Responsibility" The series focuses on eating and shopping locally, choosing healthier food sources, supporting your local economy and merchants, and learning to do all these things without hurting your budget. I hope you enjoy the posts.

One of the things I've been trying to do more lately is shop locally. In his book, Food Matters, Mark Bittman says something to the effect that, if you have a choice, choose locally grown organic food first, non-organic locally grown food second, organic non-local food third, and conventional food when you can't get the other three.

Why? A few reasons, actually...

Environmental Impact
Moving our food around the country can actually have a larger impact on the environment than chemical fertilizers. Think about it. Huge factory-owned farms, even organic ones, produce our food in the warmer regions of the country (or even outside of the country). These huge farms have enormous machines pumping diesel fuel into the atmosphere to grow, pick, and then process the crops. Once they're processed, they have to be shipped somewhere via train, truck, or plane, burning even more fossil fuels. Then, they enter the "megamart," big grocery stores that also have high carbon footprints and lots of waste because of the sheer volume of product that moves through the stores. In the end, when you buy from a local source, be it a farmstand, farmer's market, or even a locally-owned grocery store, you're cutting out all that transportation and carbon overhead.

Quality and Traceability
When you buy locally, you may even get to know the farmer who grew your product. Even if you don't, you know the product probably wasn't picked before it was ripe and that it probably is fresher, will last longer, and will taste a lot better.

Supporting the Local Economy
In today's economic mess, we need to support not only our little local stores, but that "Made in America," stamp that you see oh so rarely these days. We've gotten so involved in the "global economy," that it seems we've forgotten how to make stuff ourselves. By buying locally, or even American-made products over foreign or long-distance products, you help create demand within that industry and it will ultimately end-up in job creation and prices more comparable to the nationally or globally produced items.

So next time you're out shopping for groceries, head on over to the locally owned grocer or the farm stand instead. Even if you can only afford to pick-up a few items there or go every third shopping trip, you're still doing something good for your community, the country, and the planet.

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