The rise of the local food movement has been one of the main topics of this blog. It might be more accurate to say the popularization of the local food movement, in that folks like Alice Waters have been preaching the gospel of local food for decades. A subculture that has been brewing for a long time has moved into the mainstream over the last 3 years. One of the keys to this move has been the simple idea that it is common for food to travel thousands of miles to market, thus burning fossil fuels, thus contributing to global warming. That has been the quick and dirty way to advocate for local food. Eat local and reduce your carbon footprint.
While there is some truth to that idea, it turns out that there are other aspects of the food chain that make the carbon emissions from food transportation look almost insignificant. For example, choosing to reduce the consumption of beef is going to dramatically reduce your personal carbon footprint. It's also true that if you do the math, the volume of food being shipped makes the impact of the 5 miles per gallon semi truck less of a carbon villain than you would think.
Carbon emissions has never really been that compelling to me when it comes to food choices. There are other reasons I have moved in that direction and Ari Levaux sums up some of these reasons in her article, "The Best Food Isn't Local or Organic -- It's Personal."
Local food. Organic food. Natural food. Fair-trade food. To me, theseloosely competing paradigms are useful guideposts when I'm shopping to fill the holes in a meal I'm preparing, but they don't describe my preferred diet. If I had to describe my food in a single word, I would say "personal."
What distinguishes a meal as personal is the role I play in the creation or acquisition of its ingredients. It's food with which I have a measure of involvement, beyond just having bought it. A meal won't be disqualified for containing store-bought ingredients, but it's the hard-won ingredients that determine how personal it really is. If a home-cooked meal doesn't have at least one ingredient that I grew, swapped for, preserved, hunted, gathered, bought directly from a farmer, brought home from a faraway land, or otherwise made some special effort to acquire, then it isn't personal.
Instead of the word, personal I prefer "storied." I like to know the story of the food I eat and I like it to be a good story. The relationships and connections and stories are what I find most compelling when it comes to local food.