Local, Natural, Pasture Raised and Humane are some of the hottest buzz words used these days by the media, chefs, purveyors and consumers. Few discussions about healthy eating, the environment and social responsibility take place without them.
The team at Buedel Fine Meats & Provisions spends a lot of time discussing these trends with customers – local, natural, pasture raised and humane – they are all mutually exclusive topics which overlap. In a recent post, we wrote about What Makes Meat “Natural”?, but what does ‘Local’ mean when it comes to all foods?
Locality vs. Reality
Speaking in a geographical sense, there is no standard definition of local. Some define local as a food source within 250 miles of your proximity. Others say a local food source is within a day’s drive away, and yet other schools of thought say it depends on the types of food and that local can also be “regional” – like blueberries from Michigan to Chicago. This can get confusing, to say the least.
The whole notion of “local”, when it comes to food, in reality is more about healthy eating, supporting family farmers, sustainable agriculture, humane animal treatment, care for the environment, and fresher food, than it is about the exact distance from a food source to your door.
Part of the post World War II economic boom in our country was within agriculture. There was money to be made by feeding the masses with livestock and seed farmed commodities both domestically and overseas.
Large companies such as Cargill were out to feed the world and industrial farming grew at the expense of the independent family farmer. By the 1960’s the rural economy began struggling and many independents were losing their farms.
“The American farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything he buys at retail, sells everything he sells at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.” – John F. Kennedy
The use of newly developed chemical pesticides, growth hormones and genetic modification science proliferated to increase yields and speed time to market and profit grew over time. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) were developed to bring more livestock to market faster in order to, quite literally, feed the demands for food and financial profits for commodities traders and industrial farming companies.
The by-products of these industrialized farming methods were water and air pollution. Inorganic fertilizers deteriorate soil, toxic ground water runoff affects rivers and lakes, increases in green-house gasses affect air quality and ozone.
Many of these issues are regulated much better today than they had been in the past, but still exist.
How Local Re-Evolved
In the mid 1980’s forward thinking food retailers like Whole Foods and Wild Oats Market began to emerge touting natural foods which were “better for you” and the environment.
Farmer’s Markets in urban areas soon began to grow in popularity where small farmers brought their harvest into urban communities for direct purchase by the consumer. Their food was produced naturally; it was fresher, better tasting, and healthier for consumers. The urban platform also provided an income for small farmers.
Better food retailers have steadily increased consumer awareness of the benefits of natural foods and demand for them across the board. Many consumers today are willing to pay higher prices for these foods because of the health and socioeconomic benefits attached to them.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot in 2012 Survey, the top two hottest restaurant trends are: 1) Locally sourced meats and seafood. 2) Locally grown produce.
More of today’s consumers want to know where their food comes from and how healthy it is. Chefs and Restaurateurs want to meet the increasing demand for fresher and natural foods while supporting their local communities.
The locally sourced movement creates a symbiotic relationship between farmers, businesses and consumers, while helping the local economy and environment with transparency into the way the food was produced.
Local farmers that raise their crops without harmful toxins and practice livestock-pasture/seed-crop rotation each year are sustaining the environment. They have a market for their harvest with local buyers such as retailers, chef and restaurateurs.
Local retailers, chefs and restaurateurs get transparency from the local farmers into how these foods have been farmed. They purchase them for their freshness and healthfulness for the betterment of their local business thus helping the local Farmer and offering more to their customers.
Local consumers seeking the benefits of healthier, environmentally friendly food patronize these local retailers and restaurants helping the local businesses. It is through this continuing cycle of economics and demand where everyone benefits.
This is Local when it comes to food: Healthy Eating, Supporting Family Farmers, Sustainable Agriculture, Care for the Environment, Fresher food.
Local is Near and Far
Depending on where you live it may not be possible or desirable to have locally farmed foods. You may not find or desire locally farmed blueberries in Nebraska as much as you would in Michigan, nor seek or want locally farmed beef in Michigan as much as you would in Nebraska. However, in both cases you can support Family Farms and the ecosystem of local farming even though they may not be physically “local” to your own proximity.
For example, Niman Ranch, a cooperative of over 750 family farmers across the country, requires their family farmers to raise livestock without hormones or antibiotics using humane and sustainable farming practices. In return, Niman Ranch guarantees to purchase 100% of their herds allowing these small family farmers to maintain a living and preserve their farms for future generations.
Educated buyers understand the importance of local based alliances such as Niman. They get that while you may not be able to buy local lobster in Illinois, you can choose to purchase seafood from a purveyor who works with family fisheries.
By supporting “local” food producers we can enhance the social, economic and environmental interrelationships of a community. And that’s stellar.
From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats Facebook Buedel Fan Page