The localvore movement is admirable, in my opinion; it makes sense to purchase food from
local farmers if you can, just the same way it makes sense to patronize local businesses. These people are your friends and neighbors, and part of your tax base, after all. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that it’s necessarily the “greenest” way to go.
If we talk about the energy consumed to produce our food, this is especially true. A great column in the New York Times by Stephen Budiansky notes that transportation accounts for only about 14 percent of all energy consumed by the U.S. food system. Fertilizers and other chemicals used in modern farming use only about 8 percent. Meanwhile, home preparation and storage – which includes our trips to the store or farmer’s market, refrigerating, cooking, dishwashing, freezing etc. – take up 32 percent of all energy use in the food system.
Just for comparison, the column continues, moving one pound of freight 3,000 miles by rail – let’s say lettuce from California to Vermont, not even by the shortest route – takes about a tablespoon of diesel fuel (around 100 calories of energy). The same feat by truck takes about 300 calories of energy. Meanwhile, a single round-trip of 10 miles to the grocery store (or farmer’s market) by car uses about 14,000 calories of fossil fuel.
Eating locally-grown food might be healthier and fiscally more responsible to your local economy, but let’s not pretend it can put a significant dent in our carbon footprints.