How Local is Local

I’ll admit to having a very low pain threshold when it comes to trendy words. I still haven’t gotten over the term “warm fuzzies” from the 1970’s. I equally dislike the term “selfies,” both because of how the word sounds, and the narcissistic nature of what it means.

So, knowing now that I am a cranky old guy who is quick to respond to such things, let me add one to the list: “Locally sourced.”

First, I’d much rather hear that something is “from around here,” or “from this area.” “Locally sourced” sounds like something somebody from UW Extension would say (FYI: I am a former employee of UW Extension) to demonstrate having kept up with the latest research.

Part of my discomfort with the term is that locally sourced things are held up as morally superior to non-locally sourced items. I understand that there are advantages to buying things from nearby, especially when it comes to fresh foods, because they’re likely to be fresher. That being said, we don’t hesitate to eat Alaskan salmon or New England clams or Florida citrus, so non-local things can be okay, right?

Here’s an example of how locally sourced food may, or may not be best:

Let’s say you like Brussel’s sprouts. Right away you’re on thin ice as far as I’m concerned. Now let’s say there’s a grower 40 miles from you, and another grower in Washington State. Well, what if the grower near you drives his sprouts in an old Chevy pick-up to a farm market. Or maybe 20 old Chevys to 20 farm markets. That’s a lot of miles in a lot of trucks getting lousy gas mileage and polluting the air.

Also, let’s say the person 40 miles away wasn’t quite careful enough with pesticides or with organic fertilizer (if you know what I mean). Those Brussel’s sprouts might not be the best for you.

But, it’s possible that our friend out near Yakima is very particular with pesticides and fertilizers, and is one mile from the train line that runs to the Midwest. Trains use very little fuel per ton shipped.

Somebody smarter than I am could do the math, and I honestly don’t know which grower would turn out to be the most fuel efficient, but my point is that being “locally sourced” has advantages, but it isn’t the only factor to consider.

I like the idea of supporting friends and neighbors. I like buying things from local artists, local farmers, and local merchants – even though what they sell is often from Asia.

I currently own two pairs of shoes that were made in America, and that isn’t easy to do. They aren’t made a few miles from me, so they aren’t “locally sourced,” but there’s no ocean between here and there.

So, to summarize, I’ll continue to buy things from around here, but I won’t feel guilty for buying things that aren’t. I also won’t ever get “warm fuzzies.”




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