Friday, September 6, 2013


What kind of radius from home is your sense of "local" when it comes to food?

The Slow Food movement includes this basic idea: "Our primary idea has to be to make agriculture local again." from Carlo Petrini, Founder and President. But there's nowhere on the website I found that puts a radius of miles or kilometers on the concept of "local".

The Locavore people say that local is 100 miles and that you should eat from your "foodshed".

The Eat Local Challenge people also don't seem to want to put a number on it and they also use the word "foodshed".  They seem to have lost a lot of steam if you look at the web page or their Facebook page, but maybe that's because we are not in a local challenge period.  Their idea is to restrict yourself to local food for certain periods of time in order to figure it all out.

Cornell - bless them!!! - has a whole foodshed web page crammed with information that I recommend you read.  However their attempt at a definition leaves a little to be desired:

"What is a "foodshed"?
Though it may be unfamiliar, the term "foodshed" was used almost 80 years ago in a book entitled How Great Cities Are Fed (
Hedden, 1929) to describe the flow of food from producer to consumer. Seven decades later, the term was used to describe a food system that connected local producers with local consumers (Kloppenburg et al., 1996). In this project, the general definition of a foodshed is a geographic area that supplies a population center with food."

The Foodshed website's mission statement caught my eye because they use terroir.

We champion local, sustainable farmers. We root for the chefs and businesses who sell their food and wine. We believe in terroir, in the glass and on the plate. We eat where we live. So should you."

So I had to look up terroir in wikipedia:
"(French pronunciation: ​[tɛʁwaʁ] from terre, "land") is the set of special characteristics that the geographygeology and climate of a certain place, interacting with the plant's genetics, express in agricultural products such as winecoffeechocolate, tomatoes, heritage wheat, cannabis, and tea. The concept has also crossed to other Protected Appellations of Origin (PDOs a form of geographical indication), products such as cheeses.

Terroir can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place," which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product. Terroir is often italicized in English writing to show that it is a French loanword."

I have chosen to use Gary Paul Nabhan's radius of 250 miles. In his book Coming Home to Eat he decided on that radius for his year of eating local food. I also appreciated his effort to find not only locally-produced food, but indigenous foods and local food ways.  He was looking for the good stuff that's been the good stuff for a few generations back - before agri-business and factory farming techniques became widespread. His idea was to look at the food-human relationship as part of a more broad ecosystem concept and I definitely like that and want to support it. 

Sitting in Albany with a 250 mile radius to define "local" provides a wonderfully broad set of possibilities, and yet it still reduces the current average distance that food generally travels from producer to consumer. That is a general goal of mine. But my motivation for eating local is sustainability and I think that Nabhan's efforts to raise awareness about producing more and more ecosystem-logical foods is worthy of consideration. If we must wreak havoc in our foodshed to produce foods we want to eat we are continually going to have to "battle" elements of the ecosystem.  If we determine which foods provide adequate nutrition, are aesthetically what we want and don't mess too much with our foodshed that seems like the best we could ask for in terms of sustainability. I would very much like to follow in his footsteps and find our local old foodways, and yet I have no idea how to go about doing that.  If anyone has any ideas, please pass them along in the comments.

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