Should we try, as far as is possible, to buy only locally-produced goods?
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Shopping locally supports local farmers and the local economy – rather than huge multinational corpo...
Shopping locally supports local farmers and the local economy – rather than huge multinational corporations. Typically farmers are forced to sell to middlemen or big business, such as huge supermarket corporations. This means growers see only a small fraction of the price the public eventually pays in the store (as little as 18 cents of every dollar in the USA). This drives down farm incomes and is forcing many farmers off the land as they can no longer make a living. By selling directly to the public at farmers’ markets and farm shops instead, producers can ensure that they get a fair price for their crops and livestock. The income this provides is particularly crucial for small producers, and for farmers committed to more sustainable, less intensive methods, such as organic production. Consumers who want to support their local producers and sustainable farming over big agribusiness and retailers should therefore aim to shop locally wherever possible.
Buying only local produce means making a commitment to paying much more money for your weekly shop. 250 years ago, Adam Smith demonstrated that there is an economic law of comparative advantage. This states that each country or region should focus on producing those crops and manufactures to which it is best suited, exporting these and using the income to purchase things which other countries can produce more cheaply and efficiently. This way everyone prospers, gaining the most profit from their special areas of economic expertise, while spending less to buy those things in which others excel. Deciding to buy only local produce flies in the face of economic reality, because much of the food that can be produced nearby would be much cheaper if imported from another country with cheaper land and labour, a more suitable climate and greater economies of scale. The bottom line here is that shopping local can only ever be an indulgence of the rich – ordinary working families must follow the rules of comparative advantage and buy their food cheaply from supermarkets, which can seek out the cheapest and most efficient sources of each foodstuff.
Local shopping benefits the environment. At the moment most food in the stores has been transported...
Local shopping benefits the environment. At the moment most food in the stores has been transported huge distances, often from countries far away. Even locally-sourced food may be trucked hundreds of miles to a big distribution centre, before being sent back to a store near its point of origin. These “food miles” represent an enormous environmental cost in terms of carbon emissions and contribute hugely to the problem of climate change. This is especially true of food that has been air-freighted, a very environmentally damaging practice. In addition, shopping for locally produced food reduces unnecessary and environmentally-damaging packaging
Buying local is not actually environmentally friendly. The idea of food miles sounds wonderfully green, but the concept is deeply flawed. Often it takes much more energy (for heated glasshouses and fertilisers) to grow fruit and vegetables locally than it does to grow them in a country with a more suitable climate and then transport them by road, sea or air. Studies have found that it is better for the environment to produce butter, cheese, lamb and apples in New Zealand and then ship them to Britain, than it is to buy the same items from English producers. And most of the food miles travelled by products come from consumers driving to and from the shops. Indeed, the carefully packed lorries of the huge supermarkets are a more energy efficient way of distributing food than having lots of small producers driving pick-up trucks to farmers markets.
Local shopping is good for the whole community. Rather than the impersonal experience of visiting a...
Local shopping is good for the whole community. Rather than the impersonal experience of visiting a huge out-of-store retailer, shopping for local produce brings consumers into contact with a whole range of different people. Buying from those who actually grew the food and moving from stall to stall turns shopping into a real social event. Dealing with those who actually cared for the livestock encourages much more conversation and forges social bonds, creating sustainable communities and linking urban areas to the countryside surrounding them. Consumers also get a chance to learn about where their food comes from, to enquire about animal welfare standards or pesticide use, and to raise environmental concerns, while gaining an appreciation of the pressures on local farmers.
Buying local produce from farmers markets may be a wonderful social experience, but it also acts as a form of protectionism (which is why farm lobbies are keen on it). As well as artificially increasing family food bills in developed countries, the cult of localism also hits farmers in the developing world by denying them an export market. Over the past decade or so countries like Kenya and Peru have begun to develop their way out of poverty by exploiting their comparative advantages in agriculture. Their commercial farming operations provide fresh fruit and vegetables for rich consumers in developing countries. Farms growing crops like beans, broccoli, plums and cherries have provided good jobs for hundreds of thousands of poor people, and brought their countries valuable income and investment. We should not sacrifice this massive benefit to the pursuit of protectionist “localism”.
Buying locally-produced food means that it will be much fresher and healthier. Typical supermarket ...
Buying locally-produced food means that it will be much fresher and healthier. Typical supermarket fruit and vegetables are often picked 4-7 days before they make it on to the shelves, and so may be nearly two weeks old before they are actually eaten, by which time much of their goodness will have long departed. To cope with these long delays, many fruits are picked in an unripe state, so that they do not start to rot on the supermarket shelves – meaning their full flavour has never developed out in the sun on the tree or plant. By buying locally consumers can ensure that they get the tastiest, healthiest food. Experience also suggests that people are more likely to vary their diet by trying new foods if they come from local producers, who can offer tastings and recipe advice.
Buying local foods from farmers markets does not necessarily mean that the produce is fresher. Today supermarkets’ efficient supply chains mean that green beans are on the shelves in Britain or the USA within 24 hours of being picked in Kenya or Peru. As most farmers markets only operate once or twice a week, the chances are that their produce is no fresher than this. In addition, farmers markets are a great marketing brand, but there is no guarantee that all of the goods sold are really local at all. British farmers markets often feature such items as olives and coffee beans, which cannot accurately be described as local. And if there is no source for a particular product within 20 miles or so of the market, a producer from much further away will be allowed to come in and take a stall.
Shopping for local produce is also part of a wider movement to rediscover and celebrate local food c...
Shopping for local produce is also part of a wider movement to rediscover and celebrate local food cultures. The Slow Food movement emphasises the cultural importance of local cuisines based upon the range of foods that are available within a particular region. By treating the whole world as our larder we have gained an enormous choice of foods, but at the cost of our own culinary heritage and folk traditions. We have also lost a sense of seasonality, expecting asparagus and strawberries all year round. Local food restores this connection with the rhythm of the seasons, and connects us to the land around us and to our ancestors who helped to shape it.
We should be grateful for the advances of transport and economic globalisation, which have brought such a wide range of foods to our shops. Our grandparents ate largely local produce, and this gave them a very dull diet with a very limited choice of fruit and vegetables. They understood the importance of seasonal variation all right, but that meant they had little access to vitamins in the cold winter and spring months. Our diet today is much healthier and more varied as a result of globalisation, and we should not try to turn the clock back to the bad old days when only local produce was available.
By creating a market for a wide variety of agricultural produce, shopping locally will encourage loc...
By creating a market for a wide variety of agricultural produce, shopping locally will encourage local farmers to grow and rear a wide variety of crops and animals. Intensive modern farming often consists of huge agribusinesses growing monocultures of wheat, corn, rape or soya over vast areas, with little room left for nature. Even livestock farming can impose one type of farming practice upon the environment and drive out plants and animals which cannot cope with those methods. More varied farming practices are valuable for promoting biodiversity, encouraging a whole range of birds, animals and plants to establish themselves in field margins and adjacent wild areas. Local variety is also good farming practice, as it means that any disease or pest infestation will not be able to spread quickly to devastate a whole region.
There are other, better ways to be environmentally friendly than insisting on shopping for local produce. Locally grown food may be very intensively reared, so if sustainability is important to you, buy organic food regardless of where it comes from. If you have a garden, grow your own vegetables and fruit. And if you truly care about the environment, eat less meat as raising livestock involves much more carbon emissions than arable farming.
What do you think?