Eating Local: what is it, how to do it, and how it helps our environment

Broccoli

It seems like more and more we are hearing that we should “eat local,” but what exactly does it mean? To put it simply, eating local is eating food that was grown close to home. By eating foods that were grown or raised close to home, you are eliminating the carbon emissions that would have been otherwise required to transport that food from a far-away farm to your table.

Why should I care?

A study from the American Dietetic Association found that the average food item travels 1,500 miles before being consumed. That may seem far, but considering that much of the food you ate today was out of season or cannot typically be grown in your climate, 1,500 miles doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. Some of the food we eat must be imported from the other side of the U.S. or even from other countries because of this. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, the average american prepared meal contains at least five ingredients from outside of the United States.

Most food transportation methods use fossil fuels. This means that food transportation creates a large amount of CO2, thus directly contributing to global climate change. Another Natural Resource Defense Council study found that the importation of fruits, nuts, and vegetables into California via airplane produced 70,000 pounds of CO2, equal to 12,000 cars on the road for one year. This study did not even take into account transportation by ships, trains, and trucks, which are some of the most common methods of food transportation in the state.

How can I do it?

It is becoming easier and easier to purchase local foods. An easy way to purchase local foods and support farmers directly is through farmers markets. There are seven seasonal and year-round neighborhood farmers markets in Seattle. Farmers markets can sometimes be expensive, but several vendors will have sales and some discount their prices later in the day near the end of market operating hours. It is also important to note that many Seattle farmers market vendors now accept SNAP/EBT cards.

Many grocery stores are also beginning to pick up on the trend of local eating. Many grocery stores now have signs in the produce section indicating if something was grown in Washington. This can be a great tool for trying to eat locally while shopping somewhere that is convenient for you.

Lastly, one of the easiest ways to reduce how far food travels is to try to buy produce when it is in season. Out of season produce is often shipped from far away or is frozen until it is ready to be sold, both of which can create large amounts of CO2. Knowing when produce is in season is a great way to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it will take to get the food to your plate.

By: Madison Alberts, Member of the SYCAN Leadership Team and Volunteer at the Seattle Aquarium