One of the key selling points of the eat local movement is that it will reduce the carbon footprint. But, recent studies by leading environmental scientists say that our food prodution and distribution systems are so complex, that a simple “eat local” solution may not be the answer.
The most recent analysis, headed up by David Cleveland, a professor of environmental studies at U.C. Santa Barbara, looked at fruit and vegetable production in Santa Barbara County, a bountiful pannier of fruit and vegetable yields. The county is among the nation’s top one percent in terms of agricultural value overall.
And Santa Barbara, with its farmers markets, organic farming, burgeoning networks of Community Supported Agriculture, and other deep-green bona fides, would seem a ripe locale for the food localization movement.
But Professor Cleveland and his co-authors, most of them former undergraduate students in the Environmental Studies Program, found more than 99 percent of the produce produced in Santa Barbara County is, in fact, exported, and roughly 95 percent of the produce consumed in the county is imported from elsewhere.
Some of the food is shipped in from from far-flung spots in Chile and Argentina.
Year of Plenty blog was not surprised at the findings but says just because the study found that eating local only reduces carbon gas emissions by less than Cpercent, is not a strong argument against eating local.
I think it’s important to note in this conversation that the current far-flung food system is highly dependent on cheap and abundant supplies of oil. From fertilizer, to pesticides, to diesel fuel for semi-trucks and tractors. The main reason the transport of food is only 1% of total agrifood emissions is that there is so much fuel used in the rest of the system. When oil prices spike there are a lot of food companies that would love to shave 1% of their fuel expenses off the bottomline.
The “eat local” movement is complex.