What does "local" mean?

March 16, 2017

When I began this project, I pledged to eat only local produce.  Through this process, however, I have come to the realization that "local" means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and companies.

 

I mentioned in a previous post that it is incredibly difficult to find produce in grocery stores that was grown around Seattle, where I live, or in Washington in general.  Granted, I am not shopping exclusively at farmer's markets (although I plan to in the near future - stay tuned!) I shop for most of my groceries at the Safeway grocery store not far from my apartment.  The photo below is from that Safeway.  

 You'll notice that the sign above the vegetables says "locally grown". If it this proclamation were true, my project would be a whole lot easier! The problem is that I'm not sure what this grocery store defines as "local" because most of the produce I've purchased here is either from California or is unlabeled.  While Washington does share the same coast as California, I would hardly consider vegetables from the Golden State to be grown in my backyard. Take the humble cauliflower in the picture below.  Although it was in the same area as the "locally grown" sign, its origins are unknown because the cauliflower had no informative stickers on it. The sign only serves to identify the vegetable and its price. This poor member of the mustard family has no idea where it came from and neither do I. 

I am apparently not alone (Which is it, 2009) in noticing that the terms "local produce" and "locally grown" are subjective, especially to grocery stores. According to Morran (2011) from Consumerist, Safeway defines "local" produce as produce that takes less than eight hours to reach the grocery store. In eight hours, a truck can cover a lot of ground! According to Safeway's guidelines, my "locally grown" fruits and vegetables could come to Seattle anywhere from Salmon Arm, British Columbia to Boise, Idaho to Weed, California. I wouldn't consider a newspaper from any of these places to be a local paper, so why should I have to consider the produce from these locations to be "local"? 

 

I can't say I'm surprised that chains like the one I use are exploiting the local produce trend.  When one in three consumers say they're willing to pay up to 25% more for "local" food (Tartan, 2015), companies see dollar signs. According to Tartan (2015), local foods made $11.7 billion in 2014, and that profit is likely to continue to grow.  

 

I must admit that I have been slightly disillusioned by my quest.  Before beginning this project, I might have described "local" produce as coming from small farms within a thirty-minute drive of my house where the farmers wear only overalls and bare feet.  In some cases, this may still be true (well, not the overalls and bare feet part).  My next challenge is to find produce that I would consider truly "local".   

 

Resources

 

Morran, C. (2011, August 01). How Local Is That "Locally Grown" Produce At Your Grocery Store?

        Retrieved March 12, 2017, from https://consumerist.com/2011/08/01/how-local-is-that-locally-

        grown-produce-at-your-grocery-store

 

Tarkan, L. (2015, August 20). The big business behind the local food. Retrieved March 12,

        2017, from http://fortune.com/2015/08/21/local-food-movement-business/

 

Which is it, Safeway? (2009). Retrieved March 12, 2017, from

        http://portlandfoodanddrink.com/which-is-it-safeway/

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