Too Much Green For Sustainable Food? – Section Seven

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Volunteers prepare food at Dinners at the Farm

Buying local food reduces the traveling associated with distributing food and how far food travels may have a big impact on the environment. A report in the Journal of Food Policy found that eating local food is better for the environment in terms of pollution and air quality than even eating organic food because it tends to travel less.

Jason Sobocinski says the environmental benefits of sustainable food are obvious.

“Carbon footprint reduction, soil being used for what it was meant to be used for rather than parking lots, health benefits to those that consume locally produced foods equals healthy, which equals a healthy environment.”

Health and environment aside, sustainable farming is also about producing food in a way that allows farmers and farm works to earn a livable wage.  Buying local food even when it is more expensive supports the local economy and the local farm worker.

“The advantage of sustainable agriculture is knowing where and how your food is grown and processed and that one is eating healthy nutritious food. It supports local farmers and merchants which helps the community,” Connecticut farmer Nancy Livensparger says. Livensparger is co-owner of Fire Ring Farm in Portland Connecticut. The farm’s motto is Think Global, Eat Local with  Community Supported Agriculture.

For thousands of Americans, eating locally produced food is a cultural lifestyle choice. A choice criticized as elitist. But the lifestyle is catching on in the White House, in schools, universities, stores, restaurants and homes across the county.

Gsell thinks people who think sustainable food is elitist don’t really understand the movement.

“Although some think that sustainable food is elitist, it is actually the opposite—it is putting the health of he environment, animals, and global food security over personal immediate needs such as minimizing cost or maximizing convenience,” Gsell said. “Promoting sustainable food is not about being “better” than anyone else, it is about making changes to the current food system in the best interest of future generations of humans, and the future of the earth in general—it just makes practical sense.”

While sustainable food is expensive, studies suggest it’s better for health and it’s almost certainly better for the environment. The price of sustainable food may go down as it becomes more popular, but without government action on subsides, a simpler way to certificate farms, and easier way to distribute sustainable food, it might take a while for that to happen.

Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and other die-hard local foodies say the price shouldn’t matter. But the realty is price does matter. Price, however, is becoming only one small part in the sustainable agricultural equation.

Mintel, a research firm specializing in consumer, products and media conducted a survey in early 2010 on whether Americans were willing to pay more green for green products. Thirty-five percent of Americans surveyed responded they would pay more for environmentally friendly products and Mintel predicts natural and organic food sales will grow by 20 percent from 2010 to 2011.

Still, that 35 percent means that less than half of Americans are willing to pay more for environmental friendly products. For local sustainable food to go more mainstream, for it to have the greatest benefit for the health of most Americans and for the environment the price of sustainable food will have to come down. Maybe, as the study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Hospitality Program suggests, it doesn’t have to come down to the point where it is the same price as going to the supermarket. Customers would be willing to pay a few dollars more, just not a substantial amount more. Figuring out the amount that will work for consumers and farms will be one of the tricks of the sustainable food market in the future.

There are ways to shop locally now and buy affordable food.

“Many supermarkets have food like beans, nuts, etc in bulk containers,” North said. “These are cheaper than those pre-packaged. Also, eat less meat, for a variety of health and environmental reasons. With the money you save, buy sustainably-produced meat or simply more vegetables, fruits and whole grains.”

Of course running around to all those different places might not be the best way to convince people to shop sustainably. Most people don’t have that kind of time.

The best-case scenario for the environmentally friendly food movement would be a complete overhaul of our food system, but that would take a complete overhaul of our fast-food culture and we are years if not decades away from that.

Even if tomorrow everyone in the US decided they would only buy locally produced goods for the environment, there would not be enough food in supply. Sustainable food currently produced represents only a fraction of the food consumed in the United States each day. A sudden dramatic increase in demand would make sustainable food even more expensive and unattainable for thousands of people and could even have the side effect of driving food prices up across the globe, something that isn’t practically sustainable.

 

With states around the county losing thousands of acres of farmland each year, we are getting even further off from being able to have a complete sustainable food systems.

What’s more is that eating only sustainably produced food either requires a diet change that bases itself on what’s in season or the ability to ship food across the country with minimal impact on the environment.

As the August dinner came to close, the height of the Connecticut harvest season was also winding down. Dinner guests, farmers, chefs, and workers lingered over their tables talking to the people who when they first arrived at the night’s event were strangers and through the course of the dinner were now close friends. Expensive, yes, but the only way to really celebrate local food right now. And that’s what the dinners are a celebration and hope for a future of a different kind of dinning.

This is the last section in a piece broken up into seven different sections, that traces the production of farm-to-table food in Connecticut, its benefits and cons and provided thoughts on whether our the local food movement is scalable. Read Section One, TwoThreeFourFive and Six.

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