Feb 18, 2009
Why Buy Local?

My wife had just finished up her latest semester in college, and we decided to celebrate. It was a dark, gloomy night in December, but there was no stopping us crazy kids from a wild night out on the town.

So, we went to Big Boy (it’s a restaurant chain, for those of you who don’t live in Michigan) for some dessert. We sat down, I scanned the menu, and found exactly what I wanted: A piece of strawberry pie. Not too heavy, but with plenty of fruit.

Upon placing my order, however, I was informed that I couldn’t have pie because they didn’t have any strawberries. They only served that particular fruit when it was “seasonally available” – and there ain’t much seasonally available in Michigan in the middle of December.

How annoying. I didn’t complain, but I didn’t end up ordering anything, either. I took some bites off my wife’s hot fudge/brownie/ice cream thingy. It was good, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

I’m going to take a leap here and say that I’m like a lot of consumers that way. Sure, I’m all for seasonal, local eating in theory, but you can’t expect me to follow through on that all the time! Sometimes I want exactly what I want exactly when I want it!

I guess I’ve been spoiled by our food system: I’m used to a plethora of choices, and the thought of willfully abstaining can be difficult at times.

So, if most consumers have the same mixed feelings about buying local, what can we do to change that? How much do we want to change it? Do we want to push things to the point where people in Michigan never eat oranges or winter tomatoes again – only apples and cucumbers? Michigan growers might like that, but Florida growers probably wouldn’t.

On the other hand, is a year-round abundance of choice worth the consequences – worth shipping produce thousands of miles? Well, if people in my part of the country want to continue eating bananas, then yes. On the other hand, if we’re willing to abstain from eating strawberries in December or South American asparagus in January, then no. What we choose will decide how things go.

I don’t like lecturing people one way or the other, but I have been buying more local produce at the grocery store lately and I do visit farm markets more often, so you can say the “buy local” side of me has been gaining influence. A lot of you reading this are probably happy to hear that.

Some of you, however, especially those out West or down South, might not be so happy to hear that. Try not to worry, though. I still buy oranges and avocadoes.




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