In 2003 a BBC report for Inside Out revealed that 100 years ago, virtually all the food humans bought and consumed was sourced from producers within a 20 mile radius of our homes. A lot has changed in our lifetimes. The explosion of supermarkets has meant that food has never been more convenient, so we can just walk into a store, buy what we want and go off and eat it. Many foods also still have anonymity; we don’t know anything about them or where they come from, unless of course they are local produce.
You may have seen ‘green’ political campaigns urging you all to buy local, or maybe chefs praising local food and drink has caught your eye. Whether it’s in the media, political or food production industries, championing local produce is nothing new, the question is, why is ‘buying local’ such a hot topic right now, and what are the benefits of going along with this ethos?
Economics always comes into play here, for producers, businesses they supply, and their customers. Producers can focus more on producing quality products, and don’t have to invest as much time and money on packaging, refrigerating, and transportation. Transportation costs (both economical and perhaps more importantly environmental), is one of the most important issues that has been debated in recent years. In 2005, Defra (Department for Food, Environment, and Rural Affairs) released figures suggesting that food transportation to and within the UK, produced a massive 19 million tonnes of CO2, about the same as the emissions from 5.5 million cars. While food miles, and the reduced costs of ‘buying local’ continue to attract attention, they’re not the only benefits.
Local food producers are very much part of a community and often do business with each other. A butcher could supply meat to a baker for their pies, while a local fisherman could supply local restaurants. Good prices, good quality, and dealing direct results in a higher level of customer service.
Health is also at the heart of this issue, and we as a nation are becoming more aware of the products we are putting into our shopping baskets and the ingredients they contain. One of the key benefits of buying local is that you are assured of fresh, nutrient and vitamin rich foods, that are often healthier, and taste better too. You don’t have to look far in the health pages of a website or newspaper to know this can only be a good thing.
All the evidence presents a pretty convincing argument, but is local produce that easy to find? Farmers markets are a good place to start, and happen all over the UK, from town centre high streets, to racecourses. You may also find vegetable box schemes, farm shops, gift shops, tea rooms, and restaurants in your local area using or selling local goods. Why not even have a look in your local supermarket and see what they stock too. If you have questions about how your food is produced and grown, and concerns over the environment too, then you should shop local.