Food miles, local eating, and community supported agriculture: putting local food in its place
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The idea of “food miles,” the distance that food has to be shipped, has entered into debates in both popular and academic circles about local eating. An oft-cited figure claims that the “average item” of food travels 1,500 miles before it reaches your plate. The source of this figure is almost never given, however, and indeed, it is a figure with surprisingly little grounding in objective research. In this study, I track the evolution of this figure, and the ways that scholars and popular writers have rhetorically employed it. I then explore the ongoing debates over food miles and local food, debates that often oversimplify the idea of local eating to a caricature. I then examine a series of in-depth interviews with community-supported agriculture members and farmers in order to bring complexity back to discussions of local food consumers. I argue that the overwhelming focus on “food miles” among scholars threatens to eclipse the multitude of other values and meanings contained in the word “local” that underlie people’s decisions to “eat locally,” foremost among them, a desire to reintegrate food production and consumption within the context of place.
KeywordsFood miles Local food Community-supported agriculture Place
I would like to thank Lisa Schnell, Harvey James, and the anonymous reviewers for constructive critiques of earlier versions of this manuscript that greatly improved it, as well as the numerous CSA participants and farmers who gave freely of their time to talk to me about their experiences and thoughts. I would also like to thank Kutztown University for the sabbatical leave that made this project possible.
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