What Does the Word “Local” Really Mean

Consumers are willing to pay more for locally produced foods. I mean, why wouldn’t they? When you buy local, you’re supporting your neighbors, promoting your community’s economy and protecting the environment by jumping on the sustainability bandwagon of the smaller ecological footprint of locally grown food. But what if the products you buy that are labeled local really aren’t local at all?

And for that matter, what exactly is local food? What does the word local mean to consumers, to producers, to those doing the labeling?

Ask a group of people if the term local should be defined with geographical boundaries, and most everyone agrees that yes, to be considered a local product it needs to come from within a 100-mile radius and be bound by state borders. But, as it turns out, there is no one definition for what constitutes a local product, at least not from a legal standpoint. There are, however, some broad standards when it comes to distance.

In May 2010 the U.S. Department of Agriculture acknowledged the definition of locally and regionally produced food as referenced under the 2008 Farm Bill to mean: food raised, produced, aggregated, stored, processed and distributed in the locality or region where the final product is marketed to consumers, so that the total distance that the product travels between the farm or ranch where the product originates and the point of sale to the end consumer is at most 400 miles, or both the final market and the origin of the product are within the same state, territory or tribal land. But, adds the USDA spokesperson I talked with, “Local or regional food may mean very different things to different stakeholders, depending on a variety of factors, including where one is located or the time of year (based on growing capacity and seasonality) or what their needs or goals are for prioritizing local and regional food sourcing or marketing.”

Similarly, a spokesperson for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed that the term local is not defined on the federal level and “can be used by companies as long as it is used in a truthful and not misleading way.” As for what happens when a purveyor labels his product local when it isn’t, the FDA can “view on a case-by-case basis the context of the entire label,” but finding the time and resources to do so is challenging.Read this article in its entirety on the Edible Indy website and find out how state agriculture departments are helping (and how they’re not) and get the lowdown on just how “local” the local farmers market really is. And then stop back by and let me know your thoughts. I hope the information is useful and helps you start a conversation in your neck of the woods, wherever that may be ; )

On Being a Flexitarian

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