By Brittany Leitner
Do you park yourself at Whole Foods every couple of weeks with the intention of buying quality foods from a store that claims to know exactly where each product hails from? We’ve all been there, actively trying to improve our quality of food while shopping local, but there’s still no guarantee that a trip to a big box store means you’re accomplishing that goal. So what now? How can you actively lean into your community (and health!) with the ingredients you add to your pantry? Meet localism, the answer to your grocery shopping dilemma.
What is food localism and how is it important to our communities? It’s the most eco-friendly and sustainable option to buy the foods and groceries that are already on your list. You may already be adapting localism into your weekly meal plan without knowing it!
Food localism is also known as farm-to-table. Essentially, it aims to minimize the length of the trip that stands between the original source of the food you’re consuming and arriving at your table for dinnertime. This is important for the obvious reasons like reducing carbon emissions as your food travels, processing costs, and multi-party distributors, but it’s also an important consideration for a variety of reasons that directly relate to how a community functions. Here’s what you need to know about aiming to establish food localism in your community, and what you can do to find out more about localism in your area.
According to an article published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), although food systems around the world are changing and diversifying, access to quality, healthy foods is extremely limited and unequal. Globalization essentially means that countries, including the United States, are operating on an increasingly international scale for resources (including food).
The result is the need to give food a longer shelf life, outsourcing to farmers in other countries so U.S. stores can make higher profits, while keeping costs down. This essentially eliminates the opportunity for U.S. farmers to sell their goods directly to consumers within the United States. Consumers are generally driven by low-cost options, which often include products with added sugar, corn, and more “filler” ingredients that provide little to no nutrition. Those same products tend to have a longer shelf life as well.
Native American groups are an example of one community that is negatively affected by the globalization of food resources. According to the National Indian Council on Aging, Inc. (NICOA), poor diets now result in more deaths than tobacco and heart disease within Native American communities. The Navajo Nation, one of the largest reservations in the country located in the Southwest, is essentially known as a food desert as a result. People in this community lack access to fresh foods and local grocery stores, forcing them to turn to long-lasting food products with preservatives and an extended shelf life.
One proposed solution is food sovereignty. Food sovereignty refers to the power of the people to reclaim their food system, to create relationships with farmers and sellers, and determine what kind of food they have access to, not the other way around. According to the NICOA, “Restoring food sovereignty to Native communities requires the re-introduction of indigenous food production, distribution practices and infrastructure. Food sovereignty initiatives empower tribal members living on the reservations to grow their own healthy, fresh produce, ease low food insecurity and prevent heart disease and type II diabetes.”
Although Native American populations in the U.S. are greatly impacted by food globalization, other communities of color, including Latin American and Black populations, are also dealing with the devastating consequences of food inequality in the United States.
Supporting a movement of any kind requires you to do your research. But even as one person, you do have the opportunity to make an impact. If you’re concerned about access to healthy food in your area, you can choose to frequent restaurants that source food locally and support independent workers.
You can also finally take a trip to that farmer’s market you keep hearing about but are too lazy to wake up for on a Saturday morning. Shopping directly from local farmers is an effective way to let businesses know you’re interested and that there’s a demand for food localism. Do your research on local brands in your area and ask your grocery stores to stock them.
Educating those around you with what you’ve learned and why food localism is important matters just as much as choosing where to spend your money. Understanding that there’s a problem is the first step to making change. Once you’ve done the background work, you can make the conscious effort to support your community, one grocery list at a time.
About the author
Lily is a Brooklyn-based wellness enthusiast who never says no to trying a new fitness class. As a previous fitness coach and current health editor, she loves New York's health scene and can often be found in a hot yoga studio, attending a meditation seminar, or going for a long run in Central Park. Lily is originally from Oregon and moved to Brooklyn in 2017—one day when she makes it big, she'll spend her winters on the West Coast and her summers in New York's best borough.
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