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Eating Local to be Healthy, Not to Save the Planet

By Sustainability Office on August 12, 2013
Article submitted by Jenna Glat '14

By Jenna Glat ’14

When one hears the phrase “sustainable eating,” one of the first methods that comes to mind is eating locally grown food. Many would be surprised to learn that there are some people who do not support the locavore lifestyle, and wonder, “what could possibly be wrong with eating fresh produce, supporting neighborhood farmers, and boosting the local economy?” Cost is typically one of the major factors involved in deciding whether to purchase the slightly more expensive local, organic food, or to simply buy conventional supermarket food. Are the higher costs of local food outweighed by its associated health benefits?

While Colgate is fortunate enough to be located in a rural, agriculturally prosperous area, it is really only during the summer and early fall that local produce is abundant and is produced in an environmentally conscious matter. During the not-so-warm months, farmers in Central New York and other temperate climate areas are forced to abandon many of their traditional open-field farming practices and move their crops indoors to greenhouses, which are heated 24/7, creating a very large carbon footprint. Some farmers attempt to grow a wider variety of crops to meet the demands for more variety. This is great for their inventory, but oftentimes these practices are occurring in geographical areas that are not suited for this type of growth, which can result in stressed soils. Practices like these can contribute to the high greenhouse gas emissions of food production that occur before the food even leaves the farm – a whopping 83% of the entire process, according to WorldWatch.org. Similarly, reducing food miles, or the distance traveled by food before reaching the home, to zero, would reduce only 5% of the total GHG emissions. Therefore, specialists such as Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu, authors of The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet, argue that people should eat locally to benefit their health, but not to save the planet. They go far enough to say that “locavorism can only result in higher costs and increased poverty, greater food insecurity, less food safety, and much more significant environmental damage than is presently the case”.

Sign for the Colgate Community GardenIt is recommended that we eat local only when it is sensible, like in the summer and fall, when local food is in season and fresh. Colgate makes roughly 20% of its food and beverage purchases from local providers, according to Olivia Kuby’s 2012 report entitled “How Green Are Colgate’s Dining Halls?”, where local signifies that the product was both grown and processed 250 miles or fewer from campus. One of the newer and most local options for Colgate’s local food quota comes from the Community Garden, located behind the Newell Apartments. The garden grows fresh vegetables and fruits in the summer with the help of the Colgate and Hamilton communities, and sells back most of their produce to the Colgate dining halls.

What do you think about eating local? Do the relatively small transportation offsets counter conventional purchasing? Check out this video featuring Colgate’s own Community Garden to learn about appropriately supporting the local food movement here in Hamilton.

1 Comment

  • Rob Young said:

    Can you please email a copy of Olivia Kuby’s 2012 report entitled “How Green are Colgate’s Dining Halls?” I was unable to download it.

    I was disappointed to see only one vegetable available when I had dinner at The Colgate Inn. The Common Thread Farm is right up the street and had a glorious display of fresh produce available at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. I know there are other local farmers who could supply fresh local vegetable to the Inn during growing season. We should be supporting them.

    The same goes for the steaks they serve. My $29 New York strip came from a CAFO somewhere instead of from one of the many locals raising grass fed beef.

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