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Eating Locally and in Season: Is It Really Better for the Environment?

October 24, 2018 in Blogs

By Reynard Loki, Independent Media Institute

Eating locally reduces your ecological footprint, but studies show what you eat may be even more important.

Humans have been moving food around the world for thousands of years. Toward the end of the second century BC, merchants traveled along the Silk Road, transporting noodles from Xi’an, grapes from Dayuan and nutmeg from the Moluccas Islands to eager buyers along its 4,000-mile network. While it’s possible to trace the evolution of food through that matrix of ancient caravan routes that linked China to the West, it’s hard to measure its environmental impact. It’s likely that, as with any road, wildlife corridors were disrupted. But greenhouse gas emissions were fairly low, consisting of the methane from the belches and farts of the horses, yaks and Bactrian camels, and the fires that humans burned along the way.

Fast-forward to the 20th-century US. Modern transportation and the rise of post-World War II suburban life changed the agricultural trade — and the way we ate. A key driver in this post-war food system has been globalization, which Kym Anderson, an economist at the University of Adelaide, argues “has been characterized by a rapid decline in the costs of cross-border trade in farm and other products, driven by declines in the costs of transporting bulky and perishable products long distances, the information and communication technology (ICT) revolution and major reductions in governmental distortions to agricultural trade.”

After the war, planned communities like the Levittowns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — built by the real estate development company Levitt & Sons — sprang up across the country, welcoming returning veterans who were eligible for low-interest, government-backed mortgages. Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Act of 1956 authorized the construction of 40,000 miles of interstate highways to span the nation. Suburban life swelled. According to National Real Estate Investor:

During the 1950s, land values in the suburbs increased rapidly — in some prime suburban neighborhoods as much as 3,000 percent — while population swelled by 45 percent. Nearly two-thirds of all industrial construction during the 1950s was taking place …read more


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