As I gazed at my salad tonight, I realized that it was
better travelled than I was. The lettuce had seen most of the southern
U.S. and the red peppers spoke Spanish.
As I gazed at my salad tonight, I realized that it was better travelled than I was. The lettuce had seen most of the southern U.S. and the red peppers spoke Spanish.
My meal is truly an international effort. Until recently, my food’s citizenship was listed as “grocery store” in my mind – I never worried about where it was born. Now I worry, and apparently so do many other consumers.
Eating local is “the new organic” and it’s a trend that hitting the food industry with gusto. Burrowing in our own patch doesn’t come without its challenges and one wonders if consumers will be willing to pay the price both literally and figuratively. When it comes to our food – is there really no place like home?
The strongest trends are generally fuelled by several factors and eating local is no exception. While getting back to basics has been a mantra chanted for some time now, the food safety issue seems to be the straw that has broken the proverbial camel’s back.
When tainted U.S. spinach caused death and illness in some consumers last year, it truly hit home just how susceptible our food supply is to contaminants. When tainted wheat gluten from Asia resulted in the deaths of many pets recently, consumers started to wonder if humans were next.
Environmental issues are also a key driver of the “localvore” trend as many proponents of eating food grown close at hand argue that not having to transport the food great distances saves on gas emissions, which contribute to the greenhouse effect. The David Suzuki Foundation website reports on a study that estimates that “a basic North American meal travels 2,400 km from field to table – roughly the driving distance from Regina to Toronto.”
The Sierra Club of Canada estimates the CO2 emissions attributed to the food consumed by a family of four are eight tonnes a year.
Cathy Bartolic, executive administrator for the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association, sees the environmental drivers to this trend as well as the financial ones.
“It’s not only the amount of fuel consumed to transport the food, it’s also the ever-increasing cost of the fuel that’s making locally grown food more attractive” confirms Bartolic.
Consumers, concerned about jobs shifting offshore to other countries, have embraced eating locally as a way of supporting their home economies. It’s estimated that by buying food from local producers, 90 per cent of the food dollar is staying in the community.
A Vancouver couple recently committed to eating only foods that had been grown within a 100-mile radius of their apartment. Their experiences during this time have been chronicled in their popular book The Hundred Mile Diet.
While this way of eating took the authors to unexpected and delightful foods – it wasn’t without its challenges. You see; wheat doesn’t grow within one hundred miles of Vancouver. They eventually sourced a local wheat farm to make flour but until they found this source, bread was off the menu.
Eating locally takes commitment. Does the average consumer have the motivation to demand and seek out local foods?
Local farmer’s markets are still a vibrant part of most municipalities. It’s natural that consumers would flock to local markets as a first step in searching out food grown close to home.
“We’re seeing increased traffic at local farmer’s markets,” confirms Marg Land, editor of Fruit and Vegetable Magazine, a Canadian trade publication. “The markets themselves are tightening up the restrictions regarding who may sell at some of these markets. Many vendors need to prove that they grew their products themselves and aren’t simply re-selling produce purchased for re-sale.”
It seems that everyone is getting more serious about eating locally … but how does foodservice balance this trend with a need to have consistent supply and cost control?
“Some restaurants are leveraging the names of local growers right on their menus,” says Bartolic. “In some operations there may actually be a notation next to the menu item that says ‘Cookstown greens.’” Those patrons who live in the area will probably recognize the grower’s name, giving the menu instant cache.
Part of the localvore trend is driven by a consumer desire to have a story attached to their foods. Consumers want to know where it was grown and in what conditions. The wine industry refers to this as the “terrior,” which speaks to the type of soil in which the grape was grown, influencing the taste of the wine.
The same perspective can apply to anything grown in soil and here’s the key issue: this “story” adds value and allows us to price it accordingly.
Consider adding a “Hundred Mile Pizza” to your menu. Look at innovative ways to make it seasonal so you can switch it up depending on what’s available at that time of year.
While localvores are a niche segment right now, they are growing in numbers and are willing to pay a premium for these foods. The word of mouth buzz you will get for having this item on you menu will likely prove to be well worth having it.
Don’t forget that local greenhouse grown produce is a viable alternative offseason. Eating local is trendy, environmentally friendly, safe and economically beneficial to our communities. Sometimes doing the right thing is a win/win proposition.•
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