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February 29, 2012 at 8:02 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

What "Local" Really Means

By Sue More Blogs by This Author

Locally harvested?

Locally made?

What does it all mean??!

The question that has been plaguing me over the last few years as this word is becoming increasingly prevalent.

What does local REALLY mean? It's difficult to define. There are not set ratings for using this term - it's either makes the grade or doesn't. There are no such things as "super local" or "kind of local". Like "organic", "natural" and "free range", there are only fundamental guidelines that must be followed before legally labeling your products as such.

What "Local" Means

Anyway, in the absence of rigid, agreed-upon standards, companies have a lot of  flexibility in the way they define the term. Here are just a few company's "local" definitions I was able to round up.

  • Google’s Cafe: Local means within 150 miles.
  • Chipotle: Local means within 200 miles.
  • Wal-Mart: Local means within the same state.
  • Whole Foods: The definition of local is left up to the individual stores. (That’s taking “local” to a whole new level, I guess…)
  • ConAgra: Local means produce is grown within 120 miles of the processing plant, regardless of how far the final product is shipped.

That brings up another question I’ve been pondering: Is local defined by the producer or the consumer?
If a Michigan farm sells apples to consumers in Grand Rapids, Indiana and Ohio are they local or are they just local to the consumers in Michigan?

Arggg!

To me, local should be defined in terms of the consumer, not the producer of a product. If the product is purchased within 100 miles from where the consumer lives, supports the economy within 100 miles and sources or develops at least 75% of it’s products, supplies, and labor within that 100 mile footprint, THEN, and only then is it truly local in my book!

Why Location Matters

What’s all the fuss about anyway?

There has been more focus in recent years on being socially conscientious about where our food comes from. Local is now a buzzword on the tongues of food marketers and shoppers everywhere!

The fact is - where our food comes means a lot! Here are just a few benefits gained by eating local:

  • Reduce Pollution. Did you know our food travels an average of over 1500 miles from farm to table?! That journey leaving a notable carbon foot print. By shopping foods that are grown locally (within 100 miles from where you live and shop) you are cutting down the pollution associated with the transport of that food by a significant amount!
  • Supports Small Business and People in Your Community. Small businesses and farms haveto struggle to compete with large corporations and mass production prices. Buying foods grown and raised locally supports the farms that still do things the "old-fashioned way." It also helps your local economy by keeping dollars and jobs in your community.
  • Local Food Tastes Better.  One devastating loss with the advent of food mass production is actually the quality of produce being grown. The fact is,  these big corporations don't pay their farmers for superior taste. They pay for size and for it's ability to hold up over a long journey and a long time sitting in a grocery store. The flavor of  tomatoes has been particularly affected by this movement and as many cooks will tell you - you haven't tasted a tomato until you've tasted an heirloom tomato, fresh from the farm! Food that travels less than 100 miles from farm to table can feasibly be picked in the morning and on your dinner table at night. Farmers producing food for their community have the luxury of focusing less on growing produce with superior travel-proof qualities and more on the superior flavor.

Midwest Local:  Spring Green Asparagus Soup

Here's one spring recipe I absolutely love. Here in the Midwest, asparagus and spinach season  begins in April and I celebrate with a warm, savory, soul-satisfying soup made from the freshly grown produce my community has to offer. The vibrant green color and unbeatably fresh flavor are things I look forward to ever year as I bid farewell to winter! :)

Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 10 min

Ingredients (Serves 6)     

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil    
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onion   
  • Pinch finely ground salt 
  • 6 cups chicken stock      
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds asparagus, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices 
  • 2 cups tightly packed fresh spinach leaves   
  • 1 cup heavy cream, chilled        
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated Parmigianino Regiano

Directions:

  1. Set a large saucepot over high heat add the olive oil.
  2. Add the onions, stir briefly, and lower the heat to medium.
  3. Cook the onions until they are soft and translucent but without any browning, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken stock.
  5. Raise the heat to high to bring the stock to a boil.
  6. Add the asparagus and return the stock to a simmer.
  7. Cook until the asparagus is tender.
  8. With a hand blender blend the soup until it is smooth.
  9. To cool quickly, remove soup to a large bowl set inside a larger bowl filled with ice water.
  10. Once the soup has cooled add the cream and lemon zest, and season with salt and pepper.
  11. To re-heat the soup for serving, slowly bring to a simmer over medium heat.
  12. Top with fresh grated Parmigiano cheese.

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