by Sharon Kennelty-Cohen
Locavore was the Word of the Year in 2007 as announced by the New Oxford American Dictionary. It means people that eat food that has been processed within a minimized transportation range. Transportation is one of the major villains in the causation of climate change.
According to NASA, climate change is a shift in the average weather in a place scaled over many years. Earth’s climate is not a constant; it is always changing. Unfortunately, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 1850s, the temperature of the planet has been increasing, and the rate of this warming has taken a sharp turn since the mid-1900s.
When faced with such cataclysmic disaster, many people feel powerless as to how they can help. The United Nations came up with a series of sustainability goals that can be adopted by anyone to help the planet. On a personal scale, I suggest we all try to be locavores. If you have bitten into a fresh peach in season and had the sweet juices slip down your chin, you have an experiential understanding of the wonders of fresh fruit. Anyone that has plucked an ear of corn from the stalk in the field knows the spark of a natural sugar in your mouth. Seasonal foods are delicious. By eating what’s in season, humans follow the eons-long tradition our ancestors would recognize.
People learned to save and store food in order to survive times when it was hard to find fresh sources. In hot lands, it became important to dry foods. Then, in order to resuscitate their nourishment, water and other liquids were added to the fare to make it palatable. In cold lands, ice could be used to pack food for storage. By heating the frozen foods, they were restored to a nourishing state.
Native Americans would make “journey cakes” when they were traveling a distance. Language misunderstandings converted them to “Johnny cakes,” as food for the road. With advances in travel, people wanted to bring food with them and incorporated the latest in technology to expand the horizon. In this way, humans increased their success rate for survival and expanded the length of time a food could be eaten.
By the early 20th century, people made machines to help preserve their food. Dehydrators quickened the process of drying fresh foods. Ice boxes and refrigerators sped the process of chilling and freezing food. The fact that refrigeration became popular around the same time as automobiles impacted both climate effects and food sourcing, by adding the concept of travel to the storage of food.
When discussing travel and transportation, people consider “food miles” as the distance that food must travel from the location where food is grown or raised to the location where it is consumed, but transportation by vehicle has negative impacts on the environment from emissions and erosion. Fuel is burned and fumes enter the atmosphere we breathe. Roads become worn over time. By limiting the amount of food miles used for a meal, people would also limit the emissions and erosion caused by bringing home that meal.
Even the choice of method of transporting food matters. There are distinct differences between the costs of the miles on a train, a truck or an airplane.
By buying foods locally, people support small business and encourage small farming. When people pay attention to the methods in which their food is grown, the care of the land benefits. Local sourcing of food limits the amount of preservatives needed to keep foods fresh, cuts down on packaging, and cuts down on the amount of plastic and cardboard entering the waste stream. Overall, by eating local foods, people will be cutting back on their pollution creation. This fights against global warming. It is a small step by people, but it can make changes in minor ways and have large benefits.
Sharon Kennelty-Cohen is a naturalist and a conservation biologist in Long Beach, NY. This was written as part of her master’s program with the Advanced Inquiry Program of Project Dragonfly. Connect with her at Kennels@MiamiOhio.edu.