Local Food Truth

The Lempert Report
July 05, 2023

We've talked for years about what local is, whether it's down the block, whether it's in the same state, whether it's in the same country, whether it's on the planet. I mean all those things. And now the Guardian has a terrific article that really talks about the fact that people are more confused about local than ever before. One of the examples that they give, which I love, is that in Oakland, California, they looked at a non-dairy yogurt product that was marked local. And what they found, even though the company who makes the yogurt is located in San Francisco, the cashews that are in the yogurt come from Vietnam, more than 7,500 miles away, or the Ivory Coast, about 7,300 miles away. What they also found is two thirds of people perceive that local is more environmentally friendly, but according to experts, including an ex-Whole Foods merchandiser, they say it's a scam. What do you think?

Sally: Yes, Phil, this can be very confusing for these two-thirds of consumers that you were talking about just now. A lot of those consumers are interested in buying local foods because not only do they want to support their local economies, but they also are interested in reducing carbon, our carbon footprint, and see that as a way of buying in a more environmentally friendly manner. However, there isn't an agreement on what local means, so that can be left up to the grocer, and in some cases that can mean which is largely considered local by a lot of people that it is grown within 100 miles of the facility. But for some, that is a local food is where it comes from, where their headquarters are located, and not necessarily where the food was grown or made.

Phil: And that's the problem and that's why we really need legislation. This terrific article also talks about another example. There's a Austin, texas-based candy company which is in Texas and they call themselves local, but their chocolate comes from Guitard, which is based in California, and they sourced their cocoa from Ecuador, which is 2,500 miles away, and West Africa, which is 6,000 miles away. So I think that if, in fact, we're going to rely on local being a good marketing term and we know it sells and we know it also sells for more expensive prices we really need some legislation here, because otherwise I think that we're going to lose the allure of local, we're misleading consumers, we're misleading supermarket buyers and it's just not fair.

Sally: Yes, and in the case that you just mentioned, we also have what's called Fair Trade products, which chocolate has been known to be sourced from Fair Trade situations in other countries, and consumers can feel good about those, because we are supporting those economies where there are food makers and growers that are living in situations where they need the support of outside economies to keep their agriculture system going.

Phil: Yeah, absolutely.