It has been argued that ‘eating local’, as an individual practice and as a wider food production strategy, could be the UK’s solution to food insecurity due to its potential to provide fresh, nutritious, affordable, sustainable food that people can grow themselves. But within our current globalised food market, is eating locally sourced food as an individual practice really compatible with the goals of food security from a consumer perspective?
The World Food Program (WFP) defines food security as having “access at all times to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) adds to this definition of food security by stating that everyone should also have food that “meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.
I challenged myself to only consume food that has been produced within 100 miles of my postcode in Sheffield for a day and here I reflect on the barriers I encountered with regards to food security from my perspective as a consumer. There are many definitions of ‘local’ food; I decided to use the 100-mile radius as has been used in previous local eating research, such as in Smith and MacKinnon’s book ‘The 100-mile diet: A year of eating locally’.
|Product:||Vendor:||Cost:||Where it was produced:|
|Organic Potatoes – 1.5kg||Tesco||£1.50||Shropshire|
|Carrots – 1kg||Tesco||£0.43||Yorkshire|
|Chestnut Mushrooms – 250g||Tesco||£1.20||Yorkshire|
|Cabbage – 1 large||Tesco||£0.34||Lincoln|
|Eggs – 6||Tesco||£1.00||Lincoln|
|Beef mince – 500g||Whirlow Farm||£3.75||Whirlow Farm|
|White onion – 2||Whirlow Farm||£0.21 each||Whirlow Farm|
|Sweet potato – 1||Whirlow Farm||£0.43||Whirlow Farm|
First Barrier – ACCESS:
An important aspect of food security is ensuring that people have access to food; during my day of local eating I felt the need to venture out to a local farm called Whirlow, which was a 20-minute drive away, in the search for more local produce to add to the limited selection I found in my local Tesco. For people who don’t have cars, or have mobility issues, eating locally is limited to what they can find in their local supermarket with wider choices of local produce often being sold in farmers markets and specialised shops that may not be within walking distance. It must be mentioned that this issue of access raises a conflicting issue for local eating, as one of the major environmental benefits of eating local is the potential reduction on a consumer’s carbon footprint due to local produce having low food miles. But if a consumer has to drive to access local food, does this not cancel out the original sustainability of the local produce?
The difficulty of finding out where Tesco’s produce had been grown provided another barrier to accessing local food as I spent a lot of time researching the farmers to see whether their farms were within my 100-mile radius. To be able to do this, consumers need access to time, the internet, and a map of the 100-mile radius around their postcode whilst shopping; this may be an issue for busy families, the elderly or those who do not have a smart phone to access the internet in public spaces, limiting their ability to access the knowledge needed to eat local.
Second Barrier – CHOICE:
Even though currently in the UK many people do not have the luxury of choosing the food they prefer due to issues of access and affordability, the FAO states that food preference should be included within food security. Eating locally for a day conflicted with my food preferences as the local food available was highly dependent on what the UK climate can grow and what foods are in season, most of which were not products I would typically choose. This limited choice of local foods also highlighted an issue of food injustice towards populations who may not choose to eat or cook British grown ingredients due to their cultural or religious backgrounds. An integral part of food sovereignty is that people have access to culturally appropriate foods, which could conflict with eating locally. For example, ingredients such as sultanas and cinnamon, needed to cook the traditional food of boeber enjoyed on the 15th night of Ramadan, would be unavailable, interfering with religious traditions and celebrations.
Third Barrier – NUTRITION AND HEALTH:
Nutritious food that enables a healthy lifestyle is a key component of food security according to the FAO and WFP, which is expanded on by the FAO who state that dietary needs are also an important aspect of being food secure. I encountered a major barrier to accessing food that fit my dietary needs, as I cannot eat gluten or dairy, meaning all locally produced dairy products and bread was off limits. This meant my choice was limited further and I was missing out on local foods that provide important macro and micro-nutrients, such as calcium and protein from diary products and B vitamins from bread, of which I would usually obtain from imported products such as almonds and fortified soy milk.
Luckily I had access to locally reared meat, which provided essential proteins and B vitamins, but for vegans and vegetarians, this protein source is not an option. For a non-meat eater, eating locally produced food massively limits their accessibility to a variety of plant based proteins that the UK currently sources from abroad, such as tofu and lentils, limiting their right to choose their foods and exposing them to the threat of nutrient deficiencies.
This experience showed me that there are significant barriers to overcome within local eating to allow for this practice to be compatible with the UK’s food security goals. From a consumer perspective, many of these barriers are linked to a lack of choice and variety that local eating provides. To overcome these barriers to food security consumers face, should the practice of local eating incorporate the importation of high demand foods that cannot be produced in the UK? Or would this unforgivably compromise the potential sustainability of an entirely local food production strategy, and therefore, should elements of food security relating to consumers’ desire to choose their food and diet be overridden by the sustainable potential that entirely local eating could provide for food security in the UK?