Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 30 July 2009

How local is local?

Rob Greenland has an interesting post on The Social Business asking whether Sainsbury's should be allowed to call some of its stores "Local" when they are sourcing their produce from all over the world. He contrasts this with the Farmer's market he goes to which is genuinely local.

To be fair to Sainsbury's I suspect that the naming convention originated from the fact that these sorts of stores are smaller than their superstores and more "locally" based. However in a environmentally conscious age I am sure they are quite happy to allow the slightly ambiguous name to remain!

It is worth asking though how local the produce in these shops is. I do think wherever possible shops should source local produce. It serves a number of purposes, reducing embodied energy, helping the local economy of an area, reducing the need for preservatives as the food does not need to travel so far etc. It does seem to me that all too often, the bulk supply nature of the supermarket (both large and small outlets) militate against local produce. You only have to look at some of the labels to see this.

Having said all that, the predictability and convenience of supermarkets is very seductive and I am as guilty as anyone else in this area. I do try and shop locally but time constraints make it difficult for me.

Perhaps Rob's post will help me to redouble my efforts in this (local) area!

PS: Here seems an appropriate place to plug a free software tool and associated website my company (Southfacing Services) has produced called "Ripe About Now" which helps you see what fruit and veg are currently in season.


Brian E said...

My local farm shop sells local produce. But last time I went there it had bananas on sale!

Costigan Quist said...

Local may be good, but surely buying produce from Africa and South America is also good if it pushed money into those economies.

The Air Miles issue is confused too: I'm sure I saw some research that the different farming methods mean your local produce might have a bigger environmental impact that the same produced in Africa, even when transport is factored in.

Shopping local to keep our town and village centres in business is one thing. Expecting everything they sell to be locally sourced is quite different.

Mark Reckons said...

I agree that they are different things Costigan but what I am arguing is that generally local is better where possible. Perhaps I should have been more specific though in that I am really talking about locally sourced seasonal veg.

You are absolutely correct that air miles is too simplistic a way of looking at it which is why I specifically referred to the "embodied energy". Just because something is local does not necessarily mean the embodied energy is less (although it often is). The problem comes when veg is grown out of season in artificial environments (such as tomatoes in artificially heated greenhouses) where the energy it takes to grow them in this country is more than it would take to ship them in. This is not the right way. But seasonal local produce does not have this problem and will pretty much always have less embodied energy than shipped stuff.

If you stick to this principle then there is still plenty that we would need to import such as the aforementioned bananas to help other economies.

There is always a tension between local sourcing and helping poorer economies. There are no easy answers but importing loads of produce that that can easily be grown here seems wrong headed to me.

ceedee said...

Surely Sainsbury's would say that in calling their smaller shops "Local" they're not intentionally making any claims about the origin of the products but rather their hope to serve their respective localities?