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The benefits of eating local: using localised food systems

  • by JW

“… can deliver considerable climate benefits: reduced waste, reduced emissions from refrigerated transport/storage/refrigeration and improved climate mitigation/adaption” [Sustain]


We very much need to be rethinking how we farm for food – from thinking about where we farm to what we eat.

We need to be asking how local food is doing in the Sid Valley and asking for a more  ‘sustainable food policy’ for East Devon; we need to be considering ‘animal source foods’ and their alternatives and the cost of fish farming; and we need to be looking at the options for ‘going back to traditional farming practices’, as well as questioning the future of the farming and food industries and looking to innovative ways ahead for food, farming and the circular economy.

BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme considered much of this recently asking: Local food – is it working?:

Local food networks thrived during lockdown with more people turning to local producers, farm shops and veg box schemes as supermarket shelves ran dry. But how are they doing now? The Covid pandemic was a reminder that localised networks give our food system resilience during disruption, but also that they pay farmers fairly to produce food in a nature friendly way, and helps them stay in business. The cost of living crisis has been one of the biggest difficulties for this system recently, as consumers pay a higher price at the till.

And the programme continued looking at the local food theme as a way ahead this week, taking us Inside the Gut Microbiome – or, rather, it looked at what happened to people who embarked on a wild food adventure, including chef and Arctic explorer Mike Keen. And considering his Greenland expedition, Mike Keen – Chef, Kayaker & Adventurer talks about what he hopes to achieve: 

I’m really trying to bring awareness of how illogical and damaging the current global food system is as well as highlighting the benefits of eating local using localised food systems – as humans have been doing for the last million years. It’s only within the last two generations really that we’ve totally flipped our entire food culture on it’s head. Instead of eating resources that are within a 10 mile radius of where we are, we now rely on food being flown around the world, grown in staggering quantities that have detrimental effects on huge swathes of land & wildlife. To add insult to injury they’re often pumped full of fertilizer, antibiotics and other chemicals to maximise yields. With the added scientific analysis of micro-plastic pollution levels, I sincerely hope the results of this expedition will add weight to climate change awareness and bring further focus on the beautiful country of Greenland and its progressive attitude.

Finally, there’s been a lot of interest in ‘localised food systems’ (and it has its own acronym: LFS) – with research from 2014 comparing the UK and Italy: Localized food systems – what role does place play?; from 2021 reviewing two decades of research; and from this year looking at reframing the local/global food systems debate through a resilience lens.

And it goes beyond the academic, with the Sustain Web summarising nicely what we mean by local food and why it’s important, primarily:

Industrial farming and fishing are major threats to our climate and ecosystems. Transitioning away from this approach and towards agroecological farming systems can deliver considerable climate benefits: reduced waste, reduced emissions from refrigerated transport/storage/in-store refrigeration and improved climate mitigation/adpation

… and the Sustainable Food Trust suggesting why local food can restore our failing food system:

Local food systems have the potential to create thriving communities, in both urban and rural areas. The New Economics Foundation found that every £10 spent in a local food business is worth almost £25 to the local economy. Research from the University of Gloucestershire revealed that for every £1 invested in local food, between £6 and £8 are returned to society in the form of social and economic benefits, including health, wellbeing, training and skills. Because local food production is synonymous with agroecological farming methods, there are significant health benefits associated with local produce including increased levels of antioxidants and reduced amounts of pesticide residues. Local food travels a shorter distance between field and fork, which lowers its carbon footprint and tends to be fresher too.