Eating globally

By Dogtown Commoner | Posted at 11:13 pm, November 13th, 2007 | Topic: environment, language

You may have heard that the New Oxford American Dictionary has named ‘locavore,’ meaning a person who only eats food grown or raised locally, as its word of the year. These sorts of awards from dictionary publishers, or the American Dialect Society, seem to pop up a few times a year, and they usually get some attention in the news for about a day before people forget all about them. So it would be silly to make a big deal out of it, but if these word awards mean anything, they’re a sign that a phenomenon has reached a tipping point and gone from marginal to mainstream. As the Oxford University Press’s blog notes in the announcement:

The past year saw the popularization of a trend in using locally grown ingredients, taking advantage of seasonally available foodstuffs that can be bought and prepared without the need for extra preservatives.

The “locavore” movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locavores also shun supermarket offerings as an environmentally friendly measure, since shipping food over long distances often requires more fuel for transportation.

“The word ‘locavore’ shows how food-lovers can enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment,” said Ben Zimmer, editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. “It’s significant in that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way.”

Along with the word ‘locavore,’ of course, another sign of the times is the success of recent books such as Michael Pollan’s great Omnivore’s Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which extol the virtues –environmental, social, and health-related — of eating local. The bay area, with its year-round growing season, its environmental activism, and its love of food, is naturally in the vanguard. They say that all politics is local, but in most American supermarkets, all food is global. As the environmental movement works to make people aware of how individual choices about food and transportation are connected to global problems of climate change and energy supplies, people need to realize that in one sense, eating locally is eating globally. because eating locally can be a piece of the solution to global problems.

I have to admit that I’m not very fond of the word ‘locavore’. To me, a locavore sounds more like a train-eating monster than a shopper at the neighborhood farmer’s market, but if the brief attention paid to this announcement makes more people aware of the growing local food movement, then who am I to complain about the aesthetics of the word? The irony in all this, of course, is that “eating local” is nothing new — it’s how the overwhelming majority of people have eaten for most of human history. Eating food from across the country, or across the world, is what should seem bizarre.