January 7, 2010

10 in 10: Create Consumer Demand for Local, Organic Foods

Dave Love

Dave Love

Associate Scientist, Public Health & Sustainable Aquaculture Project

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

10in10A new decade brings new opportunities and challenges. The interaction between diet and health received significant attention during “The Aughts.” What will we do during this next decade to respond to the call for action for a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle? This is the second in a continuing series highlighting 10 ways you can help this year.

After visiting our Saturday Baltimore, MD farmer’s market teeming with local produce, I know that seasonal supply is not a problem. America is still very much an agrarian country; I can measure my degrees of urbanity in “minutes-traveled-before-seeing-a-cow.” How then can we create demand for fresh, local foods in the most pedestrian food venues like grocery stores, food carts, and chain restaurants? On an individual level, this year I resolve to do something different… and ASK where my food comes from. As a borderline introvert, I often have trouble asking. I am irrationally worried about the shrugs, stares, or bland responses.

I’ll gather my courage and ask my grocer, fishmonger, baker, street vendor, or restaurateur about where their food comes from. If the answer doesn’t sit well, I’ll ask if the well-traveled food can be replaced or exchanged with local, seasonal ingredients. I’ll be as specific as possible—if I have a hankering for local, seasonal arugula, I’ll let the world know!

I’ll ask the waiter or cook about the region and country of origin of seafood. There is a big difference in terms of sustainability if your salmon is farmed or wild-caught, domestic or imported, and you can’t tell by tasting it. The more one learns about sustainable foods, the more informed ones questions can be.

A hot apple pie made from Chilean apples looks, smells, tastes, and melts ice cream just like one from Virginia apples. The only difference is that Baltimore and Santiago, Chile are 5040 mi apart (!), while Baltimore and the VA Appalachians are around a hundred miles apart. This difference in miles amounts to quantifiable indirect environmental impacts (see our report on methods and tools to quantify food procurement).

This year I’ll value the power of choice, if no other reason than because food producers and vendors already do. As Patti Williams, a University of Pennsylvania Wharton business professor says, “Consumers say they want healthier foods, but if you look at consumer behavior, many people choose unhealthy foods over healthy ones” (Food Fight: Obesity Raises Difficult Marketing Issues). On a population level, if we have a “buycott” and support local, organic produce and meats (don’t forget Meatless Monday), we may be able to change our food systems and turn around obesity trends. Not a bad start to a new decade.


-Dave Love

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