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The Omnivore's Dilemma

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How long is your food chain?

One of the most stunning concepts from the Omnivore's Dilemma to me was the typical distance that the average food item travels to reach us in this country —1500 miles! (see the beginning of Chapter 13, The Market). That got my attention, in these days of accounting for our use of fossil fuels and our carbon footprint. Pollan states, "Today it takes between seven and ten calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver one calorie of food energy to an American plate (chapter 12, p. 183)." Previously, I had not really discerned the difference between Whole Foods â€" style organic foods and those that can be obtained from local producers. But Pollan's focus on the cost in fuel of food transportation made me rethink. The section of the book surrounding the third meal (Chapters 10 through 14) turned me into something of a locavore. This was consistent with my previous behavior of selecting local because of flavor, freshness, a desire for seasonal foods, and to support local producers. But now it has become more of a passion.

In his post on July 7th, Rob posed some questions about the Whole Foods, or industrial organic approach, which generated some more discussion. I am curious what readers think about the future of stores such as this. Do they play an important role? Or do we now have so many opportunities to buy local that they are not so relevant? In addition to farmer's markets and farm subscription programs (also called Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA), I have noticed that local grocery stores from Target to Lund's & Byerly's are offering more local alternatives. On your next visit to your local store, see what you find.

I also invite you to call on your inner naturalist to survey the natural history of your diet. Try making a list of all the different animals, vegetables and microbes you eat in a given week. How diverse is your diet? Although you may be unaware of the origin of your foods, inventory which of them could not have been produced locally. What would you most miss if you could eat only local foods? Please share some reflections on your inventory.

For those of you interested in reading more on local foods, here are two additional books I recommend for entertaining reading:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver
Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally, by Alisa Smith and J. B. Mackinnon

If you want identify more specific opportunities to eat locally, here are some suggested websites:

Local Harvest (http://www.localharvest.org/) directs you to local producers, restaurants, stores, and CSA providers with Google and Mapquest-like tools.
The non-profit organization The Minnesota Project has compiled (http://www.mnproject.org/food-intro.html) many links and resources
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is also a great resource on Minnesota foods, including a directory by county (http://www.mda.state.mn.us/food/default.htm).