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A locavore eats only foods produced within that consumer’s locale or region, in an attempt to support local farmers and minimize the energy consumed to transport products far distances to their final destinations. Not everyone commits fully to such a lifestyle, but many national chains recognize that consumers may prefer some local items, so they make promises about food sources that may turn out to be downright misleading.

According to the federal government, products may be labeled as local if they come from within a 400-mile radius—equal to the distance from Boston to Baltimore. Through marketing the “local” term, it has taken on a wide array of meanings. Variations on the term, such as “Home Grown,” are not subject to any regulations, so these products do not need to meet even the 400-mile radius threshold.

The signs touting products as local do not necessarily mean what a consumer seems likely to interpret them to suggest. For example, Wegmans’s farm trucks display a farm mural and the words “Home Grown”—as if the truck came in straight from the farm down the road to reach the store. But the produce in the truck actually comes from the Netherlands and Canada. The products were “home grown”—just in different countries.

To try to clarify what local means, Whole Foods provides the name of the farm and the number of miles from the particular store. Thus, the sign for basil lists “Sun Agua Farms in Dalton, PA (207 miles from here!).” If the location is too distant to claim local status, Whole Foods just indicates the country, such as pineapples from Costa Rica.

National chains have a hard time finding all local products, which would require incredibly complicated logistics systems. Small local farms likely cannot provide the entire range of products that grocers need to stock, so instead of using one large farm, they would need to contract with many small farms producing the same product. If they cannot find enough of the local version of the product, or find it year-round, the chain would need to search farther and farther away from its location. Instead, your local peach in New York may just come from Boston.

Discussion Questions:

1. What are the ethical issues related to advertising “local” products when the merchandise isn’t really very local?

Laura Vozzella, “Grocers Jump on ‘Local’ Produce Bandwagon,” Baltimore Sun Reporter, July 9, 2009.