Worldwatch: Up to 10 percent of U.S. diet is local food

The portion of our diets that comes from local food could be getting as high as 10 percent nationally, says Brian Halweil, a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute.

Official estimates have been more like 3 to 5 percent but efforts by restaurants and big grocers have pushed the number higher, he thinks.

Halweil was on MPR News’ Midmorning program today, along with a couple of Minnesota local food experts, Kathy Draeger from the University of Minnesota and Glen Hill from the the Minnesota Food Association.

You can listen to the conversation here:

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It ranged from how the definition of local food includes some non-geographic characteristics to why local food often costs more than what is produced through the big agriculture commodity industry. (Check out Ground Level’s coverage of those issues and more.)

But Halweil’s international perspective was enlightening. More countries are realizing benefits, particularly from farm-to-school programs, he said. National governments in Africa are committing money to help farmers grow food for schools and, as a result, several million children are being fed.

It’s still a small effort compared to the food shipments many countries are dependent on, he said, but “it’s growing rapdily.”

Halweil noted the rising demand for local food and the beginnings of both consumer education about eating seasonally and farmer efforts to extend seasons with low-cost greenhouses.

But, he said, huge gaps in the production and distribution systems for local food remain, and he suggested that the issue becomes yet one more infrastructure question that government could get involved with.

By the way, reporter Nancy Lebens has a piece scheduled for broadcast this afternoon on All Things Considered about how the new food safety bill contains a controversial amendment exempting small farmers from some of its provisions.

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