Sustainable Eating 101: Going Local

Over the past few years, many people have begun to seek more local food on their plates. Following this trend, farmers markets have been steadily growing in popularity, stores are increasingly displaying the origin of their produce, and the term “locavore” (n. a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food)  has earned a place in the dictionary. At nuCuisine, a large part of our sustainability efforts are currently focused on increasing the amount of local foods we serve in the dining halls.

So What is Local Food?

As the local food movement has grown, a number of organizations have grappled with producing an exact definition of the term local. Some popular :

  • Within a 250 mile radius (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education)
  • Within a 200 mile radius (Whole Foods)
  • Within a 400 mile radius (Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act, US Congress, 2008)
  • In the same state as its sold (Wal-Mart)

Here at nuCuisine, we define local as produce grown in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, or Michigan. We also include food that is manufactured in the Chicago area, like our bread from Alpha Bakery.  In total, about 10% of the food we serve in the dining halls and the retail locations is either grown or produced locally.

Why does eating locally matter?

Supporting the local food economy promotes sustainability, supports local jobs, creat

Many would point to the environmental benefits of eating locally. The practice reduces greenhouse gases from transportation. Shopping at farmer’s markets also allows for a personal connection between grower and eater, so customers have greater confidence that the food was grown in accordance with their values. Sometimes, customers may even be able to visit or volunteer on a farm.

Perhaps more importantly, purchasing local pumps dollars back into local economies. Increasing local food production has been

While establishing the origin of produce is usually straightforward, identifying whether processed produce or animal products are local can be nearly impossible. It is not uncommon for the contents of a can to have been grown in one location, canned in another, and distributed through an even more distant corporate office.

Isn’t it difficult to eat locally in Chicago?

Yes. Obviously, the infamous Midwestern winters make it difficult to find fresh, local produce year-round. Focusing on choosing seasonally-appropriate foods can help, but only a few items, like kale, beets, and rutabagas,  can be produced after the fall harvest.  In the winter, a local diet in the Midwest would rely heavily on fall produce that stores well, such as apples and squashes and preserved or canned foods. As the local food movement grows, we may see more indoor vertical farming ventures like The Plant which would allow Chicagoans to access fresh, local food of all kinds year-round.

Does this mean that local is more important than organic?

It is important to remember that the most sustainable food both local and organic. While local food supports communities and reduces the energy needed for transportation, organic practices reduce pollution, provide safer working conditions for farm workers, and lower intake of pesticides. At nuCuisine, we are working to increase our procurement of both local and organic foods.

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