Local Food Policy Branches Out
When locavores enter the policy arena, they usually focus on education: On school districts’ purchasing decisions, or on initiatives like the University of Missouri Extension Program. Now a public health agency in New Mexico is pushing local food to a wider audience:
With the grant, the Health Council will work toward increasing the availability of fresh, locally grown produce and to help transform the eating habits of the community.
There are two things wrong with the Health Council’s plan. First, there’s the assumption that the government ought to transform an entire community’s eating habits. It’s one thing to say that if a public institution like a school district happens to serve lunch to kids, the food might as well be nutritious. It’s altogether different to set out to engineer a lifestyle change for all of a city’s residents.
The Health Council points to the obesity “epidemic” to justify its plan, but obesity isn’t some kind of contagious disease that the state needs to protect us from. You won’t gain weight from coming into contact with an obese person. While the government might have to take action to prevent the spread of a virus or bacteria, it should leave the choices that can result in obesity up to individuals. They won’t put anyone else in danger if they gain weight.
Second, this is another instance of the government endorsing the idea that locally grown produce is superior to food from other sources. Anyone is free to hold this conviction; however, their belief has no place in policy until they come up with evidence for it. Supporters haven’t demonstrated a connection between local food and health. In fact, some dietitians even recommend frozen produce over fresh:
“[F]rozen produce actually can be healthier than the fresh variety. It is on the plant or tree longer than the fresh variety, so it’s packed with a higher nutrient value.”
If a public school near you is giving preference to food grown nearby, watch out. Your government might begin advocating local food as the correct choice for you, too.