When locally-sourced food isn’t better

Sometimes you think you’re doing the right thing by shopping for local ingredients—and you’re not, say sustainability experts at this week's Good Food Fest.
Good Food Fest in New York City
Locals turned out for the Good Food Fest in the Meatpacking District last weekend (Photo: JulieQiu.com)

The fact that locally-sourced food is better for you, for the people that produce it, and for the environment, has become an accepted fact, and not just among farm-to-table foodies.

But the offerings at Good Food Fest, a tasting festival organized by Basis, that took place this past Sunday in the Meatpacking District, drew more than 10,000 people, and featured high-end New York restaurants like Gramercy Tavern and Pastis, posed an important question:

Are there cases where local isn’t better?

“Sometimes you think you’re doing the right thing and you’re not,” says Bion Bartning, CEO and founder of Basis, which delivers food directly from farms and artisanal producers to chefs and consumers. Shipping California citrus by rail, for example, might use less oil than a truckload of produce from upstate New York.

For Cyrilla Suwarsa, a vendor at the festival, doing the right thing meant sourcing cashews from far-flung Indonesia.

Her company, Nuts + Nuts, helps sustain small Indonesian farms in central Java, where she grew up. “We visit and continue to ensure fair wages and better living situations,” she said.

And sometimes, local is just unrealistic: Bartning said that eating healthy and tasty food year-round often requires some long-distance shipping.

Like those avocados in your salad or the bananas in your smoothie. Those things don’t grow on New York trees.

Of course, no one at the festival was suggesting abandoning locavorism.

“I think the most important thing that New Yorkers, or people anywhere, can do is to ask where their food comes from,” says Bartning. —Ankita Rao

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