The local food movement is not new. While its growth has been slow, it has been consistent and has made its way into the mainstream. Once only something a small group of foodies called “locavores” talked about, today local food sources are key parts of the food marketing business. Once farmers’ markets were about the only place to find locally sourced food, today big box food stores and chain restaurants are promoting locally grown food. But what is meant by “local” is, for the most part, determined by the eye of the beholder.
Does local mean it came from your county, your state, or your country? Is there a mileage cutoff when something does not become local anymore? Like so much in food marketing today, putting the word local on a product will not really tell the consumer anything. Likewise, consumers will see local as good, but not think too long or deeply about what that really means. Ironically, one of the food products that is consistently the most local and the freshest is milk. On average, the milk you grab and the grocery store or that your kids have at school, left the farm less than 48 hours before and was produced by the cow just a few hours before that. Very few other food items in your store can make that claim.
This also means that milk did not travel a long distance to reach your local dairy case. While the wholesome white goodness in the plastic container came from many different dairy farms, they were all within a specific geographic region in your state or an adjoining state. The milk is probably not labeled as local, but it is more so than many other food products that are labeled “local.”
Most signs and labels you see in and around the dairy case focus attention on what is not in the milk: hormones, antibiotics, toxic waste. They fail to tell drinkers useful information like what is in the milk: vitamins and nutrients. Milk is one of the few products where consumers get to choose the level of fat they want: 0%, 1%,2%, or whole hog. Most consumers don’t realize that the sugar levels in all those milk choices is exactly the same and that the caloric difference is relatively small.
So, the next time your favorite food snob asks “Do you buy local?” while looking down their nose at you, you can proudly lift a glass of milk and say “Yes!”
By Gary Truitt