Geography | Germany | Life in General

A New Definition of Local

By on 08/10/2013

What is local to you?

Local is an extremely subjective idea that differs from person to person, from moment to moment. The same person searching for a grocery store with a car will have a different definition of local when looking for a store while on foot.

It’s all relative.

I grew up in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, which is more accessible than Siberia but not by much. It’s a farming area, with a very low population density that goes lower as one goes north, approximately half of the world’s potash and 260,000 kilometer of road – mostly gravel. When I needed to pick up milk, I went to the corner store that was a few blocks away. That was my local source when I needed just to pick up one or two items. When I needed to pick up something like lettuce or onions, I went in a different direction to a much larger grocery store, the local Co-op or local Safeway. (They are practically neighbours in Moose Jaw, so the geographical difference was irrelevant.)

Later on, the locavore movement started with the 100 Mile Diet. In Moose Jaw, this is ridiculous. You would find wheat, barley, some vegetables, occasionally saskatoons, raspberries and strawberries, milk and beef. Except, I don’t actually know if there is a place where you can purchase that all and know that it is coming within a 100 miles. There is, however, a restaurant in Regina that does source everything from Saskatchewan. (Note: there used to be a restaurant in Ottawa that sourced everything from the Ottawa area, but it unfortunately closed.)

While I lived in Saskatchewan, I would try and purchase fruit from British Columbia. I then moved to Ottawa, and started wondering. Was Florida closer to Ottawa than the fruit valleys of British Columbia? Which was better for the environment? To be trucked through Canada or trucked through the US? The main environmental cost of many fruit and vegetables is the transportation. Bananas are easily the best, as they can be put on a ship weeks before they need to reach their destination. If you consider how many bananas can be placed on a ship, the environmental impact of one banana – or even a bunch – is relatively low. It is the cost of the truck from the ship to the warehouse, from the warehouse to the grocery store.

Now I am in Germany. Local food can come from Thuringia (the state where I live) or Germany, but of course from all over Europe and beyond as well. It seems that it is mostly European produce that we get in the shops, but I don’t go to every shop so I’m not sure if that’s always the case. One thing is I realized is that, coming from North America and growing up on the Internet, I’m willing to purchase items from around the world. Bento box? Japan. Wool? England. Shoes? Portugal. Cute little stuffed polar bear? Latvia. I keep trying to purchase within Europe (so I haven’t ordered anything from Japan since I’ve been here) but even that seems far away to the Europeans. ‘Why order shoes from Portugal? Is there nothing in Germany?’  So I looked on the map. From Portugal to Erfurt, it is approximately the same distance from Toronto to Moose Jaw. To me, it’s local. To the Europeans, it’s ridiculous.

What is your definition of local for food? for other things?


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