You may have heard the word "locavore" tossed around during conversations along with eco-consciousness and healthy eating. But what exactly does it mean to be a locavore? The term is a combination of the word "local" and the suffix "vore" which refers to an animal's diet—herbivore (plant-eater) and carnivore (meat-eater) are two examples. In a nutshell, a locavore is someone who eats locally grown and prepared food whenever possible. Exactly how local is a matter of debate and depends on your location and preferences.
What Does a Locavore Eat?
The ultimate goal when becoming a locavore (sometimes spelled localvore) is to eat as locally as possible. The exact limitations of this way of eating depend on the parameters established by the individual eater. Many locavores attempt to eat foods grown and prepared within 100 miles of their home, but if you live in a remote location or someplace with a cold climate, this can be a little too limiting. Others aim for 150 to 250 miles or within their state borders. While some allow for exceptions, others are more strict.
Some locavores are also vegetarian or vegan, but eating local can be a part of any diet. Locally sourced seasonal vegetables, fruit, meat, and cheese are relatively easy to find in most places, while some basic items like wheat flour, certain nuts, and sugar can be difficult to source within the chosen radius depending on where you live. Other foods, like chocolate, tea, and spices, can be downright impossible to get locally unless you live in a select few places.
What Foods Can't a Locavore Eat?
The locavore movement is built on the basic concept of eating local without hard and fast restrictions. The benefit is that anyone can be a part of the movement, fitting local eating into their lifestyle. However, the lack of strict rules leads to some confusion over what is and isn't allowed when calling yourself a locavore.
When adopting a locavore lifestyle, the focus is on location rather than the actual food item. While a variety of produce and other products are likely available within a certain radius of your home, most people do not live near a coffee plantation, banana farm, or a salt mine. Some locavores are strict and give up these items, while others simply limit their purchases of non-local products as much as possible and buy imported items from local businesses.
Some locavores choose not to eat meat, but it is certainly not a requirement. Eating meat regularly does tend to have a high environmental impact and a negative impact on health, so minimizing meat consumption is often encouraged. When you do purchase meat, buying from local, sustainable farms is in line with the locavore way of life.
The Locavore Movement
The term locavore was first coined on Earth Day in 2005 by a group in San Francisco. Over the years, the word and the ideology behind it has gained steam, with locavore being named Oxford's 2007 word of the year. The movement promotes local eating as a way to help the planet while also eating healthier, more nutritious foods and supporting sustainable agriculture. The movement even gained traction with many grocery stores, restaurants, and schools increasing the amount of locally sourced food they offer.
How humans eat greatly impacts the environment. The growing, raising, shipping, and selling of food produces huge amounts of pollution. The locavore movement brings attention to the idea that the farther a product has to travel to get to you, the greater its impact on the environment. Buying from local farms and businesses that buy directly from the source cuts out middlemen and unnecessary packing and shipping, in turn making your environmental footprint smaller.
In addition, by supporting local farms—especially organic farms that practice sustainable farming practices—you are using your purchase power to support environmentally friendly enterprises.
The perceived health benefits are also a big part of the locavore appeal. Since your food doesn't travel far to get to your plate, it doesn't require large amounts of preservatives. The food is fresher and, if you are buying foods that are organic, they contain less chemical residue and pesticides. Local, sustainably raised meat and dairy are often hormone and antibiotic-free.
Processed foods don't usually fit into a locavore lifestyle, since the ingredients tend to come from a variety of locations before combining in a factory. Eliminating processed foods from your diet is shown to have real health benefits. Overall, you're likely to eat healthier as a locavore, with vegetables making up a large part of your diet.
If you're interested in becoming a locavore, it's wise to do your research and gradually begin to introduce as many local products as you can into your diet replacing imported and processed foods. Look for nearby farmers markets and CSAs that will often sell fresh produce, eggs, cheese, meat, honey, and fish. Research local farms that sell directly to consumers—you can ask the farm stands at the farmers markets for advice, too.
If you can't live without imported items like salt, sugar, and spices, look for locally owned stores that sell sustainably farmed and manufactured items and, if possible, buy directly from the maker. Many wine stores buy wine directly from organic wineries, many coffee and chocolate shops buy the beans directly from farms, and many local breweries get their hops straight from the grower.
Buying locally will give you a greater awareness of your area's agriculture and businesses, seasonality, and the environment, all while improving the quality of your diet.
Moubarac JC, Batal M, Louzada ML, Martinez Steele E, Monteiro CA. Consumption of ultra-processed foods predicts diet quality in Canada. Appetite. 2017;108:512-520. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.11.006