Published May 19, 2010

Eating locally

By Tomoko Ogawa

On May 1st, PFI launched a new local foods project. People who expressed their interests in increasing their local food purchases are keeping records of their food purchases for one year. PFI provided them with a spreadsheet, which contains several formulas to display plots of overall, local and distance food purchases throughout one year.

Last week, one of our participants (and more importantly the developer of our nifty spreadsheet!) Rich Schuler shared what he has noticed so far by logging their food purchases for a little over month.

In the month of April, Rich and Teresa spent about $30/day on food. With three people in their household, the food cost averaged around $10/day/person. He recognizes that they tend to spend more on food than other living costs. So if we assume the average cost as $7/day/person instead, a family of four would still spend $10,220 on food per year. Think of Ames with the population of 50,731 (according to 2000 Census) – even if we set the average food cost as $5/day/person, about quarter million dollars is spent everyday on food in Ames! And remember, these figures do not include the food spent on eating out. This is a lot of money!

Phrase such as “voting with your fork” may sound cliché and you may feel jaded after hearing so much about policies that frame the current food system and success of multinational agribusinesses. But after seeing how much money he spends on food, Rich started to think that even though the food is said to be cheap in the US, we still spend a lot of money on food. This realization may have a tremendous effect on galvanizing us to approach general public policy. We, as a collective body, invest a lot of money on food and create quite a financial voice.

Rich’s perspective is especially interesting because he also keeps records of CO2 emission in their household. This CO2 spreadsheet tells him how much money they save on their energy use by incorporating solar panel and electric car. The stark difference he noticed is that the cost of energy is indeed really cheap in this country. Because of that, you’d only save about 10 cents on electricity by saving 1 kWh.

Another interesting observation from Rich is our reliance on the conventional food system. Despite winning the first place of Golden Fork Award in 2010 for purchasing most local foods through Farm to Folk CSA in Ames, Rich and Teresa are currently at around 20% local, 80% distance on their food purchases. Our perception on local food purchases might be quite different from reality.

In addition to our individual participants, one ISU sorority house and a local restaurant are participating in this project.