2015 Catering Trend: Local Sourcing

The title of this post is a little misleading – local sourcing is not just a trend for 2015, and it doesn’t apply solely to the catering industry. Local sourcing is a worldwide movement that has been growing in popularity for years. Since chefs are becoming increasingly committed to supporting their communities and making responsible food choices, it’s important for those in the food industry to consider local sourcing as a viable option for their companies.

What is local sourcing?

The term “local sourcing” refers to a food system that sources foods from local and regional sources rather than national or international sources. The food purchased is grown “close to consumers’ homes, then distributed over much shorter distances than is common in the conventional global industrial food system” (source). Although it’s not always possible to get all ingredients from a local food source, many restaurants and catering companies that are committed to local sourcing try to get as many ingredients as possible from local farms and distributors.

There is generally some flexibility when labeling a product as locally sourced since the term can refer to many different scenarios. For example, all of the following could conceivably be defined as local food for a company located in Wisconsin:

  • Product grown or raised in Wisconsin
  • Product with most or all ingredients grown or raised in Wisconsin
  • Product with half or less of the ingredients from Wisconsin
  • Product grown or raised within 100 miles of the institution
  • Product processed in Wisconsin
  • Product made by a Wisconsin-owned company
(Source)

Why are local food systems important?

They’re good for the environment.

Large-scale industrial firms have a negative impact on the environment through factors like air, surface water, and ground water pollution, over-consumption of fossil fuels and water resources, degradation of soil quality, and acceleration of the loss of biodiversity. Additionally, conventional food from these farms generally travels between 1,500 and 3,000 miles to reach the consumer and requires extra packaging and refrigeration (source).

Small, family-run farms are generally concerned with sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices. These farms help to offset the environmental damage done by industrial farms by practicing the following:

  • Minimized use of pesticides
  • Composting
  • Shorter transportation distance to consumers
  • Minimal to no packaging for their farm products
They’re good for local economies.
By purchasing local products, more of the money spent by consumers and businesses stays in the local economy. In general, if consumers and businesses “purchase food within a local area instead of imports from outside the area, sales are more likely to accrue to people and businesses within the area. This may then generate additional economic impacts as workers and businesses spend the additional income on production inputs and other products within the area” (source). Additionally, local food systems help to preserve farmland by “providing small family farms a viable outlet through which to sell their farm products” (source).
They’re good for us.
When produce is bought locally, it is generally fresher than food bought from large, industrial farms because it has a shorter distance to travel before it reaches the consumer. Therefore, the fruits and vegetables that come from local farms can be harvested closer to peak ripeness. Produce that is allowed to ripen naturally on the parent plant is generally higher in nutrients than produce picked early and unnaturally ripened. Meat that comes from sustainably-raised animals is higher in “good” cholesterol, higher in vitamins A and E, lower in fat, and contains less agricultural chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones (source).
Are there any drawbacks?

Not all food products are available locally. For example, bananas only grow in countries with tropical climates. In addition, some foods only grow in certain locations on a seasonal basis. Therefore, 100% local sourcing may not be a viable option for a restaurant or catering service. Additionally certain food products are more expensive when purchased locally from smaller farms. This is generally because of the fact that industrial farms produce such a mass quantity of items that they are able to charge less. However, the advantages of local sourcing far outweigh the disadvantages. Furthermore, as more and more people continue to support small, family-run farms, prices may decrease for products they are not able to make on a large scale. Because “local” does not have a clear definition, there are many to work local sourcing into your business’ budget.

What do you think? Do you try to buy local or eat at restaurants that do? Let us know in the comments!

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