There are many environmental benefits to eating local food. Food grown nearby generates fewer food miles in transportation, reducing fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. Asparagus grown in the UK has a carbon footprint 28 times lower than asparagus transported by air from South America, for example.
Eating seasonal foods also helps to reduce energy use, since the production of non-seasonal foods is more energy-intensive. As a result, eating seasonal foods grown further away may sometimes be a more environmentally friendly choice than eating local produce grown out of season.
According to Emily Honeycutt, eating local contributes to the preservation of green spaces. Small farms kept in business help to reduce the amount of green land lost when it is sold to property developers. Another impact to consider is the need for road systems to transport food. Road construction results in deforestation and disturbs the habitats of wildlife. This impact is of lesser significance, however, considering that the creation of extensive road systems has already gone underway in most countries.
Whilst eating local food does have benefits, a study by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser found that eating local was really of little significance in determining the environmental impact of food consumption in comparison to considering what kinds of foods are being eaten. Ritchie and Roser state that:
‘Eating locally would only have a significant impact if transport was responsible for a large share of food’s final carbon footprint. For most foods, this is not the case.’
If you are interested in reading more about which kinds of food are more environmentally friendly, see our OneSharedEarth question on plant-based diets.
Honeycutt, E., 'Why Buy Local Food? It's Healthier for You and Better for the Environment', Food Revolution Network (21 December 2017), accessed at: https://foodrevolution.org/blog/why-buy-local-food/
Ritchie, H. and Roser, M., 'Environmental impacts of food production', Our World in Data (January 2020), accessed at: https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food
Terry, A., 'Benefits of Buying Local, Seasonal and Sustainable Food', One Home (19 April 2018), accessed at: https://onehome.org.uk/lifestyle/21-food-and-drink/27-nine-benefits-of-buying-local-seasonal-and-sustainable-food
University of Toronto, 'Local Food: Environmental Impact', Food Services (2018), accessed at: https://ueat.utoronto.ca/local-food-environmental-impact/