Consumers of local foods may not be eating as local as they think

CornthumbnailLocally grown and raised food is a trend in the restaurant world, including in Calgary. But local food advocates say the requirements for labelling food as local are not stringent enough.

Restaurant Canada's annual chef survey placed local food products and locally inspired dishes as its third hottest food trend this year, behind gluten-free foods and quinoa, a grain crop high in protein. Local foods made the list the two previous years as well.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency's definition of what can be advertised as local food includes anything that is grown within the province it's being sold in, or within 50 kilometres of its border.

That's a change from the agency's old definition, which required local products to be grown within 50-km radius of where the products are being sold, or within the same government municipality.

Restaurants Canada — the group representing that industry — seems to hold the position that definitions of what is, or isn't, "local" aren't necessary.

Mark von Schellwitz, Western vice-president of Restaurants Canada, said people selling local foods will naturally look closer to home when purchasing products.ProduceThere are some in the food industry that think the notion of local food should be meticulously defined and supported, while others say no such definintions are necessary.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

"I don't think that a lot of [chefs and restaurateurs] want to get hung up on a strict definition of what is local and what is not," said Schellwitz.

Conversely there are food advocates who believe local should be meticulously defined and supported.

Mark Carrillo, Operations Manager of FARM Restaurant in Calgary, Alberta, known for it's local dishes, sides with Restaurant Canada on this issue.

"The new [local food] definition makes more sense...Most of the farms we use are in Lethbridge, and they're 200 kilometres away from us." said Carrillo.

All of the protein served at FARM is local, as in Alberta, livestock can be raised throughout the year, Carrillo explained. But produce is trickier to avoid buying from more distant locations.

"We do still have our farmers drop the food at our back door. We change our menu seasonally, we source as much local [food] as possible. But being in the climate we're in, and keeping costs down, we do have to run a business." said Carrillo.

Jon Steinman is the chair of the Kootenay Country Store Co-Operative, a B.C. store centered around local and organic foods.

In response to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's changing the definition of local, a new labelling system was created by the Kootney Co-Op . This system is known as "True Local."

The program labels foods grown in the Kootenays as being truly local. That helps keep local farmers from having to compete with all of British Columbia for local sales, creating a truly local distribution system.

Calgary doesn't have anything like "True Local." As a result, Calgarians cannot really confirm just how local the food is that they are buying at restaurants and grocery stores — potentially taking sales away from nearby farmers.

"It's instinctual for all of us as humans to know where our food is coming from. It's a feeling of self-empowerment and it's a feeling confidence in our health. It feels really good to know where our food's from," Steinman said.

Note: The photo of the corn is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Hannes Grobe.

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