If you live in the town of Athens in southeastern Ohio, there are politically correct reasons not to eat a California strawberry. Think of the pollution and the global warming caused by its transport. Think of the ascendancy of corporate agribusiness over family farms. Think of the loss of nutrients during a weeklong journey from soil to supermarket. But to Barbara Fisher, an Athens cooking teacher, there's a more primal motive for choosing a homegrown variety over the "beautiful, flavorless, plastic" kind shipped from California: "When people bite into ripe strawberries from a local farmer and the sweet juice bursts into their mouths, their eyes roll back into their heads, and they moan."
Fisher is one of more than 1,000 "locavores," self-styled concerned culinary adventurers, who took the pledge last month to eat nothing--or almost nothing--but sustenance drawn from within 100 miles of their home. The movement began last year when four San Francisco-- area foodies designated August 2005 as the first Eat Local Challenge and launched a website, Locavores.com They were inspired by the book Coming Home to Eat, ecologist Gary Paul Nabham's account of his yearlong effort to restrict himself to native foods near his Arizona home. Soon some 60 bloggers had joined the 100-mile diet, inaugurating their own website, EatLocalChallenge.com This year they upped the ante, moving the test to the less bounteous month of May. "With gas prices spiking, people are concerned about our dependence on petroleum," says Locavores co-founder Jessica Prentice. "Why import apples from New Zealand when we can grow them nearby?"
Food sold in U.S. supermarkets averages some 1,500 miles from farm to plate--a 25% increase from 1980, according to Worldwatch Institute, a Washington nonprofit. Increasingly, even certified-organic produce is grown on vast monoculture spreads, many of them overseas, and shipped long distances. So consumers seeking to eat ethically and preserve farmland around their cities are embracing locally grown food as the eco-healthy choice. Farmers' markets are thriving, along with community-supported agriculture, through which people subscribe to a monthly produce basket. And on locavore websites, converts swap shopping tips (Goatsbeard Farm feta from a Missouri cook) and recipes (cheese grits via a Georgia blogger who plugs a stone-ground variety from a mill powered by a mule named Luke). Some boast of eating local on a budget-- $8.34 a day in the case of an Oakland, Calif., activist who got by on sorrel-potato soup and honey-sweetened cookies for dinner. But she confesses, "Let's face it. I can't go without chocolate forever!" For others, coffee is the biggest sacrifice.