What is a Foodshed?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The term “foodshed” is used to refer to the interconnected network of producers, distributors, and markets who provide food to consumers. Thanks to the globalization of agriculture, many foodsheds include the whole world, and this is a cause of concern for some activists, who would prefer to see people producing, buying, and eating locally. People who try to eat within a local foodshed may refer to themselves as “locavores.”

Woman waving
Woman waving

While “foodshed” sounds like something out of the New Age movement, it's actually a very old word. The first documented discussion of a foodshed occurred in 1929, when it is was used in much the same sense it is today. The term is borrowed from “watershed,” a term which refers to a connected network of water sources which drains to the sea; in the case of a foodshed, the interconnected resources wind up at someone's table.

The study of foodsheds and the culture of food consumption is of immense interest to some people. Chances are very high that if you were to start poking around in your pantry, you would find that your foodshed is incredibly large. You may have rice from Asia, chocolate from Africa, olive oil from Europe, hothouse vegetables from South America, and wheat from North America, for example. As these resources flowed to your pantry, they changed hands a number of times, and depending on the source, varying levels of other resources may have been used to move the food to you.

People who prefer to eat within a locally based foodshed argue that locally produced food requires less energy to produce, supports the local economy, and allows consumers to enjoy a more personal connection with the people who produce their food. Furthermore, locally grown produce tends to taste better, because it is picked fresh and at peak ripeness, rather than being picked in a green state so that it will ship safely. However, others have argued that some communities may not actually be able to support their populations on locally available foods alone, making an international foodshed vitally important to ensure that everyone has enough to eat. Regional production of food can also sometimes come into conflict with other proposed uses for land, a major problem in many developed countries.

If you're feeling particularly interested some day, you might try making a chart of your foodshed, examining the sources of your food and speculating on the resources involved to get your food to your home.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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