The effects of climate change grow more dire by the day, and it’s clear that radical change is the only way to create a sustainable future, both for ourselves and for generations to come. While fighting for reform from institutions like the government and big businesses is a huge part of the path forward, we can also make meaningful progress on a personal level by forming new daily habits and routines. Me? I have made a commitment to eating locally, which is why I only eat food that comes directly from my apartment’s refrigerator, after having been purchased and put there by my roommates.
The heart of the local eating movement is limiting yourself to food from within a certain distance of your home. But what if you could get all your food from inside your home itself? It obviously depends somewhat on what region you live in, as well as what tastes your roommates have, but just this week, I’ve had fresh cherries, ripe avocados, and (my personal favorite!) rich Greek yogurt. It might initially feel limiting to not be able to grocery shop willy-nilly, but I promise that with a little looking around, you’ll be amazed by the variety of foods your roommates have sitting in the fridge.
You should always be looking to minimize your “food miles,” which is the term we locavores use to refer to how far away your food is sourced. I’m proud to say that according to my Fitbit, everything I eat takes no more than 100 food steps. If that’s not local, I don’t know what is. The idea is that the farther away your food comes from, the more energy it takes for you to get it. Well, it takes barely any energy at all for me to crawl out of bed, stumble into the kitchen, and just go to town on whatever my roommates have brought back from Trader Joe’s. Carbon footprint win!
The benefits aren’t just environmental, either. Eating local helps stimulate your local economy. When Chloe discovers that I’ve polished off the last of her pricey oat milk, she has a newfound impetus to go out and make money to buy more. Or when Adam corners me in the living room and forces me to Venmo him for the missing leftover saag paneer he had been saving for his lunch—that’s money that he can take out and spend at local businesses in the neighborhood.
Eating locally also fosters a stronger sense of community. Buying conventional produce in a big chain grocery store, your food could be coming from anywhere. But being able to put a face to your food—seeing the name aggressively Sharpied across a container of hummus before opening it up and digging in—is a personal touch that money can’t buy. And even more broadly, local eating has a special way of bringing people together. My apartment group text thread has been a lot more active since I started doing it, and while most of that has been passive-aggressive rhetorical questions complaining about my behavior, it’s nice to know that I’m part of a community that communicates. Talk about tight-knit!
Now, I’ll be the first to admit it’s not always easy to adhere to a diet like mine. I love a nice juicy tomato, and thanks to modern farming and shipping, they’re available in my grocery store year-round. But my commitment to eating locally means that I can only eat tomatoes when my roommate Justin has decided he’s in the mood for tomatoes and has brought some home. Sometimes that Caprese salad just has to wait until next month. Sure, it can be disappointing, but it’s a price I’m happy to pay to know I’m doing the right thing.
Beyond that, restrictive diets can often cause friction with loved ones. Any newly-vegetarian college freshman returning home for Thanksgiving can tell you that some people are bound to take your eating choices personally. But don’t let them deter you. What you choose to put in your body is no one’s business but yours. Even if your roommates hold a house meeting to beg you to stop, stand firm in your convictions. They say you’re creating a toxic environment? Well, their grandchildren will be the ones living in a “toxic environment” when the planet’s ecosystem crumbles, which it no doubt will if you don’t continue your nightly ritual of snacking on indiscriminate spoonfuls of their ice creams.
Finally, I feel it’s important to acknowledge that eating locally presupposes a certain degree of privilege. Certainly not everyone can live the way I do. A lot of people don’t have roommates—and that’s a big problem in this country. Without easy access to fresh, nutritious food that’s been purchased by somebody else, America will continue to be plagued by health issues and environmental problems. Fighting for social justice is an uphill battle, to be sure, and it can feel hopeless, especially when your roommates kick you out and you have to sleep on your friend Stephen’s couch. So be sure to cling to those positive moments, like when Stephen leaves for work and casually invites you to “help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge.”
You’re welcome, Mother Earth.