Eating Local, Thinking Global When you sit down to dinner tonight, take a minute to consider how far your food traveled to get to your plate. Is your steak from Nebraska? Are your carrots from California? Experts say eating locally might make us healthier and safer... and it would be better for the environment, too.

Eating Local, Thinking Global

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Up next, our global grocery store. If you're like most Americans, chances are that a good portion of the food in your fridge has transversed the globe - gone around the globe sometimes to get to you.

Lettuce from California. You get bananas from South America. You get beef from Nebraska, mushrooms from Pennsylvania. You may get tomatoes from Israel or Spain. You can go on and on and on where these things are coming from.

By one estimate, an average pound of produce has traveled nearly 1,500 miles to get to your taste buds. Think of all those mileage points you could get if you were a tomato like that.

In the old days, we ate food that was in season. Right? You had corn and tomatoes. They showed up in the local grocery in the summertime. You got broccoli in the cooler weather. But now eating strawberries when there's snow on the ground isn't very unusual.

Those and other fruits and veggies from far-flung lands are part of our weekly shopping list. We're willing to pay a bit extra for them, but what are the real costs?

Shipping all this food around takes up a significant part of our fossil fuel supply, and what about food safety? Can being dependent on food grown far from where we live make us vulnerable to disruptions in the food supply? As for health, is locally grown, just-picked produce healthier for us?

These are some of the issues we're going to be talking about, and I invite you to call. I know you're going to call us, because we always get lots of calls on this topic. And the number is 1-800-989-8255. 1-800-989-TALK.

Let me introduce my guests.

Brian Halweil is the author of Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket. He's senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute. He joins us here in our studios. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Mr. BRIAN HALWEIL (Senior researcher, Worldwatch Institute): Thanks for having me.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Jennifer Wilkins is a Kellogg Food and Society Policy fellow and a senior extension associate in the Division of Nutrition Sciences at Cornell University up there in Ithaca. She's also a nutritionist and a dietician. And she joins us from the Cornell campus. Thanks for talking with us today, Dr. Wilkins.

Dr. JENNIFER WILKINS (Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow): Thank you, Ira.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Let me ask you, Brian. Give us a sense of where our food comes from. You outlined it in the book. I mentioned it a little bit differently. First, where does it come from and why does it come from all these places?

Mr. HALWEIL: Well, today, all of us are eating food from farther and farther away. It's partly a result of the fact that we've become very good at shipping stuff all around the planet, and not just food but computers and sneakers and lumber and steel. We have excellent transportation technology that's evolved from steamships to railroads to now, refrigerated 18 wheelers and refrigerated cargo planes. And we're in search of whatever - we're in search of food that is raised most cheapest, wherever it is on the planet.

FLATOW: You show an interesting illustration of the state of Iowa, which we all know is a great agricultural state, but the people buying the food there - and the food, none of it's local except maybe the corn.

Mr. HALWEIL: Right. The irony of the whole sort of center of the country - the Corn Belt - is that most of that corn and soybeans goes elsewhere and those very productive agricultural counties end up importing most of their food. The folks at Iowa State University at the Leopold Center looked at a typical meal consumed in Iowa - some beef, some string beans, some carrots and potatoes, berries for a pie, wheat for bread - and what they found is that most of those ingredients come from between a thousand and 2,000 miles away - from as far away as Chile and mostly from California - even though Iowa is perfectly capable of raising all of those ingredients for the vast majority of the year.

And most importantly what they found is that long-distance meal consumed about 17 times as much energy in transportation as that same meal raised within 50 miles of the university itself. So, not only is it gobbling up a tremendous amount of money but it's actually taking dollars out of the state, dollars that could be going to Iowa farmers.

FLATOW: And why isn't it grown there then if - if you can do it, why not do it?

Mr. HALWEIL: Well, it gets back to this sort of economic calculus that defines global trade - that defines trade anywhere at this point. And that is, if a store in Iowa can find a sack of potatoes grown slightly cheaper than it would cost them to grow it in Iowa, they get it from wherever they can. And because fuel is relatively inexpensive, a relatively small part of that cost, we're willing to ship those potatoes from as far away as China. And we don't really attach a lot of value right now to the fact that those potatoes might have been grown locally, which might mean that they're fresher and tastier, but also means that we're not causing all the pollution and congestion as a result of the energy use. And it also means that we're keeping money in our local economy.

FLATOW: Talking with Brian Halweil, author of Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket, put out by the Worldwatch Institute. It's a Worldwatch book. Also with me is Jennifer Wilkins. She is a Kellogg of Food and Society Policy fellow and senior extension associate in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. We're going to take a break, come back and talk with Dr. Wilkins and take your questions and talk more with Brian Halweil. So stay with us. We'll be right back after this short break.

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FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

We're talking about food this hour with Brian Halweil, author of Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket - Jennifer Wilkins, who is at Cornell University in Ithaca. Our number, 1-800-989-8255.

Dr. Wilkins, you write about fossil fuel consuming a huge portion of our food costs.

Dr. WILKINS: Well, it certainly does. Our food system is very fossil fuel dependant and very heavily uses fossil fuels. It's estimated that about 20 percent of our fossil fuel use is used in the entire food system, from production to getting food on our table. And for every calorie that we consume, about ten calories of fossil fuel has been used to produce that.

FLATOW: What is the politics of all this? I know you know the Department of Agricultural is one of the biggest buildings in Washington. It's been there for decades. There's got to be politics of, you know, the farm (unintelligible), farmers and whatever and setting up a structure that's cheaper to ship it a thousand miles than it is to grow it locally.

Dr. WILKINS: Well I think historically, particularly since the 1950s, our agricultural policy has really been driven by a desire for farms to be the most productive as possible with the lowest cost. And so we concentrated our support for agriculture within a fairly narrow set of what's called commodities. They're not called food, they're called commodities.

And you mentioned a few that Iowa is known for - corn and soybeans - but we also support heavily wheat, grains, sorghum, barley, oats, cotton and rice, and these crops really make up 74 percent of the total crop plant in the U.S. and five of those account for about 75 percent of our exports. So that sort of answers - part of the question is that we're very concerned about and want our agricultural policies to support production and increased yield per acre and also support our exports, so it's very export oriented. And what this tends to do is drive consolidation and concentration in our agricultural production. So therefore, you have a situation that you were mentioning in places in Iowa, where you'll have areas that don't produce a lot of their own food and have to import it when they very well could.

FLATOW: Brian, you point out in your book a fallacy about the efficiency of factory farms versus local farms.

Mr. HALWEIL: Well, again, as Jennifer said, you know, it sort of depends how we - what we want to get out of our farms. If you are solely interested in how much corn or soybeans or wheat you can get off of a typical acre, then American farms are very productive; they're sort of the leaders around the planet. But if you think about the total nutritional value raised on that acre, if you think about the energy that goes into raising that corn, if you think about some of the agrochemicals, some of which cause pollution, going into that farm, then all of a sudden a factory farm is not that productive.

I mean, consider for instance how most of the meat in this country is raised. Most of the cows and pigs and chickens in this country is - as we sometimes don't like to imagine - are crammed into these giant feed lots where they're not allowed to move much, which makes them very efficient converters of feed into meat and brings down costs, but really only in the short term because we know that these farms are breeding grounds for all sorts of food-safety problems and diseases. And we also know that these farms tend to burn-out because diseases become so prevalent that they're really only productive for a few years, then the farmer's got to move on and set up shop somewhere else.

So the agricultural system that we've set up, this long-distance food system, is really only efficient in the same sense that a coal-fired power plant is efficient: It produces energy, but only if you ignore all the smog that's coming with it.

FLATOW: Dr. Wilkins, you wrote an article in the Times Union, a local newspaper in Albany, New York, saying food policies fail to spur good health. And you talk about something that sort of flies below the radar screen of most Americans, most politicians, and that is the legislation that sets up the farm bill. What goes on in the farm bill affects just about all kinds of things that we eat. Talk about what your concerns are.

Dr. WILKINS: Well, and this gets back to our concentration of supporting very few commodities as opposed to supporting diversity and variety, which we promote in the dietary guidelines. So our dietary guidelines are very sound in what they're promoting in terms of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and eating whole grains and, you know, a variety of different kinds of food. Yet our production system that we support with policy is very narrow in what it supports. And the Economic Research Service of the USDA has estimated that we would need to put in six million acres more in crop production to supply the kinds of foods if people shifted to the dietary guidelines and produce far fewer acres of corn and far fewer acres - about ten million fewer acres - of soybeans.

So we're producing foods that are then converted to being available as commodities to the food industry that then finds multiple uses for them. We have, you know - we walk into a supermarket today and see nearly 40,000 items in the supermarket. It gives a really great impression of a lot of choice, but when you start to really looking at the ingredients in a lot of the packaged foods and highly processed foods that we have in the supermarket, you'll start seeing the same ingredients all over the place. And high-fructose corn syrup, which didn't exist before 1970, is now pervasive throughout our food system, as is a lot of added fat from soybeans.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Do you think that part of - speaking of that, do you think that part of the obesity epidemic with kids that we're seeing now comes because we're not eating more directly from the farm and we're eating too many processed foods?

Dr. WILKINS: Well, I think that there probably is - that is one factor. Another is that we have seen over the last several years a tendency towards larger and larger portions being available. So it's not only that people are not eating directly from the farm, they're not eating a diversity of foods that they once did. They are seeing food everywhere. Food is ubiquitous around us. Our eating environment is sort of - has been described as toxic in terms of being prone to making (unintelligible), and we have larger and larger portion sizes.

Mr. HALWEIL: But the concern about obesity is one of the things that's causing people to rebel against this food system. Eating local is probably the easiest way to cut out a lot of these highly processed junk foods because you are depending on more raw, wholesome ingredients that you're cooking yourself. It's also a very good way to avoid all sorts of preservatives and fumigants that are used on foods that have to endure a long shelf life and long-distance transportation.

FLATOW: Let's go to Beth(ph) in Ottawa, Illinois. Hi, welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Beth.

BETH (Caller): Hi, thanks. I just wanted to say that my husband and I are farmers. We do have one of those small local farms that we also encourage people to eat locally. We raise vegetables as well as chickens, beef and pig, and I wanted to let your listeners know about a great resource called And you can go to that Web site and search by your zip code and find local farms doing CSAs and farmers' markets in any area of the country.

FLATOW: Are you able to make a good living doing this?

BETH: We're working on it. It's a challenge, and it's a whole lot of work. But it's starting to come together. This is our fourth year in business and this will be the first year that we're doing it without a second firm income.

FLATOW: Brian, typical of small farm?

Mr. HALWEIL: It's typical not just of a small farm but also a lot of these sort of startup businesses that are rising to meet this demand for local food, for organic food, for grass-fed meats and sort of alternative foods compared to what we typically get in the supermarket. The supports aren't there in the same sense that the sorts of massive subsidies that go for large commodity farms. And the support isn't yet there from consumers like you and me. I mean, a lot of us are beginning to shop at farmer's markets, buy food directly from farms. But the vast majority of places where we do our eating: in cafeterias, in restaurants, in supermarkets - those are only beginning to come to the party now. They're only beginning to realize the benefits of eating local. And some big food corporations are wising up to it, and that's beginning to make a difference for small farmers like this couple in Iowa.

FLATOW: Beth, thanks for...

Mr. HALWEIL: In Illinois rather.

FLATOW: Thanks for calling, Beth.

BETH: Thanks.

FLATOW: Good luck to you. Let me ask Dr. Wilkins. Cafeterias, I mean, can they make a difference if they decide what they're going to order?

Dr. WILKINS: Absolutely they can. I mean individual food choices is one major area to look at. And individuals - if you look at consumer research recently, local has surpassed organic in terms of an interest that consumers have that are driving food choices. But you look at institutional food service -cafeterias in schools, colleges, hospitals, prisons - they're much bigger buyers. And so when they make a decision to buy local and buy direct from farmers, it makes a huge impact on the local economy.

And there are several examples. There are over 400 school districts it's estimated that are buying or have farm-to-school programs right now and that are buying from local farmers either directly or through their suppliers. And Kaiser Permanente has been well - getting a lot of attention for their work in this area.

FLATOW: Brian, talk about this diner. A farmer's diner in Vermont, right?

Mr. HALWEIL: Yeah. This is another great example of sort of, you know, typical food business, but instead of using typical ingredients, they're buying all their ingredients locally. A few years back, a farmer in Barre, Vermont named Tod Murphy decided he wanted to open a diner. In fact, there was a defunct diner in his town and he wanted to start a diner there.

But he would serve all the typical diner foods, but instead of getting all of his ingredients from some big distributor that shows up once a week in an 18-wheeler truck and drops it all off, he wanted to get everything from within 50 miles. So the beef for the burgers and the wheat for the hamburger buns and the berries and the fruit for the pancakes and the milk for the milkshakes and the eggs from the omelets all come from farms and food makers within 50 miles.

And the business is thriving partly because people are intrigued by this idea. It serves very good food. In the winter, you don't get a tomato on your burger, you get a slice of pickled beet on your burger, which some people I guess prefer. And there has been a plan to franchise the idea not only in Vermont but into Boston. And the business is experiencing some growing pains, like this farm in Illinois, because it's trying to redefine the model.

But it's a very good example of how eating local is beginning to grow beyond the culinary fringe. Supermarkets are beginning to do similar things. There's a supermarket chain in the Pacific Northwest called New Seasons Markets, based in Portland, Oregon. A typical supermarket, but a large share of all the products that they sell come from the Pacific Northwest, and they bear a label that designates that.

A lot of their seafood, a lot of their meat, a lot of their vegetables, come from there. And they make a very big effort to educate their customers about that fact. And what they found is it draws customers into stores. Sometimes people are willing to pay more for it, but it also helps educate people about what's in season in their area.

FLATOW: I've heard about some of these being food co-ops, where people will put a bunny in the front and they get the harvest later.

Mr. HALWEIL: Exactly. And there's also a movement to buy a sort of food subscription where you might become a member of a farm. It's referred to CSA -Community Supported Agriculture - in the sense that you pay up front at the beginning of the season to become a member, and in exchange every week or so you get a box of produce which is able to feed your family.

You share in the risk of this farmer who's trying to make a go at something new. And if the farmer has a very abundant crop of something, you also share in that. But, again, this is all - these are all just really good examples of Americans becoming fed up with anonymous food, wanting to know where their food's coming from, who's growing it, what impact its having on their landscape and having some direct control over that.

FLATOW: Talking about food this hour on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News with Brian Halweil, author of Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket. And Jennifer Wilkins, a Kellogg Food and Society Policy fellow and senior extension associate in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca.

Jennifer, being a Kellogg Food and Society Policy fellow, how do the big food companies, the processed food companies view these things? Do they view these -the movement back to local as a threat or something they want to get in on?

Dr. WILKINS: Well, I think that they maybe are starting to pay attention. It's still a fairly small part of the market, but I think that they are starting to look at this as maybe something that they can take advantage of and maybe build into their profile. And we're starting to learn that Wal-Mart, for example, might be wanting to buy more local. They have bought local in New York. They, in fact, have featured apples and other New York state-grown products.

And I think that this is a very good opportunity. It is definitely an opportunity for local growers. I think that with this opportunity, of course, will come challenges. And it presents a chance for states, local areas to maybe develop an organized way of approaching this so that farmers can definitely reap some benefit in terms of making sure that they get the cost of production while they're doing business with a big entity like that.

FLATOW: Brian, if we all wanted to eat locally, buy locally, are there enough farmers and farms out there for us to find to do it? And if there were to be a switch, could we make the switch?

Mr. HALWEIL: I think there's no doubt that we could make the switch. We've lost a lot of farms in this country. The number of farms has gone from close to around 10 million at the beginning of the - in 1900 to under two million today. It's a little known fact that there are now more people incarcerated in the United States than there are full-time farmers.

And that's a good example of what's happened to our food system. There will definitely be more people flocking back to the land to start up farms, to start up small-scale food businesses as this movement grows and as there's more demand.

But the reality is as Wal-Mart gets interested, as big food distributors gets interested, as big healthcare companies like Kaiser Permanente get interested, it becomes easier for people to do this. It's not just sort of diehard parents who want to shop seasonally and can and store food year-round for their families. We'll be able to eat locally by going to our local restaurant or by going to our local supermarket.

FLATOW: But people are not going to give up the convenience of having their off-season fruits and vegetables in the wintertime, for example.

Mr. HALWEIL: They may not right now. But there are - that convenience also comes with some problems. I mean 80 percent of the tomatoes in this country are ripened artificially after they're harvested. That is they're harvested green so they could be shipped long distances, and when they get close to where they're going to be sold, they're exposed to ethylene gas to ripen them up.

Now that compromises flavor in a major way. Anyone who's raised their own tomatoes or shopped at a farm stand knows what a tomato's supposed to taste like. So that convenience of getting that tomato in the middle of the winter or a strawberry comes with a cost to flavor, comes with a cost to your local farmer who is dependent on selling those tomatoes and strawberries to you during tomato season. There's sort of an excitement involved in waiting for that season to come around.

FLATOW: And a great flavor. Much different, as you talk about. We'll talk more about the foods. We're going to take a short break. Talking with Brian Halweil, Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket. Jennifer Wilkins of Cornell University in Ithaca.

Stay with us. We'll be right back with your calls and more questions, so don't go away.

I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

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FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

We're talking about eating locally this hour with my guests Brian Halweil, author of Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket, put out by Norton, is a Worldwatch Institute book. Also Dr. Jennifer Wilkins, who is a senior extension associate at Cornell University. She is the Kellogg Food and Society Policy fellow at Cornell. Our number, 1-800-989-8255.

Dr. Wilkins, what about terrorism? You know, is having our food supply so concentrated in the hands of a few companies, is that dangerous for us?

Dr. WILKINS: Well, anytime you have a one large target that, if hit, has a big consequence, that's probably more dangerous than having a more distributed system; and this would be true of the food system. So if you have many smaller entities of a more disperse production and processing and distribution system, it's less of a target.

That just seems logical. So it would be more secure. And it's great, I have this poster on my office door at work. It was produced by the New York State Farm Bureau. And it has a big banner at the top, it has Homeland Security on it, and then the slogan at the bottom is Eat Local, It Matters. So that big farm representative agency is really noticing this.

FLATOW: Brian?

Mr. HALWEIL: And this isn't just a theoretical concern. The Department of Homeland Security a few years ago ran a war game, a simulation to look at how the United States would respond to an act of agricultural terrorism. That is if someone were to dump some corn fungus out of a plane flying over the Midwest or introduce foot and mouth disease onto a Western cattle rancher, dump E. coli into the batch at a large, centralized processing plant.

And when all was said and done, the agricultural and military officials running this concluded that the long distance nature and intense concentration of our food system are - they make us a sort of proverbial sitting duck. Very vulnerable to spikes in oil prices, vulnerable to disruption in the transportation system, and vulnerable any sort of large-scale food contamination. If it's accidental or malicious, it could very easily begin to affect millions of people all around the country.

In contrast - and it's not to say that local farms are immune to these sorts of problems, but the problem is likely much more localized and able to be controlled. And a lot of food safety problems are a result of how long food is kept after it's been harvested.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to San Diego. Fred, hi, welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

FRED (Caller): Hi. We just, as part of a school project, my son, we switched from I guess you'd consider standard food-buying practices to local or an organic. While I have to say the quality certainly of the vegetables has improved, it has come at a significant cost. Our food bill for a family of four was running around $189 a week, and we're not at $329 a week for local and organic.

So I don't know how many families can afford that, but that's a significant, you know, that's a significant jump in cost. And we're in San Diego, which I think is probably, given all the farms we have around here, I would think we're probably as good off as we are in this regard as anybody. So, you know...

Mr. HALWEIL: I think it's a real concern, and sometimes shopping that way will be more expensive. It's not always going to be. Shopping in season is often a lot cheaper than shopping out of season. When local tomatoes are in, they're going to be a lot cheaper than in the middle of the winter.

A part of that cost difference could be the organic food as opposed to the local food. Right now we're in a situation where the sort of mark-up of organic food in this country is still considerably higher than conventional foods. But I think it's also important to look at what we're spending our food dollars on, how we're eating. Think about buying a bag of potato chips versus buying a few pounds of potatoes. We're willing to pay three bucks for a bag of potato chips, which has barely a potato in it, and $3 will buy you a lot of raw potatoes.

Of course that does come with the need to cook them and be creative in your kitchen, but I think there are ways to eat locally and to seek out organic food and still keep the budget in mind.

FLATOW: Dr. Wilkins?

Dr. WILKINS: Well, yes, and I think that this is a good place to talk about schools again because we are now - school is starting, and there's a lot of attention being paid on the food that is served in schools in terms of addressing childhood obesity. And if you look at the cost that food service directors have to work with to provide a lunch, it's about $2.33, and about half of that goes to labor and equipment and other expenses of the food-service operation. So you're getting down to about $1.50 that might be available for food.

So in terms of our national policy and our state policy in terms of reimbursements for those meals, we need to start looking at how much we're really providing to the schools and what we're expecting them to be able to serve. If we want them to serve fresh fruits and vegetables, perhaps organic, perhaps locally grown, then we need to realize that there - that's more valuable, and it's worth spending more money on.

Mr. HALWEIL: And that cost that we - the price that we pay for a given food item, whether it's local or organic, doesn't necessarily give us a sense of all that goes into that food. I mean, think of buying a meal at McDonald's, which is inexpensive, but it's not particularly healthy. So buying something that's raised locally or buying something that's raised organically, even if it's more expensive, that's money that's staying in your local economy. It's money that's preserving farmland in your area. If it's an organic farm, that's money that's keeping pollutants out of the water supply, which someone does have to pay for eventually.

FLATOW: Let's go to Sandra(ph) in Memphis. Hi, Sandra.

SANDRA (Caller): Hi, how are you today?

FLATOW: Fine. Quickly.

SANDRA: After reading some Barbara Kingsolver books, I made a decision about two and a half years ago to start eating locally, and more importantly eating seasonally and not demanding raspberries in January and strawberries in February but finding the produce that was available in my local market from local farmers.

That means eating a lot of root crops in the wintertime or eating reconstituted dried vegetables or fruit, but I think it's been worth it. And I've even found some sources to buy bulk coffees and such to cut down on the transportations. So I think it's been worth it.

FLATOW: Well, this gentleman in San Diego said it was very expensive to him. Do you find it that expensive for you?

SANDRA: It has not changed my food budget at all, but again I am not demanding oranges in January. I am buying local produce in season. I mean, you can go to the health-food store and buy raspberries in the middle of winter, but you're going to pay a tremendous cost for them.

FLATOW: Well, good luck to you.

SANDRA: And the cost to the environment in terms of the fuel that's expended to get those fruits and vegetables to me is my concern, that it's a bigger cost to the planet than I'm willing to pay.

FLATOW: Sandra, thanks for calling.

SIEGEL: Thank you.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. We've just a few more minutes left. Brian, do you think we're going to be seeing growing, I mean of more farms like these and these restaurants that can.

Mr. HALWEIL: Oh we already are. The number of farmers markets in the United States has doubled just in the last five years. There's not a major school district in this country, as Jennifer indicated, that isn't trying some program to get more locally raised ingredients into the schools to make it fresher and healthier. And all the innovators in agro business are realizing that this is going to be an important way for them to distinguish themselves from their competition, but also to get ahead from their competition and to get back to some sort of connection to their community. I mean, that's the reason why Wal-Mart's interested.

FLATOW: Yeah. Dr. Wilkins, your take on the possible future of political - the farm bill?

Dr. WILKINS: Well, I definitely agree with Brian that if you look at what consumers are interested in today, they're interested in expressing their values in their purchases. They're interested in taste, nutrition and flavor, and eating locally is definitely a way to do that. There are organizations all over the country right now that are weighing in and developing language for the farm bill. But there's other ways of expressing values and expressing your desires as consumers in policy, and one way to do that is just to communicate with your Congressperson about the fact that you want more locally grown fruits and vegetables. You value fresh, and you want organic, and you want to have agricultural production that is good for the environment.

FLATOW: Could you just not - could you just say that also to your local food, you know, supplier - to your supermarket?

Dr. WILKINS: Absolutely. It's been determined that it takes as few as three requests at a supermarket for the supermarket to carry an item. So I would encourage consumers to express their desires and tell their supermarkets that they would like to have more locally grown available to them.

FLATOW: I want to thank both of you for taking time to be with us today. Jennifer Wilkins, who was a senior extension associate at Cornell University. She is the Kellogg Food and Society Policy fellow at Cornell. Thank you, Dr. Wilkins, for taking time to be with us today.

Dr. WILKINS: Thank you.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Brian Halweil is author of Eat Here. He is senior researcher at Worldwatch Institute. Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket, it's an eye-opening book. I highly recommend it. Thank you for taking time to be with us today.

Mr. HALWEIL: Thank you. It was a pleasure, Ira.

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