Local food movement is a collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies. This sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption are integrated to enhance the economic, environmental, and social health of a particular place. In other words, this movement promotes eating food that is produced near you because it is healthier and tastier. Locally produced fresh food is consumed usually right after harvest or slaughter, so it is sold fresher. Also, the need for chemical preservatives and irradiation to artificially extend shelf-life is reduced or eliminated.
In the ideal world, then, eating local should be the way of life. Unfortunately, this is hard to do when your supply of food is cut off at the root level – the farmers. Lack of these farmers, nor of their products, is not the issue here. There are many farmers who spend months pasture-raising pigs on their farm – enough pigs for local sourcing. Before these pigs can make their way to the markets, however, they need to be slaughtered, and this is where the shortage lies – there are too few slaughterhouses to meet the growing demand for locally raised meat.
Independent farmers around America say they are forced to make slaughter appointments before animals are born (they literally have to count their chickens before they are hatched) and to drive hundreds of miles to facilities, adding to their costs and causing stress to livestock (as if getting killed wasn’t stressful enough). An hour and a half’s journey is long enough to cause pigs to be stressed and not in optimal shape for processing, which affects the quality of their meat.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the number of slaughterhouses nationwide declined to 809 in 2008 from 1,211 in 1992, while the number of small farmers has increased by 108,000 in the past five years. You don’t have to be a math genius to know that there’s something wrong with that equation.
In Vermont, a locavore’s paradise, there are only seven operating slaughterhouses, down from around 25 in the 80’s. A number of small, family-owned slaughterhouses started closing when strict federal rules regarding health control went into effect in 1999. Large corporations like Cargill also began to take over much of the nation’s meat market.