Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Local vs Global Pizza

While reading the latest issue of Audubon magazine, I was inspired by a project conducted by San Francisco university students curious about the sources of their food. These students found some tacos at a local food truck and then traced the origins of everything that went into each taco.  To their surprise, these California tacos were made from ingredients as far as Northern Thailand.  This got me thinking, even in areas where we can find an abundance of locally grown food, we are often tempted by price, habit, convenience, or curiosity to purchase food from global sources.

To understand our ‘eating’ footprint, my partner and I challenged ourselves to make a meal from as many local ingredients as possible and compare the result to a more typical meal derived from conventional ingredients.  We chose a meal we both enjoyed while allowing us to get creative: Pizza.  Because some of the more common products available at our farmers market (like sweet potatoes, onions, and fresh fruit) don’t necessarily belong on your typical pizza, we thought it would be an interesting challenge.

We chose the local ingredients based on what was available at the weekly farmers market and compared this “Local Pizza” to one of our conventional Friday night pizzas, a.k.a. “Global Pizza” – all of which were homemade.  We made two local pizzas but I only did the math on one.  To get the distances of the grocery store ingredients, I checked product labels and e-mailed the companies.  For our local pizza, I talked to farmers to find out where their farms were.

Here is what we found:

Approximately how far did our ingredients travel?

(Distances are best possible approximations, and I’ve used miles considering I’m currently in the U.S.A.)

To give you an idea of the cumulative distance the ingredients in our Global Pizza traveled, it was almost equal to flying across Canada three times (from Vancouver to St. Johns Newfoundland), or making the trip between Seattle and Miami more than three times! Assuming the trucks that brought our ingredients get 15 miles per gallon, our Global Pizza used 574 more gallons of fuel than our Local Pizza. Although this is a simplification, it gives us a general idea.

Here is the breakdown:

Mozza, Mushroom, Olive "Global Pizza"
Global Pizza 

997 miles
Mozzarella cheese: La Farge, Wisconsin

879 miles
Mushrooms: Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

4,565 miles
Olives: Product of Spain

2,296 miles
Pizza Sauce (organic, canned): San Joaquin Valley, California

Local Pizza 
Red pepper, Tomato, Ricotta-like Cheese "Local Pizza"

12.8 miles
Goat Cheese: Notasulga, Alabama

43.9 miles
Peppers: Fort Mitchell, Alabama

34.7 miles
Tomatoes: Shorter, Alabama

34.7 miles
Pizza Sauce (made from ingredients at the market): Shorter, Alabama

Although not the goal of this specific challenge, we did not notice that our local pizza differed from the conventional in terms of garbage produced. Here’s the breakdown:

Local: Plastic wrap on cheese

Global: Plastic from cheese, plastic from mushrooms, 2 aluminum cans (olives, pizza sauce).

Now, to the question that is on all of your minds: How did the local pizza taste compared to one derived from grocery store ingredients?

Bulger Creek Goat Cheese
Although we found it hard to make straightforward comparisons because the two pizzas we created were so different, we were pleasantly surprised at our local creation.  Our favorite local pizza was the roasted red pepper and goat cheese creation, made possible from a donation from Bulger Creek Farms (you can find them throughout south-central Alabama but we purchase our cheese at Auburn University’s Market at Ag Heritage Park).  Bulger Creek has done a great job of creating goat cheese in diverse forms and tastes, and with the added benefit of being made close to home and made with no preservatives.  Although most of you would probably be apprehensive to leave mozzarella behind, we had our pick of a ricotta-like cheese, goat feta, and even goat cheddar.  All have performed excellent on past pizzas.

To our surprise, we had an unexpected dinner guest that night.  We offered him his choice of the roasted red pepper or potato, eggplant and goat cheddar pizza, while warning him not to expect a traditional New York slice.  Whether he was humoring us or not, he seemed to have enjoyed both as well as the idea of ‘local pizzas’.  I think his preference would have been a meat option, so I was happy to report that the market also had a wide selection of grass-fed meats coming from farms less than 20 miles away.  Although this time we went vegetarian, we do have our eye on the rabbit sausage for a future local pizza!


Lowe, M. 2011. Global Taco. In: Audubon (July – August), pp. 16. 

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