The word local is defined by Merriam Webster as “characterized by or relating to position in space.” So how can local be defined in terms of food? The USDA defines local food as “the direct or intermediated marketing of food to consumers that is produced and distributed in a limited geographic area.” In addition to this definition, there is legalese behind the term local. In 2008, the Farm Act stated that a product could be marketed as local if it was produced within 400 miles of its point of origin, or within state boundaries.
In the last 30 years, food miles, or the distance food is transported from production to consumption, has become a more prominent term and is one component to determine the environmental impact of food. Generally, local food has fewer food miles than conventional food and can be considered more environmentally friendly. However, there is not an agreed upon distance when discussing food miles in relation to local food.
Local food can also be discussed in terms of farming and fresh produce, as well as the broader local foodshed which includes grocery stores, restaurants, farms, farmers’ markets, and more. As a result, the definition of local food varies and can be different depending on the context. Specific to the restaurant industry, local restaurants, also termed independent restaurants, “serve a specific city – or even a specific area or neighborhood within a city – and is definitely not part of a chain of corporate restaurants.” This definition is synonymous with that of local food based on the exclusivity of the geographic region.
Defining local food can also be dependent on a person’s personal experience. I personally think of local food in three main ways; the restaurant or business is located exclusively in one place, the owners are locals themselves, either born, raised, or call the place home, and/or the materials are “locally sourced” or grown within the state. However, to truly comprehend what local means, and specifically within the local foodshed, I conducted an interview with a local food business to understand their perspective. I decided on a restaurant that I recently discovered and love called Tino’s Tacos, which is located in the newly opened 505 Central Food Hall in downtown Albuquerque.
Tino’s Tacos is a family-owned, authentic Mexican restaurant owned by Tino alongside his daughter Brianna. Their business first started a few year ago with the pair selling a variety of fresh produce at the Downtown Growers’ Market. Brianna said that they noticed the regular burrito guy at the market had stopped coming so they saw an opportunity to make and sell burritos instead of produce. They eventually saved enough money to buy a food truck and continued their presence at farmers’ markets across Albuquerque, as well as catering for various events. Not too long after, the 505 Central Food Hall owner reached out and asked them to rent a space in the newly renovated building based on their success at the growers’ market. They decided to take this opportunity, sell their food truck, and start working to get their new space ready.
When asked what the word “local” means to him, Tino says it is “community within Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.” As a New Mexican resident, he considers himself a local as well as his business because he started this business here in Albuquerque, which he also considers an aspect of being a local business. As mentioned, part of being local may also mean using locally sourced products; Tino says, “we try to use as much as possible, all the tortillas, a lot of the beef, whatever we can get from New Mexico, of course.” Although there is not a single producer they buy from consistently, they always try to support local New Mexico producers.
Tino’s Tacos is a great example of a local food business in Albuquerque; it is owned and operated by people in the community, the location is exclusive to Albuquerque, and locally sourced products are used in creation. The word “local” can have a lot of different meanings and is subject to change depending on its context. It is also evident that local food and local business do not have to be synonymous in their meaning, as Tino’s Tacos is a local business in the context of Albuquerque but may or may not meet the requirements of “local” for distance in their food supply chain.
In addition to 505 Central Food Hall, there are several other local food businesses and food halls in Albuquerque that value local business and creation. Some great options include Sawmill Market, Green Jeans Farmery, and Tin Can Alley. Also be sure to check out Edible NM’s local food guide for great local food options, as well as breweries and farms, in the state of New Mexico.
-Posted by Kyla