Costs of Importing Food

The convenience of aisles of imported food at our grocery stores has hidden costs.  In only a few decades, our population has become dependent on industrialized food which is typically highly processed and lacks nutritional value.  The industrialized food found in our grocery stores is not made locally and most of the revenue generated from their sales is exported out of Marquette County.  In other words, the consumption of industrialized foods negatively impacts the health of our people and has little positive impact on the local economy because the dollars do not stay local.  The environment absorbs a substantial amount of the cost of transporting industrialized food.


Nutritional Value

 Vegetables and fruit that are in season and freshly harvested are the healthiest.  The less time spent in transport the better.  The moment vegetables and fruits are harvested, they begin to lose nutritional value.  This is caused by respiration as the plants continue to breathe they break down stored nutrients.  The longer the time between harvest and consumption, the greater the loss in nutritional value.  Plants have been bred to better handle the process of transportation.  Plants that bruise less and look nice are more appealing to the consumer.  


Reliance on an industrialized food system creates a vulnerable situation.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year 48 million Americans get sick and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses.[1]  When contamination of the food supply occurs, there is potential for millions of people to become ill.  In 2006 in a New York Times magazine article titled The Vegetable-Industrial Complex, author Michael Pollan referenced a 2003 Government Accountability Office report to Congress on bioterrorism.  According to Pollan, that report acknowledged how the centralized nature of the country’s food production and processing system is vulnerable to a terrorist attack.  He goes on further to say that 80% of America’s beef is slaughtered by four companies, 75% of the precut salads are processed by two and 30% of the milk by just one company.[2]  In addition to being more vulnerable to attack from humans, a centralized food system with very little plant diversification is also more vulnerable to disruption from pests and weather conditions which could occur at any time. A diverse food system ensures many varieties of plants which have unique survival capabilities, such as drought resistance, are part of the available crops.

Since the production of food became industrialized, the variation of food has substantially been reduced.  Now, seed varieties are being developed that have been genetically modified to increase harvest yields.  These seeds are patented which increases support of oligopolies, market conditions in which prices and other factors are controlled by a few sellers[4], and also increases a farmer’s reliance on one company.

Exportation of Local Dollars

Local dollars are money spent by residents of Marquette County in Marquette County.  When residents spend a dollar at chain restaurants or stores, most of that dollar will leave the county and the state without recirculating through the local economy.  The opposite is true of a dollar spent at a locally owned business.  According to, for every $1 spent at a local business, 45 cents is reinvested locally.[5]  The website reports that for every $1 spent at a corporate chain, only 15 cents is reinvested locally.  There is greater financial benefit to the local economy when non-residents, or visitors, spend money in the County.

The money that is spent on food purchased directly from a local producer,  such as on the farm or at a farmers market, has a substantial impact on the local economy and is likely to be reinvested into the local economy at a higher rate.

Environmental Impacts of Food Importation

On average, food travels well over 1,000 miles from the producer to the dinner plate.  Emissions from the transportation of food contribute a significant amount of pollution into the atmosphere.  Such human-related carbon emissions contribute to climate change[6].  As the world population continues to increase so does food demand.

Select Food Types, Imported Map

Using data from the United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service[7], the Figure shows select food types imported into the United States in 2011 by the million dollars.  Obviously, not all food types can be grown and produced in the United States however, there is opportunity to reduce the amount of money spent importing various food types.  In 2011, most of $1,729.9 million dollars was spent on imported vegetable and fruit preparations from China.  The distance from China to Los Angeles, California alone is approximately 5,700 nautical miles.

[1] Centers for Disease Control Prevention.


[3] Source: Transition Marquette County.


[5] Powered by shoplocally, an online database of local merchants.