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Eating Local for the Environment: Control through Consumption

Area invasive species will be framed and utilized as "local foods" to meet increasing demand and to address regional food deserts.

Photo of Alana Seaman
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

University of North Carolina Wilmington

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://uncw.edu

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Wilmington, North Carolina

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The Coastal Cape Fear region. This region consists of four counties covering 6917.96 sq km.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Wilmington has been my home for the past four years and will be for the foreseeable future. As a tourism professor, I live, work, and serve on public boards in my community. In short, Wilmington is my home. I want the best for everyone in my community and the coastal environment we are lucky enough to call home.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Coastal Cape Fear region consists of the small city of Wilmington, North Carolina and the surrounding coastal towns and barrier islands of Kure Beach, Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, Oak Island, Bald Head Island, Top Sail Island, and the large U.S. Marine Base known as Camp Lejeune. The coastal Cape Fear region is a popular tourism destination attracting people from all over the world for the warm calm waters, sandy beaches, culinary and entertainment options, antebellum architecture, and picturesque and quintessentially “Southern” plants, trees, and gardens. The area is also quickly becoming a popular retirement area with waves of individuals moving to the region (primarily from New England) for the relatively mild climate (save for Hurricanes), low cost of living, vibrant food and arts scene, and proximity to the intracoastal waterway and the wide sandy beaches spanning the coast. The entire region is a “foodie’s” paradise. The string of coastal communities boasts tons of new and popular breweries, farm-to-table and independently owned restaurants run by notable and even famous chefs, farmers markets, and food-related festivals. Thanks to the mild climate and long growing season, locally sourced fruits and vegetables are widely available and featured in many local restaurants. The small stretch of land sandwiched between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean also lends the Coastal Cape Fear region a plethora of fresh seafood and shellfish making the food scene in Wilmington and the surrounding towns vibrant, unique, and special. The Coastal Cape Fear region also boasts an environmentally minded community. The area has been largely successful in the elimination of plastic straws in coffee shops, bars, and restaurants; formal and informal beach clean-ups take place almost daily; and garden, tree, sea turtle, and other conservation and nature clubs in the region and the events they host are perpetually popular. While Wilmington, in the heart of the Coastal Cape Fear region is home to the University of North Carolina Wilmington- a research institution with large environmental sciences and oceanography programs, grassroots efforts to sustain the environment have sprouted up independent of the institution of higher education. Despite being a great place to live, work, and visit, the Coastal Cape Fear region, like most tourism destinations, suffers from drastic economic disparities amongst its population. Along the coast, multimillion-dollar vacation homes dot the shore while only a couple miles away, residents are living in food deserts and near poverty. The divide between income levels and living standards also tends to affect different racial groups in drastically different ways.

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The rise of neolocalism is driving a steadily increasing demand for all things local, particularly as related to food. Neolocalism is a social and cultural reaction to the widespread opening, and more importantly the mass closings of the big-box and chain stores and restaurants that once stood in almost every American city and small town, which in turn, standardized to some extent the country’s leisure and eating habits. As neolocalism continues to fuel demand for local products, foods, and eating experiences, pressure to meet these consumption patterns will affect all manner of places. Tourism destinations, by nature (wherein demand for place-specific experiences is inherently part of the product or attraction), will be particularly impacted, especially as these places are also popular retirement areas given the opportunities for entertainment and recreation they offer. In short, novel approaches to fulfilling demand for local food-related products and services amongst tourists and the increasing number of locals alike are and will continue to be necessary to sustain the economic, health, and cultural needs of those in tourism areas such as the Coastal Cape Fear region of North Carolina. Fueled in part by neolocalism, along with increasing concern over the unsustainability of the current corporate-dominated food industry, people are increasingly interested in eating foods that are both good for them and good for the planet. ‘Functional foods’ or foods that are perceived to be healthy represent the fastest growing sector of the food market. Local foods meet both of these criteria – traveling fewer food miles resulting in a smaller carbon footprint (and less economic leakage), making them fresher and thus healthier than traditionally sourced foods. Demand for both ‘functional’ and environmentally friendly foods will remain strong for the foreseeable future. Concern over healthy and fresh foods has also been used to describe food deserts, areas where certain individuals (typically members of minority populations) do not have access to fresh, healthy foods. Pockets of the Coastal Cape Fear region suffer from food deserts on various scales, despite the great wealth that also resides in the area… often only a few miles away. Simultaneously, invasive species are a growing problem worldwide. Invasive species are plants and animals that have been introduced into new environments and have adapted so successfully that they thrive beyond control. These plants and animals compete for resources and interbreed with native organisms and have become the leading cause of animal extinction. Overall, invasive species have negative social, economic, and environmental impacts on their adoptive homes. The Coastal Cape Fear region has a number of prolific and environmentally detrimental yet tasty invasive species including wild boar, Asian shore crab, kudzu, Himalayan blackberry, prickly pear, dandelion, crayfish, lionfish, and watercress.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Essentially, control through consumption fulfills a cultural “need” (for local, healthy foods) with an environmental problem (an excess of invasive alien species). Invasive species represent a largely untapped source of local foods, ingredients, and natural materials that can be easily processed into edible agricultural products. Framing invasive species as local ingredients would not only work to meet, in part, increasing demands for local food products, it would do so with environmentally friendly, economically beneficial, healthy, and seasonally dynamic commodities. Categorized alongside other locally grown and sourced ingredients which consumers consider healthier, fresher, and tastier than conventionally sourced foods, invasive species framed as local fare would not only add depth and variety to local food options, it would also draw attention to the invasive species problem and provide new avenues for educating the public… particularly as the primary challenge associated with control through consumption is a lack of knowledge amongst the stakeholders involved. Since invasive species are abundantly available in the Coastal Cape Fear region and change seasonally, they offer endless opportunities for the creation of new dishes, ingredient parings, and preparation techniques. And, due to the sheer number of invasive species in existence, can be utilized in a variety of ways. Given the increasing interest in healthy, local foods, and the steadily growing number of people who consider themselves “foodies” it is likely that many individuals would not only go out of their way to try ‘novel’ invasive ingredients and dishes, but would also be willing to pay a premium for such food items. In turn, if demand for local invasive species were cultivated as desired, the procuring and processing of invasive species for sale could provide opportunities for local, possibly underrepresented entrepreneurs to start their own control through consumption related businesses. Though licenses would need to be secured (at a minimal cost), the culling, foraging, collecting, and selling of invasives as food requires little formal education or financial overhead, making businesses dedicated to the practice much more accessible to a wider array of the population than many other entrepreneurial endeavors. Invasive species are also a largely untapped resource for alleviating problems associated with food deserts. The plethora and variety of invasive species in the coastal Cape Fear region, are simply put, being underutilized. Given the accessibility, abundance, and proximity of invasive species to food deserts in the area, invasive species should be considered as a low cost or even free option for supplementing the diets of underserved community members. Control of invasive species through consumption would benefit not only the environment, but also the health, economy, and cultural needs of all residents in the Coastal Cape Fear region.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Ideally, the notion of control through consumption will become a social and environmental movement that extends beyond the Coastal Cape Fear region. Widespread acceptance of invasive species as local foods- their leaves, fruits, meats, and other parts incorporated into restaurant and home cooks’ menus alike, is the ultimate goal. Invasive species are expected to grow exponentially in number worldwide as globalization remains strong. Thus, given their prevalence, and inherent will to survive (meaning over-harvest is unlikely), invasive species are an eco-friendly source of local ingredients able to sustain tourism and resident market demands for local foods into the foreseeable future and likely, beyond. Viewed as local foods and valued for their freshness and health benefits, invasive species could also be used to alleviate, in part, the challenges associated with the food deserts that dot the coastal Cape Fear region. Ideally the low cost and widely available food sources would be utilized to feed in part people who do not otherwise have access to fresh foods. Community members could be trained to identify and harvest local invasives for their own use, or given the low overhead and tax benefits, commercial food suppliers might be willing to consider harvesting local invasives for donation to area food pantries. In a perfect future, an educated public would seek out invasive species on menus and at farmers markets and other outlets selling local foodstuffs. Similarly, with education, members of the general population would be able to identify and harvest invasive species in the wild for themselves in order to stop the spread of invasive species already present in the area and reduce the introduction of new examples of the organism into the area. Chefs, vendors at local farmers markets, and “foodies” are uniquely positioned to educate the public about invasive species and promote control through consumption.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The rise of neolocalism is driving a steadily increasing demand for all things local, particularly as related to food. Neolocalism is a social and cultural reaction to the widespread opening, and more importantly the mass closings of the big-box and chain stores and restaurants that once stood in almost every American city and small town, which in turn, standardized to some extent the country’s leisure and eating habits. As neolocalism continues to fuel demand for local products, foods, and eating experiences, pressure to meet these consumption patterns will affect all manner of places. Tourism destinations, by nature (wherein demand for place-specific experiences is inherently part of the product or attraction), will be particularly impacted, especially as these places are also popular retirement areas given the opportunities for entertainment and recreation they offer. In short, novel approaches to fulfilling demand for local food-related products and services amongst tourists and the increasing number of locals alike are and will continue to be necessary to sustain the economic, health, and cultural needs of those in tourism areas such as the Coastal Cape Fear region of North Carolina. Fueled in part by neolocalism, along with an increasing concern over the unsustainability of the current corporate-dominated food industry, people are also increasingly interested in eating foods that are both good for them and good for the planet. In fact, ‘functional foods’ or foods that are perceived to be healthy represent the fastest growing sector of the food market. Local foods meet both of these criteria – traveling fewer food miles resulting in a smaller carbon footprint (and less economic leakage), making them fresher and thus healthier than traditionally sourced foods. Demand for both ‘functional’ and environmentally friendly foods is forecasted to remain strong for the foreseeable future. Concern over healthy and fresh foods has also been used to describe food deserts, or areas where certain individuals (typically members of minority populations) do not have access to fresh, healthy foods. Pockets of the Coastal Cape Fear region suffer from food deserts on both various scales, despite the great wealth that also resides in the area… often only a few miles away. Simultaneously, invasive species are a growing problem worldwide, impacting every environment around the world in one way or another. Invasive species are plants and animals that have been introduced into new environments and have adapted so successfully that they thrive beyond control. These plants and animals often disrupt existing ecosystems – competing for resources and interbreeding with native organisms and, as such have become the leading cause of animal extinction. Overall, invasive species have negative social, economic, and environmental impacts on their adoptive homes. The notion of “control (of invasive species) through consumption” shows promise, yet despite its success in several scenarios, the approach has only been promoted, utilized, or examined as a means of addressing the overpopulation and spread of two fish species: lionfish and Asian carp. However, every environment around the world is home to countless invasive species of all manor of plants, animals, and sea life… many of them edible. Education, according to scholars, is the primary factor keeping the practice of control through consumption from being widely adopted. The Coastal Cape Fear region has a number of prolific and environmentally detrimental yet tasty invasive species including wild boar, Asian shore crab, kudzu, Himalayan blackberry, prickly pear, dandelion, crayfish, lionfish, and watercress just to name a few. However, few of these alien organisms are being consumed by the local population. Essentially, control through consumption fulfills a cultural “need” (for local, healthy foods) with an environmental problem (an excess of invasive alien species). Invasive species represent a largely untapped source of local foods, ingredients, and natural materials that can be easily processed into edible agricultural products. Framing invasive species as local ingredients would not only work to meet, in part, increasing demands for local products and experiences particularly in the food and dining industries, it would do so with environmentally friendly, economically beneficial, healthy, and seasonally dynamic commodities. Categorized alongside other locally grown and sourced ingredients which consumers consider healthier, fresher, and tastier than conventionally sourced foods (given the lower food miles traveled and therefore improved freshness of such products), invasive species framed as local fare would not only add depth and variety to local food options, it would also draw attention to the invasive species problem and provide new avenues for educating the public… particularly as the primary challenge associated with control through consumption is a lack of knowledge amongst the stakeholders involved. Since invasive species are abundantly available in the Coastal Cape Fear region (and around the world) and change seasonally, they offer endless opportunities for the creation of new dishes, ingredient parings, and preparation techniques. And, due to the sheer number of invasive species in existence, can be utilized in a variety of ways. Given the increasing interest in healthy, local foods, and the steadily growing number of people who consider themselves “foodies” (those whose identity is based in part on food) it is likely that many individuals would not only go out of their way to try ‘novel’ invasive ingredients and dishes, but would also be willing to pay a premium for such food items. In turn, if demand for local invasive species were cultivated as desired, the procuring and processing of invasive species for commercial use or direct-to-consumer sales could provide opportunities for local, possibly underrepresented entrepreneurs to start their own control through consumption related businesses. Though licenses would need to be secured (at a relatively minimal cost), the culling, foraging, collecting, and selling of invasives as food ingredients requires little formal education or financial overhead, making businesses dedicated to the practice much more accessible to a wider array of the population than many other entrepreneurial endeavors. Invasive species also represent a largely untapped resource for alleviating some of the problems associated with food deserts wherein people do not have access to fresh local foods. The plethora and variety of invasive species in both the coastal Cape Fear region and around the globe are, simply put, being underutilized. Given the accessibility, abundance, and proximity of invasive species to many food deserts in the area, invasive species should be considered as a low cost or even free option for supplementing the diets of underserved community members. While education is a key factor in making consumers aware of the availability, reasonable price point, and flavors of invasive species there is no reason why dandelion greens for instance cannot be harvested from one’s lawn for free for consumption… particularly when they are being served literally blocks away in a high-end restaurant for $15 a bowl. The only difference being the restaurant setting and combination of fancy dressings and accompaniments topping the salad. In fact, in many places members of the public are welcome and even encouraged to kill invasive species when encountered (i.e. Florida’s green iguana that officials tell residents to eliminate at will). Considering the economic, environmental, and social problems being caused by invasive species, and the number of the aliens organisms creeping into ecosystems around the globe, control of invasive species through consumption would benefit not only the environment, but also the health, economy, and cultural needs of all residents in the Coastal Cape Fear region.

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Hi Alana Seaman - Welcome to the Food System Vision Prize!

As you hone your vision, how might you engage and bring feedback in from your local population - disadvantaged community members and stakeholders in the food value chain? How can their input support your challenges and vision?

We look forward to seeing your updates.