LOCAL food is a hot topic at the moment. Politicians, celebrity chefs, supermarket labels and newspapers and magazines are all talking about local food.

People are becoming increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of what they’re eating – buying apples imported from New Zealand might be convenient, but how much is it contributing to global warming?

There are also concerns about food security – another buzzword of the moment.

Oil is a limited resource and in the UK we don’t control its supply chains. If an oil crisis meant we couldn’t import our food from overseas, how quickly would we run out? Would there be enough food production in the UK at current levels to cope for more than a few days? And if we rely on imports for our food, what about farming jobs in the UK?

It was these concerns that motivated Southampton couple Nick Bardsley and Milena Buchs to attempt to buy only local food for one month.

We’ve been following the couple’s progress in the Eat Local Wednesdays section of the Daily Echo – so how did they get on?

Local food is food which has been grown, caught or reared within a nearby region – not imports that are sold at your local shop or food that’s been made locally with ingredients from further afield.

Nick and Milena set themselves the challenge of only eating food from within 30 miles of Southampton.

“We wanted to see how far we could push it. I read a book about a chef in Wales trying to do a 30-mile menu, so we decided on that as our target,” says Nick, a lecturer in climate change economics at the University of Reading and member of local environmental group Southampton Transition.

The couple decided to run down existing stocks of non-local food in their cupboard over the month, replacing them with local alternatives, but they didn’t know if they would really be able to get by without having to buy essentials from elsewhere.

They found that they had to make some significant changes to their diet – many staple foods in our diet don’t even come from the UK, let alone Southampton and the surrounding area – but overall the challenge was a success.

They were able to buy almost solely local produce for the month and found out about some more sources of local food along the way.

“Our diet was restricted in several ways during the challenge,” says Milena, a lecturer in sociology and social policy at the University of Southampton. “We didn’t have any pasta, rice, lentils, hummus, couscous, nuts, raisins, etc. Also it was almost impossible to get local milk or butter.”

However, they did manage to have lots of great – and healthy – local food.

“Our diet was definitely quite varied in terms of fruit and vegetables and we had very high quality cheeses, duck eggs and sprouted a lot of wheat for muesli,” she continues.

Even though some products were more expensive, overall their diet worked out cheaper – partly thanks to them making their own lunches. The main challenge to sustaining the diet in the long-term proved to be time.

The couple found almost no produce within Southampton itself and going to farmers’ and producers’ markets, pick-your-own farms and farm shops can be time-consuming.

“On Sunday we reverted to the high street greengrocers rather than going to the local pick-your-own farm because we were pressed for time, but we’ll continue to go there whenever we can,” says Nick.

The couple believe there would have to be real changes for the majority of people in Southampton to adopt a mostly local diet.

“We picked an easy month. I think a very different story would have emerged just two or three months earlier,” says Milena.

Nick adds: “The market power of the supermarkets impacts directly and indirectly, making life difficult for high street retailers and farm shops because of convenience shopping and the impression, not always accurate, of bargain prices. We also picked up from producers that there’s a lack of affordable trading space in the city centre.”

Milena says that she would be worried if we had to depend on local food.

“If some sort of acute crisis came along in the near future, for instance, a longer-term oil price hike, interruption of supply chains, lorry driver strike or similar, I’d be truly concerned,”

she says.

“We found variety and really good quality food locally but this is targeted at a small market.”

The couple believe more needs to be done to encourage local food production, with local and national government taking action.

In the meantime it seems that the local food is out there – but it may take more time, if not more money, to get it.