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Eating + Ecology = Locavore

The word “locavore,” which at first listen sounds like the name of a prescription drug, is the New Oxford American Dictionary 2007 word of the year. In reality, it is a noun defined as “a person who endeavors to eat only locally produced food.” Two San Francisco-area women came up with the term a couple of years ago in describing their notion of the 100-mile diet.

With nearly 50 farmers’ markets or co-ops in the region — and many of them have miles-away rules for sellers — the Twin Cities is no stranger to the local food movement. Laurie Crowell is in the middle of it as the proprietor of the Golden Fig on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, where she sells locally made spices, vinegar, honey, cookies, wild rice and other edibles.

“Locavore is the first word related to food since ‘vegetarian’ that people are excitedly identifying themselves by,” she said. “They say ‘I’m a locavore’ like they used to say ‘I’m a vegetarian.'”

Crowell’s store is a headquarters for eat-locally people. Of about 240 lines of grocery products, 239 of them come from the Upper Midwest. The one exception: candy canes. None of the products have MSG, hydrogenated oil or artificial coloring, she said.

“The word ‘locavore’ shows how food-lovers can enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment,” said Ben Zimmer, editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press, on his blog. “It’s significant in that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way.”

Oxford won’t revise its dictionary until 2009, and it is not a sure bet that locavore (sometimes spelled localvore) will be included. This is the second year in a row that an environmentally tinged phrase has been word of the year: last year it was “carbon neutral.”

Some of the runners-up in the 2007 competition show the influence of an environmental consciousness on the language: “colony collapse disorder” (the unexplained disappearance of honeybees from their hives) and “upcycling” (making use of waste materials).

“Cougar,” another runner-up, is not the animal (nor the automobile), but an older woman who romantically pursues younger men. So perhaps little or no environmental connection there.

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