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Articles by Benjamin Cohen

Benjamin Cohen is the author of Notes from the Ground: Science, Soil & Society in the American Countryside and director of the University of Virginia Food Collaborative. His writing here, though, represents his own views.

Featured Article

Start counting, pal.Photo: Travis K. WittRoughly 10 years ago, the long history of alternative agriculture entered a new phase. Sometime between the founding of Slow Food in 1986 and the publication of The Omnivore’s Dilemma in 2006, what might be called the “local food movement” took shape. Despite the fixation on locality, the movement’s goals have never been either singular or static. It isn’t just the fresh salad or local butternut squash soup or wild-caught salmon or free-range chicken that proponents are after. Rather, the emphasis is on the complex means to make those things, the human activity of working in nature to provide food.

A new sub-genre of local-food writing has recently emerged, however, that reduces this multidimensional issue to a singular variable. The “locavore contrarian” can be identified by a penchant for isolating one piece of ecologically complex food systems — energy, say, or carbs, or consumer convenience — calling it into question, producing numeric evidence, and then claiming to have debunked the entire movement. Certainly I can’t be surprised by this line of reasoning prevailing f... Read more