Earlier this week, we ran an interview with Pierre Desrochers, co-author (with his wife Hiroko Shimizu) of The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet, in which he shared a range of grievances with the local food movement. As you may imagine, there was an outpouring of response by a range of people who disagree with Desrochers. And they made a lot of great points, so we thought we’d highlight some of the better ones here (some are excerpts of longer posts). See the original article to read all 100+ comments in their entirety.
I am a local food advocate for many reasons:
Taste: An heirloom tomato picked that morning runs circles around a hybridized tomato picked two weeks ago in Florida and gassed so it turns red en route
Quality: the better the soil and the farmer, the better the food.
Nutrition: food sheds nutrients after it is picked. The longer it takes to get to market, the less nutritional value it has, comparatively.
Transparency: I like knowing how my food is grown and harvested. I visit my meat producer; try that at a CAFO.
Environmental: A minimization of the use of chemicals that wash into waterways, creating algae blooms, choking out life, or kill beneficial insects, including honey bees.
Sane stewardship: I like to support farmers who create more naturally fertile soil, which is better able to resist pests, floods, and droughts.
Pleasure: I buy local food at my farmers market because it’s more pleasant to do so than going into an air conditioned grocery store. I see neighbors, chat with farmers, taste before I buy.
Economic: I want my food dollars to support my local economy
Humanity: Animals and humans are treated better on the small farms I know than they are on the large ones.
I value green open spaces — Supporting local farms with my money encourages those farmers to maintain those green open spaces rather than selling off to developers.
And, so we’re clear, I don’t have much money. The money I have I spend on good, quality food — for the reasons above.
In response to “if you know your farmer and want to help him, that’s fine, but that’s charity.” Well, I know my farmer and I want to help HER. Call it charity if you want, but I chose this and I get awesome food at a bargain price. Agricultural subsidies, on the other hand, are corporate charity and yet, I am forced to support it.
[In response to] “The problem I have with local food activists is that they seem to want to go beyond what’s reasonable in terms of local food. They want to force school boards, hospitals, prisons, government bureaucracies, military bases, and universities to buy more expensive, and often lower-quality, food, just because it’s local.”
Buying direct from the farmer has been shown by researchers to be less expensive or the same price as buying non-local food. (See Iowa State Univ. research, or USDA.)
Additionally, money is retained in the local rural economy. Furthermore, farmers’ markets stimulate neighboring businesses. This has also been demonstrated by researchers in peer-reviewed journals.
The great majority of the world is poor and eats fairly locally.
… not to mention the issue of monocultures (both the genes of the crops and our social monocultures too.) Basically monocultures are more vulnerable to disease. That’s why nature favors diversity. Eating local allows genetic and social experimentation to take place. Your town might grow better cabbage while mine might grow better carrots. But both of us will be better off if diversity is encouraged.
Buying something just because it’s local is almost as silly as buying something just because it’s conventionally grown. Everyone should take into account quality, taste, and sometimes even price (though quality and taste often trump price with me). And with local food, at least you know where your dollars are going and that they are almost certainly going to be reinvested in the local economy, instead of going into the pockets and investment portfolios of far-away corporate executives.
I think another one of the problems is that people are still picturing that their future diet will be the diet they’re able to eat now. No, their diet will consist of whatever some locavores have determined will adapt best to the changing climate in their local soils. Where I live, a farmer is discovering that a diet of fava beans, kale and eggs might survive the ravages of our changing microclimate — until we let the global temperature go so high that nothing survives.
Let me see if I understand — since the Japanese are dependent on the rest of the world to ship food to them we all should be.
Since there are occasional droughts and crop failures we should burn a whack of petroleum moving cheese around the world just in case there is a local cheese shortage.
Desrochers wants to defend Japanese honor? This is entirely unnecessary. Japan gave the world Masanobu Fukuoka. Desrochers would do well to read Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution and Sowing Seeds in the Desert to learn about what local sustainable food, specifically Japanese, can and does look like. In 1988 Fukuoka received the Magsaysay Award (often referred to as the Nobel of Asia) for Public Service.
Japan is also one of the birthplaces of the Community Supported Agriculture movement. In 1965 mothers in Japan who were concerned about the rise of imported food, the loss of arable land, and the migration of farmers into cities started the first CSA projects called Teikei (提携) in Japanese.
They [doubt] that local food can actually feed the world, yet until 50 years ago, that’s what it did. And while I have nothing against importing bananas and coffee (i.e. those that are sustainably grown), vegetables, dairy products, and meats can be year round. I have grown tomatoes in greenhouses in Montana in winter without a problem. The idea is to maximize regional grown and local grown first, and fill in the gaps thereafter — not the other way around. This practice results in lower carbon emissions, lower energy inputs, and lower water utilization — critical global issues that I believe this book ignores.
“Small Farmers Creating a New Business Model as Agriculture Goes Local”
I found myself wanting to include so many excerpts from the above article that it just makes more sense to recommend it. Just don’t tell the authors of this book there are agricultural economists (you know, people with expertise in this area), who aren’t down on local food. Notice that small farmers are already figuring out they should band together to increase their clout, even in the presence of subsidies …
The author also seems to argue that only trade gives us the diversity of foods we need, but there have definitely been plenty of examples of isolated systems working just fine. The pre-contact cultures of Polynesia for instance worked out pretty well. It’s true that in case of war, a sudden switch to a local economy is probably not going to work out that great, but then Germany had a lot more going on when it was forced to switch over.
I think the quote that bothers me the most is …”Maybe it is unrealistic to believe small, local producers can literally feed the world —” … EACH small local producer doesn’t HAVE to feed the world, they feed their small local area … that’s the whole point … In doing THAT they DO feed the world. Now , I’m going out to pick my tomatoes & zucchini, can some & share some with the neighbors who don’t have a garden … THAT’S the way it works …
I did the research for the following pricing study, and I have to say, the “more expensive” argument is trotted out with reckless abandon. In Vermont, with a very strong local food economy, competition is very strong—particularly for produce, and this shows in the prices.
Deroscher’s comment about not having the extra $0.50 is patently absurd for an economist to make. Dollars in that economic world would be static, but we know that they circulate in an economy and this phenomenon can be represented by multiplier effects.
Anyway, a link to the pricing study: http://nofavt.org/pricestudy
The local food movement takes away the demand for factory farms and beyond any of his points, ending factory farming … is why I will continue to be a locavore!
As a “local food activist,”… I wouldn’t ever suggest a 100% 100 mile diet. I suggest that if a food does grow locally, consume the local varieties (in season and do some putting by). If a food does not grow locally, choose responsibly.
As I’ve been doing this for a number of years, I’ve discovered a farm type that I prefer and may choose food from a farm 110 miles away rather than one 15 miles away because their farming practices are more aligned with my values. I developed these values by beginning locally and learning about food, farms, and farmers.
So, are they suggesting the solution is mass monoculture? Because that doesn’t survive a warming climate and tightening water supply, nor does it solve agricultural runoff or myriad other problems. The solution to the food system is a mix, yes, but massive farms run on non-renewable nitrogen and phosphorous aren’t the answer either, which is part of the world of non-local produce.
I shop at a store that focuses on local organic products called New Seasons (a small chain around Portland, OR). My grocery costs have only gone up about 20% and my food is insanely better quality, doesn’t have pesticides on my produce and the meat isn’t going to go bad in 2 days because it was shipped from Canada. So in that respect, it’s also more economical — I don’t throw away as much food.