Foodies, chefs, and hipsters are warming up to the popular idea of eating locally grown food. Should the world follow their lead?
What is Locavorism?
It is the quickly growing belief that food grown close to where you live is not only more nutritious and much better tasting, but also less stressful on the environment than mass-produced food shipped from distant mega farms. Local farmers markets have experienced over a five fold increase in the last ten years. Locavores say that growing food nearby greatly reduces the greenhouse gasses produced by transport making agriculture “greener.”
What’s wrong with supermarket food?
For members of the Locavore society, almost everything. Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and a leader and guru of the locavore movement, says that America’s modern “food system” is responsible for about 20% of our total fossil fuel use, and contributes more than a third of total greenhouse-gas emissions. He also said that when you add up natural-gas based fertilizers, petroleum-based pesticides, farm machinery fuel, processing, packaging, and transport, he computes that 10 calories of fossil fuel goes into creating one single calorie of modern supermarket food–some 23 times more than it took to create a food calorie in 1940. “When we eat from the industrial-food system,” Pollen writes, ” we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gasses.”
O.K. So what’s the alternative?
One locavore argument is, for the sake of the environment, we should lower the miles between growing and consumption…”reduce the food miles.” For example, they point out that Alaska Salmon is shipped to China for cheap labor filleting, then back across the Pacific to California for consumption.
Now, let’s hear from the Nay-Sayers.
Some economists say the numbers are wrong. Their numbers show that the overall carbon costs for additional shipping and handling is closer to 11% than 20%. They often are referring to a 6 year old study that claimed distant places just may be better suited to growing certain foods and that’s we should take advantage of them; like olive oil in Italy, or potatoes in Idaho. A New Zealand study claims that a lamb raised locally on clover in sunlit upland meadows, is four times more energy efficient for a Londoner to buy New Zealand lamb-despite the 11,000 miles to travel. British Lamb has to be fattened up with cultivated grain to even get close to the quality and taste. Journalist Will Boisvert has calculated that a van “hustling 200 lbs. of tomatoes from a micro farm in Brooklyn to a mid-town Manhattan market” burns more gas per tomato than a fully loaded semitrailer would coming all the way from Florida (approx. 1200 miles). An upper class urbanite wanting to be in, and cool, and caring about lowering carbon emissions into the atmosphere while enjoying the “better” taste of “farm to midtown table dining,” must also be cognizant of the transportation needed to properly feed the world’s 7 Billion people. Farmers markets can’t always be a short trip away.
So is local food always healthier?
Not necessarily. For all the distrust agribusiness has earned over the years, its output is inspected and traced, while many local provider’s isn’t. U.S deaths from food-borne illness today are a fraction of what they were a century ago, when the supply was more local.
Did I confuse you? Is Locavorism without merit?
In a word, NO. It has produced valuable insights about negative aspects of factory farming, and it clearly makes sense to buy local when natural conditions of season and environment favor certain vegetables, fruits, and animal products. If it’s fresher, better tasting, have less pesticides and additives and is as close to organic as you desire, then by all means, enjoy. However, it is not an environmental panacea or practical replacement for all mass food production. For those who are alive today because the modern world has developed a “food cornucopia” that successfully feeds over 6 billion people and today has reduced malnutrition and starvation from 40% to 12.5%, it is the “answer of survival” for the other people of the world community and their family.
As most issues are in this life, there are usually at least two sides of the story. In this particular case, the two major sides of the story have particularly strong benefits.
Please contribute your comments to share with my other followers. As you know, I just love to write and LOVE to write for you.
You can also follow me on…