Locovore's Dilemma: A different view on buying locally
By Dennis T. Avery
A Canadian couple of my acquaintance has just published a book provocatively titled The Locovore's Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet. A new review in Publisher's Weekly calls it a "daring, bare-knuckled, frequently sarcastic defense of the status quo in Western industrial agribusiness. From the point of view of the well-off, well-fed North American who does not have to toil much of the day for his subsistence, what's not to praise in the West's ability to provide the world with cheap, fast, uniform, reliable, bug-resistant, vitamin-enhanced food?"
Publisher's Weekly correctly points out that high-yield farming has abolished famine on "our side of the world." Modern transportation, they note, also allows us to consume all kinds of out-of-season foods.
Publisher's was even kind enough to mention your humble author in the same breath with Aristotle as "impressive experts." Unfortunately, Aristotle hasn't been that impressive since Galileo dropped those weights off the leaning tower of Pisa 400 years ago to prove heavy and light objects fall at the same speed.
Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu, a husband and wife duo with the University of Toronto, say food-miles are a joke. I say they're a bad joke. It begins with the reality that the local food craze was birthed in Oakland, CA, one of the few places in the world where year-round local supplies are available. But that's only because of the federal water subsidies that turned the "great California desert" into the lush garden we think of as California today. Do you suppose the locovores support the dams and irrigation systems?
Publisher's says the book's authors consider it a "romantic, risible, irrational movement to patronize one's local organic farmer." I don't go that far. Buy what the local guys can provide fresh. Not even locovores, however, get much of their nutrition from that little farmers' market. Most of what we eat is grown where the crops grow best, whether that means semi-arid Kansas for top-quality wheat or Minnesota for a cool springtime to foster baby peas, or the Pacific ocean to bring fresh salmon to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The railroads brag that in 2010, they moved a tone of freight 484 miles on a gallon of fuel. Let them do it.
"In large parts of the world, 'local' trumps science, and people suffer as a result," says Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, in the book's foreword. "Desrochers and Shimizu take the idea of local food to the back of the barn and beat the holy livin' tar out of it. In a more rational world, their defense of what is so clearly true would not be needed. However, our world is not rational, and most of what passes for thinking about food is as full of air as an elegant French pastry."
I think of organic as quaint. Most of the malnourished in the world are eating organic food, however, because they have nothing else. They and their wildlife suffer keenly because of no fertilizer and terribly low yields. Affluent parents often try to get "healthier" food for their children by paying more, but all of our food is safe and health. Do folks in poor countries live longer, healthier lives on their organic, seasonal diets? Longevity statistics say quite the opposite.
And, let's consider Publisher's Weekly's dismissive comment that "factory farming" has abolished famine on "our side of the world"? How do they think the other side of the globe is going to be fed in the next 50 years? The world's population is in its last expansion. Two billion people are getting rich enough to eat meat and drink milk. We'll have to double global food output or abolish most of the world's wildlife try to feed everyone. Does anyone think organic farming can do it?
Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., is an environmental economist. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years. Readers may write to him at PO Box 202 Churchville, VA 2442; email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our website at www. cgfi.org