Thoughts Against the Local Movement

I get anxious in grocery stores.

Don’t get me wrong. I love food. Cooking it. Eating it.

But take this conundrum:

You want a head of lettuce.

The store sells three options.

1) Organic, in plastic packaging

2) Locally grown, conventional (bajillions of pesticides)

3) Conventional, half the price

Talk about a headache!

So which do you choose?

Specifically I’d like to talk about one aspect. Eating local.

The local movement has made huge ground of late, particularly here on the West coast of Canada (where most of our food comes from California).

But what’s the point?

CO2 emissions from transport?

What about the fact that ocean freighters are relatively efficient per pound of food transported? In England, since energy is largely derived from coal, it’s actually better (emissions wise) to buy produce from New Zealand in the off-season than locally grown produce that has been stored.

Here in BC, peppers and tomatoes are grown in green houses powered by natural gas because it’s cheaper than the grid (made up of 93% renewable energy such as hydroelectricity)

So if it’s not necessarily better for the environment, why eat local?

Why wait till Saturday to shop at the farmer’s market, to pay triple for lettuce?

I’ve heard the argument about supporting your local farmer. Feeding the local economy etc. etc.

But does that mean we should shun the fruit and quinoa from developing countries? Do our neighbours deserve our dolla’ bills more? There is certainly something to be said for knowing your farmer. Knowing whether or not they use pesticides. Understanding where your food comes from and all that crap.

What about food security? If our supply chains get cut off, how will we feed ourselves. This is a valid question, though very hypothetical. Canada is not on the verge of war and fuel for transport ain’t running out in my lifetime or the next or the next. Maybe we’ll eventually have to compete with more people on the planet and the prices will be driven higher. (But hey, would that just make local food economically competitive?)

How about freshness? In order for veg to not be spoiled by the time it reaches it’s destination it must be plucked waaaay before it’s ripe. This is where we find complaints of food not tasting good anymore. But am I going to taste the difference with my hypothetical head of lettuce?

Animal welfare. This one grinds my gears. There seems to be a common misconception that ‘local’ is synonymous with ‘good welfare.’

Wrong.

Battery cages exist in your community. I promise. That local pork didn’t see the local grass. Unless explicitly stated so.

So I suppose I aim to point out that as much as eating local can ease the conscience a snag, in many respects the “100 mile diet” and “locavore” movements are perhaps more trendy greenwash than all-encompassing solution.

I certainly don’t know what the solution IS. And I think about this full time.

Surely the answer is pluralistic. It depends on context.

In any case. This season I’m going to chase my local organic lentil loaf with some sickly sweet holiday dessert made from fair trade (also a buzzword), organic (presumably certified) sugar, shipped (hopefully by freighter) from Paraguay (developing country).

 

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