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Aug 24, 2010 12:13 PM

Reply to locavore criticism


Here's a thoughtful reply to the recent op-ed piece in the NYTimes criticizing "locavorism" (I swear there was a thread on it, but I can't find it, here's the link to the article:

"Next year, Congress will start debates over the Farm Bill, that legislative behemoth that shapes how our food is grown, processed, and distributed. There's money in there to revitalize local and regional food systems, to move our food supply from governance by fiat to something more democratic. Will the money be used for these purposes? That's up to us.

Budiansky laces his op-ed with mischaracterizations of all kinds, but the one I find most egregious is his accusation that the local foods movement is based on "arbitrary rules" and "do-gooder dogmas." In reality, this movement is not about rules or dogmas, but about values. Last time I checked, democracy was pretty fundamental to this nation's evolution -- a value that all but the most curmudgeonly of us should be able to get behind."

  1. I wonder why Budiansky would even put the energy into making this argument. It's not like the trucking industry needs him to defend them. Or is he simply being a curmudgeon?

    1. There's ample room for hypocrisy and self-justfication on both sides as they'll shape up here. I wish I had $50 for each BMW or Merc sport ute in my Toronto area markets' parking lots where I shoe-horn my punky Yaris into improv spots.. What I didn't see(but once did)were Ontario "Farm" license plates, which begs the question where is this "local/ sustainable" produce coming from? I'm amused by some sellers who get offended and/or vague-evasive when pushed about where and how the goods are grown. Frankly, numeracy isn't the strong suit among many "locavores" I've encountered.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Kagemusha

        If you read the article, you'll see she makes a compelling argument that there are more reasons to support local/small scale agriculture than measuring carbon footprints.

        I don't know how farmer's markets are run in Ontario. In California a "certified farmers market" has a strict legal definition that controls who can sell what. All the vendors I've run talked to are happy to tell me where and how their goods are produced.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          "If you read the article, you'll see she makes a compelling argument that there are more reasons to support local/small scale agriculture than measuring carbon footprints."

          Love it. Disagree and it's because I didn't read Starmer's screed? They're both riding hobby horses, firing from fixing positions, etc. Numbers? More people live in California than all of Canada. I'm lucky to live in the outer reaches of the Toronto suburbs where the small farm frontier is about 10-15 minutes away. Our climate doesn't encourage a steady supply of much produce year-round. There's pressure to set production standards but many consumers balk when it comes at substantially higher prices, whether for produce or meats. For me, support for local producers is several steps away(and matters more presently) than buying from organic, totally drug/hormone-free producers. I'm on the same bus and take what steps I can, mainly because I have food options others don't.

          1. re: Kagemusha

            No, I assumed you didn't read it because you brought up the same type of example about SUV's at farmers markets that she effectively countered. As for different people in different areas having different access to local farmers but taking the steps you can exactly said what she said?

            "The local foods movement is not so much about choosing between what's grown here and what's grown elsewhere. It's about having any sort of choice at all.
            Luckily, I do have other choices, so the phrase "vote with your fork" actually applies to me. Elsewhere, consumers are not so lucky. That's why, as local foods advocates work to re-democratize, diversify, and decentralize the food system, exercising actual democracy -- getting involved in the policies that shape our food system -- becomes so important. We can't buy our way out of the problem if we don't have any choice about what we buy."

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              "No, I assumed you didn't read it because you brought up the same type of example about SUV's at farmers markets that she effectively countered."

              She's caught in a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. I see lots of mid-five figure+ cars around Toronto's schmaltzier "farmers'" markets. They can afford it. Low income families can't afford the stuff but can get there via our city's excellent public transit. Ironically, some of the city's bigger food banks--where I volunteer--are damn near impossible to reach without a car or by transit--which makes the whole exercise somewhat pointless.I'm weary of radical chic when it doesn't deliver the goods--or the food.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                I think Ruth's gotten to the nub. "Seasonal and local" has come to mean anything and nothing in some quarters--from a carefully considered way of living to the next "farm-to-table bistro" hype to a distracting, self-serving game for those who keep score on some arbitrary scale of distance and virtue. I hope the debate turns into a serious one about agri policy, citizen choice, and power to wrest valuable resources from the multinationals that don';t need them. I live in NY, shop greenmarkets as much as I can, buy and eat little or no processed food, but neither do I can, preserve, or grow anything. Nor wish to. I\There are any number of reasons to support local agriculture, from health and quality of life to sheer pleasure. But it can be just as important to consider the legitimate value of non-local, fresh foods for those who have no other choice, like, say, a working class family in a small Illinois town. It's crucial to be clear about the facts of a consumer decision. And it's time the "seasonal and local" discussion started addressing very real issues of social class and economic justice.

        2. I read that a few days ago and enjoyed it. It IS difficult to establish a true cost for things, like hothouse tomatoes from two hours away vs. sun ripened Sacramento valley tomatoes ten hours away - closer isn't always better. There are economies of scale.

          Each person's other actions and lifestyle choices probably have a larger impact than local vs California anyway - the size of your fridge, how often you drive to the store.

          1. any legislative body, particularly american congress will always end up screwing the very people it represents. everyone knows local and seasonal is the only way to achieve a healthy populace but all you're going to get is high fructose corn syrup. the government wants genetically modified monoculture (hello monsanto) to feed frankencows, frankenpigs and frankenchickens (hello smithfield, perdue farms and tysons) and that's what it'll get unless michael moore, michael pollan, eric schlosser, morgan spurlock, mark bittman and maybe anthony bourdain become congressmen or senators.

            edit: throw in ted nugent for governor to appease republicans - that guy knows alot about eating local, a healthy enviroment, biodiversity, species protection and respect for animals.

            15 Replies
            1. re: epabella


              "...everyone knows local and seasonal is the only way to achieve a healthy populace..."

              I would like to read more about this assertion. Do you have any references or links that would provide more information?

              1. re: John E.


                have you heard of those sites? do a search for

                health benefits local food
                health benefits seasonal food

                "I would like to read more about this assertion"

                one only needs to open ones eyes and ears. to think you're on a food-centric message board and be unaware of the importance of being a locavore and eating only seasonal food.

                1. re: epabella

                  Erik, I live in Minnesota. We cannot get local vegetables for over 7 months a year. If we didn't get fresh fruit and vegetables from California (and elsewhere) we'd have none. How is not eating fresh fruits and vegetables helpful in achieving a healthy populace? Plus, we would not be able to eat any seafood. I'm sure where you live you can get all the fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood you would like to have year-round. That is not the case here. I made a civil request. Please respond in kind.

                  1. re: John E.

                    One thought-provoking but easy-to-read book on the topic is by Barbara Kingsolver. It's called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and you should be able to get it in any library, as she is a popular novelist as well. In the book, she describes her family's year-long attempt to live on only local food, much of it raised /grown by them, on her husband's family farm in...oh, dear, somewhere in the south--my mind's a blank...Virginia? Anyway, the story and her family's reactions are interesting enough, and her husband created sidebars (I listened to the book on audio so not sure how it was presented visually) on scientific topics related to their endeavor, including some pretty horrifying statistics on the costs of transport but also an explanation of why some of the things Monsanto and others of its ilk are doing are so bad for the planet in the long run.

                    Obviously in some things they had an easier time than those of you who have really short growing seasons, and the issue of fruit was a big one the first winter, before they had had an opportunity to freeze a lot of the produce they had grown. They DID talk about finding rhubarb at the farmers' market, which would be fine for me, but my best friend thinks rhubarb tastes like medicine and I guess you are either for or against it. ;-)

                    There are a couple of villains in what she and others refer to CAFO farming, and I don't remember exactly what the acronym stands for, but high-density feedlots, for example, which bring sanitation problems that in turn call for antibiotics, etc. One issue that is important to me (and yes, I am lucky enough to live in California) is supporting local economies. That's why I belong to a CSA even though I sometimes have trouble eating all the vegetables and I could probably get the veggies cheaper at a farmers' market. I WANT the folks who are growing animals cruelty free and sustainably and the produce without pesticides to stay in business.

                    As far as I am concerned, the health benefits of being a locavore are mostly ecological and economic/political; however, I wouldn't be surprised if there are studies out there showing the nutritional value of fruit designed for hardiness in transport is less than that of other produce that you have to buy quick. Even I don't buy fresh tomatoes in the winter; it doesn't make sense to me when we have access to fantastic ones more than 6 months of the year and in the winter I can have excellent canned or dried ones preserved at their peak of ripeness.

                    That's just meant to give a few thoughts and turn the conversation maybe away from sniping and towards a real discussion. Voting with our dollars here in California (and yes, I am eating less meat because buying "politically correct" meat is more expensive) may eventually lead to your having more choices in Minnesota; at least that would be my hope.

                    1. re: kleine mocha

                      Hey, I wasn't sniping. I asked a legitimate, civil question. I got sniped and worse in return.

                      About the locavor movement. Are canned vegetables from California ok but not and fresh produce from California?

                      1. re: kleine mocha

                        eisenhower warned about a military industrial complex taking over america, now there's a "gastro industrial complex" providing very bad nutrition - i don't know what's worse but there's definitely alot of wise americans (and some non-americans) making documentaries and giving talks exposing this menace.

                        perhaps the anti-locavores have jobs that provide an income in this industrial complex.

                        1. re: epabella

                          Does the fact that I buy bananas and shrimp make me an "anti-locavore"? If so, then all of the shoppers at Trader Joe's are anti-locavores. (And I only go to Trader Joe's maybe 5 times a year).

                      2. re: kleine mocha

                        So, in terms of energy use, is having an extra freezer full of fruit and veg running 24/7 really better than efficiently shipped produce from warmer climes? Not talking about produce shipped via air or from the other hemisphere, but say Texas grapefruit in the winter. This to me is an important part of the article's argument. Energy goes into our food at so many different points. How can you discount energy used in storage? How can the average consumer accurately calculate these things?

                        1. re: babette feasts

                          On the one hand there's no comparison, if you assume the freezer is going to be filled with *something* regardless. OTOH, a filled freezer uses way less energy than an empty one, as the frozen stuff helps to keep the temp down. Where something breaks down is starting to calculate ones own hourly wage. I bought a flat of local peaches for $9 almost a month ago. It took me over 3 hours to parboil, peel,and slice them, then dump them along with a syrup of water, Splenda, and ascorbic acid into quart-sized freezer bags (add in cost of running top of stove, ice cubes, and freezer bags here). Had I gone down to, I don't know, say Safeway and bought a similar quantity of peaches frozen and shipped from, hmm, Georgia, maybe? No idea which has the bigger carbon footprint. I suspect I still "win," but I could be wrong. In any event I will be happy to have them in December, when I can buy all the California grapefruit, apples, and oranges I want at the farmers' market.

                          As a kneejerk, nonresearched reaction, I don't think the cost of local canning, freezing or drying are substantial compared to flying things from other continents (e.g. out-of-season Chilean grapes). After that it starts to depend. Did you see the brouhaha surrounding the last session of Top Chef Masters when Jay Rayner called out Rick Bayless on his choice of New Zealand venison? Apart from Rayner's confusing sustainability with ecological soundness (i.e. carbon footprint), proponents of Bayless argued that the venison, farm-raised sustainably and shipped via the sea, was actually an optimal choice.

                          Okay, I had to check at least one thing:

                          "A manual defrost 14.8 cubic foot chest freezer can have an annual cost to operate of $36. By comparison, a 15.7 cubic foot automatic defrost upright freezer will cost about $66 per year to run. Generally speaking, chest freezers are more efficient that uprights." Per the
                          same article that figure would be 3 times as high using an older model. Obviously this tells you nothing about the source of the power and much would depend on whether it's water, wind, fossil fuel, etc., but it gives some kind of starting point, I suppose.

                          1. re: kleine mocha

                            Thanks for the intriguing scenario and the questions it raises. My question is a broad one about individual solutions: when or even does the sum of many individual behaviors (canning, etc) start to make an "effect"? How can that effect be measured accurately? Aren't there always tradeoffs from one energy protocol to another, sometimes in disastrously unsuspected ways? Where does organized, consistent, social pressure--in markets, politics--come in to change laws and national policies that, however many peaches we may freeze at whatever BTU/$/kitchen, really determine the health of the land? I have no answers, obviously, but get a little dizzy thinking about suggestions that there can be radical, qualitative change determined mostly by a welter of individual decisions made by consumers, all of us drowning in different, sometimes just plain wrong, metrics.

                            1. re: kleine mocha

                              Oh, sorry, I meant Rick Moonen, not Bayless. < blushing />

                        2. re: John E.

                          i'm paraphrasing a talk by leonid sharashkin (a russian gardnener and locavore guru): throughout the communist era, common people in russia grew their own food because they did not trust the state to provide. their climate was far hasher than there in minnesota or here in tropical manila. they had a fraction of the year to grow vegetables in family plots but their private enterprise generated more profits than all other state run businesses (more money was exchanged among the people buying and selling fresh food than among state run electric power, transport, contruction, etc.). people found a way to grow and eat food sourced from within a twenty mile radius and were (and still are) healthier and disease free compared to people in the west. i posted about this guy but the link was fuzzy so it was taken down. here's where i got a video of the talk:


                          and here's another in audio book form:

                          1. re: John E.

                            "I live in Minnesota."

                            um, i'm sorry if it feels like i'm piling on your post/position here, John-- that is not my intent. however, it's beyond me how you can overlook the fact that folks in the minneapolis/st paul area eat the most local food of **everyone** in the country. including those who are "lucky enough to live in california." in light of this, one or two responses to your post are--interesting, to say the least. btw rhubarb tastes like crap unless the plant gets frost. the local rhubarb here in msp is fantastic in season-- not every crop is suited for sacramento weather conditions, after all. the understatement of the year is: the midwest does much better with grass-fed beef and other pastured meat and dairy, wheat, and many vegetable and fruit crops than the west coast.

                            fyi--we get a lot of seafood from our international ports, too (you know, like duluth), and that's apart from all the local freshwater fish available. in our part of the upper midwest, as you know, we can actually *eat* fish caught in the mississippi river and/or its tributaries, for example, and many/most people do in the summer-- friday freshwater fish fries are traditional in our local area, for the obvious example--and, some hardy folks do indeed go fishing in the winter-- perhaps you've heard of the phenomenon of ice fishing. . . okay i could go on and on but i fear i'll get too ot.

                            so i'm afraid i don't get your post at all. I'm honestly confused. local *vegetables* are indeed available year round-- we have winter vegetables here that other places don't have, in addition to the summer veg that everybody, including the local processors, put up. local *food* is extremely, and abundantly, available year round--we ship it out of *here* to be eaten around the world. again it's probably too big a can of worms to get into the politics of feed/livestock and the regional commodification of ag products-- let's just stick to immediately consumable food. have you visited any of the area's many local foods restaurants? checked out heartland's winter menu, for example? is your position that these restaurants don't exist or serve the local food culture?

                            tip: the st. paul farmer's market goes year round (at the indoor winter market, shoppers can buy local meats, milk/cheeses, eggs, maple syrup, honey, and other farm products--look it up). i can and do rock my muffler and fuzzy mittens with the best of 'em in a -20 msp january, but i've also certainly heard of a hoop house (and a smokehouse, and a fish house, and a hen house), and i'm pretty positive you're wrong about what's available in our climate. actually, are you sure about where you are from? ;-P

                            1. re: soupkitten

                              You really didn't write anything that I disagreed with in any of my posts. So, I my family wishes to eat green beans in January, what do you propose? Please tell me what market I can go to and purchase freshwater fish caught in the Mississippi because I've never seen it. I am unaware of a commercial fishing operation on the river.

                              A large part of this depends on what you say is local. I've seen the figure of anything within 50 miles of one's home. I already posted that I was aware of foodstuffs available in the winter time at the St. Paul Farmers Market. My entire posts were based on the lack of the availability of local fruits and fresh vegetables year-round.

                              Seafoods from Duluth? Is seafood that is transported by ship to Duluth local? (Is it fresh)?

                              What local vegetables do we have in Minnesota in the winter that other places do not have?

                              So, because we live in Minnesota, does that mean we should not eat citrus, bananas, avocados, artichokes, shrimp, salmon or any seafood, just to name a few items that are not local?

                              1. re: John E.

                                "So, because we live in Minnesota, does that mean we should not eat citrus, bananas, avocados, artichokes, shrimp, salmon or any seafood, just to name a few items that are not local?"

                                nobody said you shouldn't eat anything - i just said eating local results in a healthier populace. why is the ratio of heart disease and obesity so bad in developed countries where they can afford to ship non-seasonal food all year round? and what do they do to preserve a vast majority of that food so it lasts beyond it's seasonality? they turn it to things like high fructose corn syrup. very different from those russian relatives you claim to have.

                    2. Don't get me wrong. I buy local. I buy vegetables at the farmer's market each week. I just don't like being lectured when I buy frozen shrimp or salmon, or lettuce in January or oranges and bananas at any time of the year.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: John E.

                        I pretty much agree with this. The late Laurie Colwin put it best. She said to provision as much fresh and local stuff as you can get -- and here in Southwest Ohio, that is limited once "harvest season" is past -- and let the chips fall where they may. So I do yeoman's business with local farm stands when I can, with my local meat market year round, and try to get the best quality of everything the rest of the year.

                        1. re: John E.

                          John E.,

                          After reading your posts, I was interested to find out more about what Minnesota's growing seasons offered. Living in Northern California, I am aware how fortunate I am to have an almost year-round variety of fruits and vegetables available. I am not a purist about it, but do try to eat what is in season and nearby most often because it is what tastes best to me.

                          Anyway, you may already be aware of these sites and publications; they helped me understand a bit more about what is available in/around the twin cities area versus my own area:

                          1. re: souvenir

                            souvenir, people like you are a godsend. those links you provided are wonderful - as i'm sure the people behind those sites are wonderful people as well. your post is inspiring as it is informative. so glad to have you on this thread.

                            1. re: souvenir

                              Thanks for the thought but I don't really have a problem finding the farmers market. The St. Paul Farmers Market is huge and was started in 1853, five years before Minnesota became a state. (It also happens to be about a 7 minute walk from my office). The first link you posted has a list of farmers markets with the closest being close to miles away.

                            2. re: John E.

                              I know what you mean, as a supporter of the locavore movement. We do what we can but there are the extremists who insist you do more and those are the ones that cause the knee jerk reaction against the whole movement which is a good one. The militants make it harder for everyone, in most causes. I enjoy my morning coffee, organic fair trade, song bird protecting coffee and don't want to be lectured about my environmental footprint for having it. People need to concentrate on themselves and not on what other do.

                              1. re: chowser

                                +1. I'm a card-carrying Slow Food member (actually on the board of my local group) and my thought is that you do what you can. I buy lots of local and/or organic, but I certainly won't be harassed into feeling guilty. Yes, I do drink coffee and yes, I do eat salmon. And, btw, trade and non-local foods have been part of peoples lives (and diets) for many hundreds of years.

                                I do agree that the fringe elements are doing more harm than good, which is certainly counter-productive, potentially negating all of the gains that have been made wrt locavorism.

                                1. re: nofunlatte

                                  You got me thinking. If Columbus were a locavore, would he have left the Mediterranean?

                                  1. re: John E.

                                    Interesting point. The Vikings had established trading centers (and the goods included cod) in the 800s. The settlements in Greenland were part of a food (and goods) trading triangle, at least until the advent of the Little Ice Age, which largely wiped out the settlements. Let us not forget the spice trade, too.

                                    As for Columbus, it would be difficult to imagine Italian cuisine without the tomato!