Locavore Schmocavore

People concerned about my general well-being often urge me to “buy local”.  They don’t come to my door, but they offer this advice by posting flyers in the library entryway, on my favorite telephone poles, and even in places I wish I could avoid but must pass in order to get to the frozen pizzas—such as the supermarket Starbucks.

This annoyance du jour was engineered by people interested in advancing the notion that it is somehow better to purchase and consume food in proximity to where it is grown—generally considered to be within 100 miles of wherever you are at the moment.

Unlike so many other touchy-feely ideas concocted by people with nothing important to do, I’m actually amused by this latest in a series of utopian ideals—suggested by a bunch of busybodies who aren’t interested in anything other than controlling your life and making you live the way they want you to live.  This particular … “suggestion” … or whatever … amuses me because it doesn’t raise my taxes or stomp on my liberty; I’m able to just sit back and grin without becoming angry.

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What difference does it make whether I buy “local”?  I’m all for supporting local businesses and cultivating meaningful relationships with the shopkeeper on the corner, but the whole idea of comparative advantage gets tossed out the window when some uninformed group decides it’s the “right” thing to do.

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Tell me, where, exactly, do you buy your “local” bananas?  You people in Nebraska … where do you buy your “local” razor clams?

Just because something may be grown nearby doesn’t mean it’s any better.  And if the argument is for economically supporting Jake, the local lettuce farmer in California, consider this: You may not buy his lettuce, but someone else will—someone in New York, perhaps—and Jake may even realize a larger profit margin.  So the result is that someone else (much farther away than the ambiguous 100 miles from his farm) has purchased his lettuce anyway.  And so New Yorkers support Jake, and you support someone in Florida when you buy those oranges.  If I lived in Florida, I’d still want to get my strawberries from Oregon, my blueberries from Maine, and maybe even my citrus from California.

file6671336123521  That’s because I prefer to obtain the best product at the best price—that’s basic human nature—and basic economics.  It seems to me that those who promote this “local” ideal have an inadequate understanding of economics, specifically of comparative advantage and opportunity cost.

And how can you NOT buy local?  Do you drive from Nevada to Maryland for your blue claw crabs?  I’m pretty sure you go to your “local” store but buy products from elsewhere.  If you truly shopped “local” your choices would be extremely limited, and you’d get bored pretty quickly.  And then you’d also realize what a bunch of hokum this latest feel-good nonsense is.

Alaskans have salmon, but that would get tedious—boiled salmon, baked salmon, grilled salmon, salmon croquettes … you couldn’t even make salmon ice cream without some “imported” sugar, cream, and rock salt.  Alaskans obviously have to get their wheat from the Midwest, their oranges from California or Florida, and their chocolate from … mmm … chocolate …

So how is an Alaska resident supposed to buy local?  By going to the local Wal-Mart—that’s how.

bg-1-136591 There’s this ridiculous hatred that the confused among us have about big-box stores, but try getting your locally grown limes from your neighbor in Anchorage.  (By the way, this is why Wal-Mart has to be open 24 hours: the cars with the anti-Wal-Mart bumper stickers can all be found in the parking lot in the middle of the night.)

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And consider this: Sometimes eating local can kill you.  Want to support the local crab fishermen?  Okay.

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And why does it cost more?  If it’s locally obtained—and didn’t have to take the Orient Express from Istanbul to Paris and then a flight to London to New York to Memphis to Seattle—but simply needed to be thrown into the back of my neighbor’s pick-up for a three-mile drive from the field, why does Jake’s lettuce cost a dime more than the one I get at the supermarket—also three miles away?  Partly because of the various food chains’ volume-purchasing power, but also because of the hype; local dealers of arugula and radicchio know their target audience—and they charge accordingly.  I have no bias against foodies; sometimes, I am one.  But the snooty foodie (who wouldn’t dream of using a smoked curry powder from out of town) is (ostensibly) willing to pay more to support a meaningless ideal.  That’s not so smart.

It doesn’t have to come from around the corner to be healthful, beneficial, or, most of all—desirable.  If someone in Tennessee buys strawberries from Oregon, and someone in Oregon buys … well, whatever we get from Tennessee … both win.

Peaches don’t stop growing at the border; you can get one in South Carolina, but Georgia peaches are considered to be the best.  So people want peaches from Georgia.  And they want Maine blueberries, and Vermont maple syrup.

file3581249560814And here’s further proof that locavorism is nonsense.  Consider the supporters.  A criticism of the locavore movement was defended by Dr. Kathy Rudy, associate professor of women’s studies and ethics at Duke University, in her article “Locavores, Feminism, and the Question of Meat” published in The Journal of American Culture.  Rudy refers to this work as a

“feminist analysis of locally grown (pasture-raised, sustainable, grass-fed, free-range) meat.”

A feminist analysis?  Of meat?  (I must have forgotten that feminism, meat, and eating cabbage from the communal garden located behind the library parking lot are inextricably linked.)  And as we all know, you cannot obtain pasture-raised, sustainable, grass-fed, free-range meat from far away.  So unless you live near a ranch in Texas … oh, well … you’ll just have to settle for biscotti or tofu.

 “Feminist formulations of the relationships between humans, nature, gender, and culture … shed a great deal of light on the value of the local farm.”

That’s just what I would have said.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bag to pack.  I’m going to France to procure a few ounces of truffles for my next quail-egg omelet.

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2 thoughts on “Locavore Schmocavore

  1. Linda Branam says:

    Hey, Eric! Finally catching up to you again. Nicely done article. Love the witty asides.

    I do, however, have a slightly different understanding of WHY locally grown produce and meat are touted over regular grocery-aisle items.

    First, it’s to take advantage of food that hasn’t had to be chemically treated in order to travel well. Thus consumers purchase something a lot closer to what nature intended without ingesting added chemicals.

    Without those added preservative chemicals, produce that is grown locally can be harvested closer to full ripeness (or for meat, optimum freshness). For instance, you get a juicy tomato bursting with flavor rather than one of those sickly white bocce balls they label as the real thing. In addition, a flavorful variety that can’t be made to travel well can be consumed and enjoyed by the local populace.

    As for elevated price, it’s my understanding that two elements might be at work here.

    First, locavores tout locally grown ORGANIC produce. Growing organically requires more work (no chemicals killing the weeds) and decreases yield (no chemicals killing all the little pests who eat the product). So the trade-off in avoiding harmful chemicals is paying the farmer for his additional expenses.

    Second, I would guess that the overhead for a family farm, as a percentage, is higher than that for a conglomerate, which has bulk purchasing power and industrial equipment to handle planting, harvesting, processing, and shipping on a giant scale.

    All that said, I don’t normally do the locavore thing. It’s pricey, and about all I can afford to offer local producers is my sincerest good wishes. My food budget just doesn’t have enough flexibility in it to offer anything else.

    And, I must be honest–I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. I reach for the cheaper, more perfectly formed, deceptively packaged (orange striped bags for carrots and oranges to make them look riper) produce without (usually) a second thought.

    • Thanks for your comments, Linda.

      I knew that someone would set me straight, but I couldn’t resist ranting nevertheless.

      Your point about obtaining chemical-free food that, as a result, does not have to travel long distances is especially on the mark. As is your reference to the overhead for a family farm versus that of corporations such as Archer Daniels Midland.

      Your mention of the carrot packaging reminded me of the hoax perpetrated upon us by the potato chip manufacturers: bags half full of food and half full of the gas produced by the advertisers. (But that’s a future rant.)

      Cheers!
      🙂

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