You Are Where You Eat

Analyzing Local Food-ism as a Sustainable Alternative to Conventional and Organic Food Production

Theodore Eftimiades URSP 250 5-16-2011

Local Food-ism was born, as a substantiated ideology, in 2001, with Gary Paul Nabham’s seminal work, Coming Home to Eat. In 2005, the Local Food movement organized its first major forum for discussion and sharing of ideas, the World Environment Festival.1 Local Food’s popularity reached a new plateau in 2007, with James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith’s blogging and writing of the 100 Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, which surfaced in 2005 and 2007, respectively. Chronicling life while eating foods that made it to market from less than 100 miles away, this best selling book gave localism national attention and gave rise to an army of Locavores, people who, to varying degrees, eat in a locally-dependent, environmentally sustainable manner. Perhaps because the movement was given life through MacKinnon and Smith’s blog and because the organizational infrastructure was too undeveloped to support the sudden massive increase in interest, individual blogs, advocating variances of basic Food Localism populate the internet. A feature of blogs is that their authors mesh opinion with facts in a way that generates loyal ideological followers. Being an ideology disseminated through blogs and the internet, “Local Food” now means a lot of different things to different people. Toward defining “Local Food”, one must identify the most basic, agreeable qualities of the ideology. Local Food systems distinguish themselves from Organic and

Conventional food systems through their elimination of heavy use of oil-intensive transportative means and through the seasonality of the products they offer, in an effort to achieve environmental-friendly practices, or sustainability. Local Food, then, can be defined as the environmentally-sustainable and seasonally-appropriate production and transportation of foods. Locavores, though, while agreeing with this definition, might want to add limitations and specificity. Most advocates of localism in food production allow somewhere between 100-250 miles as a limit for how far food can be transported from and still be considered local. More problematic for those who seek to create a more specific definition for Local Food is that individuals or groups of people expect different measures to be taken in exactly how environmentally friendly the production of the food must be. (i.e. must it be organically grown? What about the use of fertilizers?), for example, includes intercropping and manure/crop residue use as fertilizer as implicit elements of Local Food-ism2. Other sources do not necessarily specify what measures must be taken to protect the environment; they might, instead, focus on miles the food travels before it reaches the dinner table. tries to categorize Locavores’ beliefs into three groupings: There are Locavores who are “Ultrastrict”, meaning they eat only food and ingredients that are local, those who follow the “Marco Polo Rule”, allowing for ingredients to have been shipped from overseas but not the food, and then “Wild Card Locavores”, those who have allow for a greater amount of exceptions in their consumption of locally produced foods.3 The differentiation

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in the understandings of what constitutes basic Local Food-ism likely results from there being no seminal authority. There are certainly many benefits to a radical form of Local Food-ism. Locavores offer the decrease in harmful engine emissions as a benefit of Local Food-ism. Studies conclude that the foods Americans consume, on average, have travelled 1600 miles in boats, trains, or automobiles before reaching the supermarket.4 Locavores seek to cut down on this distance by over 90%, avoiding the release of harmful emissions.5 Local economy benefits from local food sales, as money spent at market is then fed into the same region for purchases. Jobs, too, are generated by Local Food-ism, as many jobs currently performed overseas would need to be nationalized; the amount of agricultural jobs that have been moved overseas is vast. Some advocates also cite local foods as being healthier and tastier than foods grown by conventional means.6 Taste is oftentimes better in local foods because they usually reach market within 24 hours of being picked. Foods that travel long distances are, first, beat up in the contact they endure during transportation, and also picked before they are ripe, the intent being for them to ripen during the travel to the supermarket. Supporters of the conventional system contend that the aspirations for Local Food-ism are highly unrealistic. Local Food dissenters do not disagree with claims of supermarkets’ harmful reliance on large amounts of fuel. Food transportation, though, constitutes only 14% of the total fuel expended in the process prior to food’s consumption.7 Is an overhaul of America’s food distribution system worth a reduction of
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12.8% (roughly 90% of 14%) of fuel to get food to the supermarket? Moreover, the geographical limitations on miles food can travel before it reaches market place make food production impossible in different areas, during different seasons. Some areas are completely incapable of supporting themselves in a sustainable manner through Local Food-ism. Much of the United States cannot support the growth of edible crops to feed its local population. This map of the US illustrates the percent of growth of the number of Farmer’s Markets from 2009 to 2010. Areas that haven’t gained farmers markets are not ignoring the movement, they are incapable of growing crops to support themselves. The most crop-friendly areas in America, California, Florida, and the NorthEast have the largest increase in markets because they can be sustainable. These increases reflect America’s ability to grow crops with the use of chemicals and fertilizers. If sustainable Local Food requires that these not be used, areas would be even less able to sustain themselves agriculturally. Peter Singer is a thinker concerned with environmental and moral justice internationally. He argues that nationalization of the production of crops and movement away from Conventional production, an initiative pursued by Locavores, would, in some cases, be bad for the environment. Singer explains that Bangladesh produces much of our nation’s rice supply. Bangladeshi people utilize a labor-intensive approach to production, one that uses little fertilizer or machinery, meaning that it there is little environmental destruction. A nationalization of rice

production would not only render the Bangladeshi people jobless but would be environmentally pollutive, as Americans use a technologically/chemically-intensive approach to crop production.8 The comparison of non-organic, locally produced food to organic foods produced non-locally is one of geographically dependant competing repercussions. The consequences of each of these methods of production and transportation were laid out above, but will be re-examined succinctly. The locally produced, non-organic food will have been exposed to pesticides and grown with environmentally damaging fertilizers. The geographical features of the crop growing area have a determining effect on exactly how much fertilizer and pescticides are used. In Florida, where the air is humid and inviting to insects, pesticides will be used heavily; food here would be more unhealthy than food exposed to pesticides in, say, Massachusetts. Floridian fruits would, in this case, be undesirable, whereas those from Massachusetts might not be. Food produced far away, but grown organically will be healthier, but will have required a fuel-intensive transportation process. An undesirable instance of transportation costs outweighing benefit of no chemical treatment would be that of fruits grown overseas, requiring a long, fuel and labor-intensive transportation process. The superiority of one of these two categories of food, when compared to eachother, is geographically relative. A common concern of non-Locavores, conventional consumers, is that not all localities are suited for year-round production of food. While the Midwest and Northeast


may sustain themselves with a myriad of food options, most of the South and Northwest would starve during the off seasons. Radical Locavores would suggest that locals accept the limitations of what could be grown in off-seasons and would encourage the growth of non-conventional, environmentally-resistant fruits and vegetables.9 This condition exemplifies where sustainable Local Food-ism must make concessions for those localities incapable of feeding themselves year-round. An objection to the radical take on Local Food-ism would be that people would be unwilling to eat corn, or whatever they might be able to grow, year-round. The expectation is impractical, people would be unhealthy and unhappy. A decade ago, environmental concern was insignificant, relative to what it is today. The meteoric rise of Whole Foods establishments in the early 2000’s reflected a change in the public’s tolerance for self-destructive eating; people wanted to live healthy. Now, people again want to be healthy; this time, environmentally. With the Local Foods movement, increasing environmental concern has, luckily, been supplemented by the concurrent revelation of the miserable conditions both Organic and Conventional food production facilities subject animals to. A more educated is receptive to the exceptionally positive response Local Food-ism provides to environmental concerns and worries associated with mass-production of food/ treatment of animals.10 People, though, are unwilling to live without choices. If Local Food-ism promised sustainability but required a sacrifice of most of the foods people have become accustomed to eating, there would be

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little support for


In areas where either food options would become scarce in the off-

seasons, Local Food-ism should not be pursued. The degree to which areas are actually unable to sustain themselves is worth consideration: Of the 230 billion dollars handed out in government subsidies for agriculture, only 2.3 billion go to Local Food organizations; 14 billion go to the organic food industry. 12 A larger investment into Local Food is unprecendented. To what degree sustainability is achievable through a intensified focus on localized food production, where, say, 100 billion dollars are available, is unknown. Because Local Food-ism provides an alternative better than Conventional or Organic food production in choice localities, it is absolutely essential that the initiative be financially supported there; the system is clearly sustainable, of economic and environmental importance, but not necessarily applicable everywhere.

Works Cited

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"The Local Food Movement Benefits Farms, Food Production, Environment." The Local Food Movement. Amy Francis. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. At Issue. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 16 May 2011. Darlin, Damon. "A Balance Between the Factory and the Local Farm." New York Times 14 Feb. 2010: 7(L). Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 15 May 2011. Cloud, John. “Eating Better Than Organic.” Time.Com. Time Magazine, n.d. Web. 16 May 2011. <‌time/‌magazine/‌article/‌0,9171,1595245,00.html>. Colenso, Maria. “Locovores.” TLC. N.p., 10 Mar. 2010. Web. 16 May 2011. <‌locavore1.htm>. Dunn, Collin. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 May 2011. <‌files/‌2008/‌03/‌green-basics-eat-local-food.php? page=4>. Fromartz, Samuel. “Local or organic? It’s a false choice.” Grist. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 May 2011. <‌article/‌fromartz>. “Peter Singer: Philosophy of Technology... (INTERVIEW).” Philosophy Technology. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 May 2011. <‌Interviews/‌singer.html>.