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#794170 - 08/07/12 10:03 AM Is the "Local Food" Movement Miss-Guided?
Ken H. Offline
Turtle Whacks

Registered: 04/13/03
Posts: 16404
Loc: Edmonton, AB Canada
Being a card carrying tree hugger, it’ no surprise that I’m a fan of the whole “local food” movement, promoting growing food closer to the point of consumption, anti big agriculture, etc.

But I just finished reading an article by two University of Toronto academics, authors of a book, The Locavore’s Dilemma that gave me pause. They argue that the movement is miss-guided. On just about every front – food quality, safety, cost, efficiency, and environmental impact; big-ag beats ‘local food.’

Some of their points include the fact that big food producers have too much to loose in food safety scandals (although yes they do occasionally happen, but it’s a small actual % of the food produced each year) to take anything but the best food safety measures. Where as the local small farmer doesn’t have near the food contamination prevention safety measures. E.g. animal manure easy intermixing with vegetable plants. Varieties of animals in closer proximity to each other and to humans. “Farmer’s markets are beautiful places, but eventually they will kill people” said Galen Weston of Loblaw Food (a Canada supermarket chain).

They also argue that the variety of foods that a global production system makes available (i.e. hard to grow an orange in Canada) has improved our health that more than offsets the hazards to it by use of pesticides, antibiotics in animals, etc.

On environmental impact, they are argue that when storage impact, e.g. refrigerating or other preservation of produce or meats closer to the point of production for delayed consumption is taken into account vs. the ‘just in’ time production and consumption of moving food products around the world; big-ag wins again. Also in the transportation inefficiency of moving say crates of apples a few at a time (by the local guy) in a pickup truck vs. by the 10s of 1000s in mass production and transportation. The carbon foot print of the local apple is actually higher than that of the mass produced one from 10s of 1000s of miles away.

They also make the argument that the lower production rate of local grown (carrots per hectare or whatever) vs. mass produced tips the economic, quality and environmental scale.

Finally they argue that a trend toward growing/raising things to eat closer to the point of consumption increased the risk of famine because of local crop is more susceptible to mass failure (e.g. weather) that sourcing food on a more global scale tempers. For example if the corn crop fails in one part of the world, it is likely successful somewhere else on the planet.

I don’t know, when I first started reading the article I was rather incredulous, but after reading it through and giving it some thought, I have to admit they may have some points.

The article is in the July 16, 2012 issue of MacClean’s Magazine (sort of like a Canadian Time or Newsweek) The 100-Mile Mess. I don’t think it’s online yet though that I could find.

Are they just a shill for the corporate food giants of the world, or do they have a valid point that ‘local-vores’, and everyone else, would be better off if they just head to Safeway instead?
Ken & Donna H.
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If you want to ride tomorrow, ride quietly today.
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#794174 - 08/07/12 10:24 AM Re: Is the "Local Food" Movement Miss-Guided? [Re: Ken H.]
Mike Offline


Registered: 07/19/00
Posts: 10258
Loc: Chicago area, IL, USA
Ken, I think that many of the points you quote from the article are valid. Certainly (at least in my view) there's no question that mass production of foodstuffs has contributed in a positive way to the overall level of nutrition available to the masses. It's generally quite safe, too.

Where I do differ is in the assessment of the danger from locally grown items. First, if done properly, you're generally getting a more organically grown product, with a lower level of pesticides, additives, and hormones (though this is certainly not guaranteed). I'd note that the big producers do have rigorous controls and are stringently inspected, meaning that there are safety mechanisms in place that Farmer Bob may not employ.

As far as animal waste contamination is concerned, I'm not too bothered by the possibility: I prep my produce and meats according to the standards generally accepted as being safe--washing produce, cooking meats to safe temperatures, avoiding cross-contamination, etc. Again, that's not to say that it can't happen, but I don't think the danger is particularly great. I'm also of the belief that eating a little dirt isn't necessarily a bad thing. grin There's some evidence to believe that our high incidence of allergies, asthma and other maladies may be attributed to living too sterile a lifestyle. I'd opine that a reasonable mixture of locally sourced items probably confers benefits by permitting you to take in a variety of nutrients that's not as easily obtained in mass-produced foods.

Finally--and this is most important to me--I tend to find that many of these locally sourced items just taste better. Whether it's because of a more natural approach to cultivation, the lack of processing, the fact that they make it to my table more quickly, or just my imagination, I find that fresh produce and locally sourced meats are more satisfying to eat. That, in itself, is reason enough to add them into my diet.
Mike The Moderator
Born to be Mild

#794178 - 08/07/12 10:35 AM Re: Is the "Local Food" Movement Miss-Guided? [Re: Mike]
Mister Tee Offline

Registered: 10/24/07
Posts: 1981
Loc: Northern California
I think there is a happy medium. Economies of scale do apply to food production (both economic and environmental), plus not all areas are conducive to agriculture. I don't think it makes sense to ship corn from Kansas to California when the same thing is grown locally in California, but certainly it makes sense to truck it to Nevada and Arizona from California. And I can see the point of stocking local (regional) equivalents vs. trucking the exact product across the country or from out of the country.

#794256 - 08/07/12 06:33 PM Re: Is the "Local Food" Movement Miss-Guided? [Re: Ken H.]
moshe_levy Offline

Registered: 07/05/06
Posts: 4347
Loc: NJ - God Help Me

Like you, I try to buy local when possible. My food habits changed after watching "Food, Inc." which was enormously influential in this country in promoting a more localized and organic food supply chain. (Canada has its own documentaries, like "Frankensteer.")

There are times when over-quantification flies in the face of common sense. To me, like Mike said, there is absolutely no comparison in the taste and flavor of properly raised, free ranging and grass (or naturally) fed animals. Same with veggies. It seems like common sense that animals jam-packed into pens, being doped up on antibiotics and hormones, and wallowing in their own shit all day are less appetizing than a calf grazing at her leisure in the field, eating grass as nature intended, and humanely slaughtered.

Every outbreak we've had - from Mad Cow on down - is a result of our own tampering with nature's way. Feeding cows (herbavores) their own beef byproducts or doped-up grain. Giving calves leftover blood from slaughter instead of milk. Giving them antibiotics to prevent disease which only causes more resistant strains to form. Hormones to fatten them up faster, and save a few months worth of feeding time. It all translates into violation of nature for the bottom line - a high cost we pay, for the low prices we pay.

You know "out with the old, and in with the new?" I say "out with the new, and in with the old." The closer we get to nature's principles, the healthier we will be. And it tastes better, anyway.

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#794494 - 08/09/12 07:33 AM Re: Is the "Local Food" Movement Miss-Guided? [Re: Ken H.]
Natche Offline

Registered: 07/06/10
Posts: 256
Loc: Mechanicsburg, PA
Not being a tree hugger but being one who does believe that we should care for our environment responsibly, I like to buy local produce primarily because it is of higher quality. Take tomato's or tomatoe's (see Dan Quail), the quality of local tomato's in my area is so much better than those grown across the country that you can't even compare it. Sorry but I don't buy their arguments that the big ag produce is more efficiently brought to market and on the famine point they disprove their own theory with the postulate that wide area sourcing is a preventative - unless you think that local produce will displace big ag entirely. It sounds like a white paper written to stem the tide of "buy local". I say, buy local and eat better. Buy the other stuff when you can't get good local produce.