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Go ahead and eat that banana: a local academic (and Margaret Wente) argues local food’s benefits are bunk

Fresh, local and environmentally foolish? (Image: Alfred Ng from the Flickr pool)

In our exploration of foodie resentment last year, locavorism ranked high on the list of gripes. Now, the 100-mile diet backlash is making headlines again. Margaret Wente, who’s already taken her swipe at organics, took local-love to task in her latest Globe and Mail column. Sure, Wente enjoys her garden tomatoes as much as the next person and doesn’t mind shelling out “a dollar a carrot” at the farmers market—but she doubts it does any good for the environment or society at large. She explains the case against the movement:

Modern mass-produced, globally distributed food (not junk food, real food) is cheaper, more nutritious, safer, higher-quality, more reliably available and far less wasteful than the local kind. Modern food systems have done wonders for our standard of living and have liberated humankind from the chains of rural serfdom. They have increased, not decreased, food security and made famines (except for those that are politically induced) all but extinct. As for food miles, numerous analyses have shown that claims made for the alleged benefits to the atmosphere of eating food grown close to home are largely bunk.

She cites The Locavore’s Dilemma, a book by Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu. Desrochers, an economic geographer at the University of Toronto Mississauga, was recently profiled by the Atlantic Cities. He uses similar arguments to Wente’s, although he backs his up with a relevant Ph.D.—which doesn’t mean he’s immune to resorting to dramatics to make his point. For instance, the surge in backyard chickens makes Desrochers despair over foodie intransigence: “In the end, someone will have to die.” But, in the interest of balance, the article does point out that the movement isn’t trying to upend the current agriculture system wholesale. Urban farms can act as a food source in neighbourhoods without major grocers, beautify neighbourhoods and create a safe social space for people. Either way, the recent criticism is unlikely to make Jamie Kennedy or his many acolytes abandon the movement anytime soon.

Take the romance out of farming and ditch locavorism [Globe and Mail]
Debating the Local Food Movement [Atlantic Cities]

  • chacha

    I used to enjoy Wente but a few columns over the past 3 months have made me question whether she’s lost her mind.

  • opl

    If two apples are for sale and one is local and the other one isn’t, guess which one I would buy? Wrong, the cheapest one. Ergo, my decision to buy produce has very little to do with where it comes from. Because my conscience is to my wallet and not some moral high ground.

  • Doris406

    As someone who spends a great deal of time 2 hrs outside of toronto, where many a farmer’s stand is available, I confess I’ve always been puzzled by the romance surrounding locavorism. Am I the only one who noticed that the local tomatoes are just as green and tasteless as those imported from california? Or that the local “farmer’s” stand is selling strawberries and cucumbers in May, even though they have just plowed their fields? Or that the prices are much higher than those of the supermarket? Or even that our growing season is only 4 months long and that eating local condemns us to a winter of stored apples, cabbages, potatoes, and possibly scurvy, berri-berri, or rickets? I agree that globalism can go too far at times, and maybe we can go a month or two without fresh strawberries, but on the whole, Im willing to bet that globalism is inversely proportional to nutrient deficiency diseases. And lastly, Mr. Kennedy, power to you for making it work, but if everybody could shop the way you do, and dedicate that much time and money to making dinner, we would probably be professional chefs too.