September 07, 2010

The Locavore Conundrum

Last week there was a really fascinating opinion piece in the New York Times, about being a locavore.  I didn't include it in my weekly "clippings" because I wanted to mull over it for a while.  (Click here for the article. Link updated.) Blogger and commentator Stephen Budiansky begins by saying:
You’ll get no argument from me about the pleasures and advantages to the palate and the spirit of eating what’s local, fresh and in season.

But the local food movement now threatens to devolve into another one of those self-indulgent — and self-defeating — do-gooder dogmas. Arbitrary rules, without any real scientific basis, are repeated as gospel by “locavores,” celebrity chefs and mainstream environmental organizations. Words like “sustainability” and “food-miles” are thrown around without any clear understanding of the larger picture of energy and land use.

The result has been all kinds of absurdities.
He continues, trying to illustrate "that larger picture of energy and land use" by discussing that actual energy impact of transporting a head of lettuce from California to New York City. Turns out, the energy used in food transportation is surprisingly low, compared to the (I think we can all agree, necessary) energy used to actually grow the food.

Personally, I will pick a locally grown food over organic, and over supermarket produce from across the country nearly every time. I go to two farmer's markets every week, and have gotten to know my egg man, my cheese man, my plum man, the herb hippies (oh, Lord, that is good basil!) and the bakers. As soon as it gets chillier, I am going to befriend the mushroom lady. And the little girl who tries to sell me home-made pasta is just too cute to say no to. But that's the thing: when I buy local, I am buying from people. And I know how hard it is to work at creating something, and then pass it on to others--and to build a life doing that. My Jams by Mags is just the beginning of what I hope will be a real and fruitful project, and it scares the shit out of me that it might become something big and I will have to (yes, want to) dedicate myself to it entirely. I admire those who have done the same, whether its selling fresh crabs caught 70 miles East, or hand cultivated rare mushroom varieties, or the best mozzarella in the US. That's why I buy local.

But even the personal mandate has the possibility of becoming a universal in my mind, by which I judge the actions of others. And that is a huge problem, one that I am constantly guarding against.  He really hits the nail on the head when he describes "self-indulgent—and self-defeating—do-gooder dogmas"

In other (related) news: I find this commercial actually kind of sad, though I love the music, and the countryside. Granted, since the supermarket is in Switzerland, I have no way to know if they are actually super fresh markets, or if this is pure marketing.




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