Two weeks ago I read a New York Times op-ed Math Lessons for Locavores by Stephen Budiansky which to my mind warranted an instant tweet. Hurrah for Stephen who was finally broadening the debate. I think that locavores have for too long sung a one note mantra unabated (with you know who as their goddess and supported by a priesthood of revered celebrity chefs and food writers). The tenets of locavorism have been oversimplified. The terms ‘fresh’, ‘local’, ‘organic’ and ‘sustainability’ are randomly interchanged by too many who fail to understand the complexities of our current food supply system. It isn’t that simple!
I’m tired of the one note locavore mantra; locally produced food is not necessary better for us or the environment if grown with lots of chemicals (in the pesticides and fertilizers) and energy expenditure on irrigation and heating as opposed to the same fruits or vegetables grown in their natural environment under sustainable farming practices.
The discussion needs to be expanded beyond food miles and organics (simply a soil management system) and include every part of our food system — from cultivation, transport of raw ingredients for processing, packaging and storage and finally transport to markets. A report from the USDA cites that the processing, packaging, storage, transportation, retail and foodservice operations account for roughly 58 percent of the energy expended in our food supply chain. Only when the entire supply chain is evaluated can we begin to assess the true cost of the food on our plates. Many fresh food advocates are so stuck in the locavore dogma that they ignore the bigger issue of the environmental impact of processed foods verses any fresh food regardless of origin.
Let’s focus the debate on ‘real’ food – fresh unprocessed food produced sustainably. I’m all for fresh food and I do shop at New York city farmers markets dotted across the city nine months of the year. Locally produced produce is undoubtedly fresher and therefore often tastier than something harvested and shipped from afar. However, some fruits and vegetables do not suffer from transport and as a result can be enjoyed all year long. It could be also argued that we have successfully breed most of our produce for beauty and bounty rather than flavor so regardless of how far it travels to get to your table your grandmother will complain it has no flavor!
If it came from a plant eat it; if is was made in a plant; don’t’. Michael Pollen
I have no qualms about purchasing fresh grapes and blueberries from South America, almonds from Spain, olives from Greece and the list goes on. Industrial nations can’t produce enough food to feed their populations and developing agricultural nation’s primary GNP is from the export of foodstuffs. We need to create a balanced sustainable equation for all, after all humans have been trading foodstuffs for over 3,000 years – why stop now?
posted by Brona Cosgrave (@bronacos)