Thursday, January 17, 2008

NOT Locally Grown. Not Even Close



Joel Stein has a hilarious piece in this week's Time magazine.
He takes the "locally grown" fad to the opposite extreme.....
To prove how wrong the farm-to-table movement is, I cooked a dinner purely of farm-to-airplane food. Nothing I made was grown within 3,000 miles of where I live in Los Angeles. And to completely give the finger to the locavores, I bought the entire meal in the local-food movement's most treasured supermarket, the one that has huge locally grown signs next to the fruits and vegetables: Whole Foods.
Here's more from Mr. Stein, stating that the locally grown movement is about self-denial.
I suffer, therefore, I am superior:

My distavore meal was more a smorgasbord than a smart fusion of cultures, but I still ate the way only a very rich person could have dined just 15 years ago. The local-food movement is deeply Luddite, part of the green lobby that measures improvement by self-denial more than by actual impact—considering shipping food in containers is often more energy-efficient than a local farmer trucking small amounts that are then purchased on a separate weekend farmers'-market trip you take in your SUV. So I'm going to keep buying food from my foreign neighbors. Because it's the only way we Americans learn about other countries, other than by bombing them.

We've already seen an era when everything was locally grown, according to Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek.
It was called "The Dark Ages".
There are plenty of good reasons to buy locally grown food.
Conservation isn't one of them.


Signage from EcoSherpa

Also, Perry De Havilland of Samizdata linked to this post some time last night. It's a piece called "Dear Third World Farmer", which looks at the unexamined impact of buying locally.

If you don't really understand what's wrong with Farm Subsidies, click here for a rundown of what's wrong with the current farm bill.

And speaking of another group of Farmers that need help, check out another post of mine on the same topic: "The Farmers of Manhattan Need Your Money".

12 comments:

Perry de Havilland said...

How about "Dear Third World Farmer trying to offer us high quality, low cost agricultural products... sorry but we would prefer it if you remain poor, so that our kids can go work for an NGO helping you poor ignorant dark people in that pesky gap year and thereby feel good about themselves. Also we prefer you living in eco-friendly low carbon footprint mud huts, so please stop trying to pull yourself out of poverty via global trade in the one area you should have a comparative advantage (I say 'should' because actually we prefer to buy our food from tax subsidised local farmers).

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Perry,
You neglected to mention "Food Security" in your otherwise excellent rant.
In our left-wing magazines, all the ads reference Green, Greenery, Smug Greenery-ness, & conservation of fuel and the like as the reason for all our farm subsidies. The conservative mags suddenly have ads about "working for food security". Swear to God. Will post on it soon.

Thanks for the Samizdata link. Getting in with you good people has been a goal ever since I started. My hit counter is now spinning merrily away.

subadei said...

I was eating Dorito's while reading this post. I'm not entirely sure where they grow Dorito's (I'm guessing Iceland) but I'm certain it's nowhere round these parts. In this I feel a certain kinship with Mr. Stein.

That bit of wisdom aside I do specifically buy certain local products because they're just better.

While there are some level headed folks that indulge in the "Green" renaissance, it seems many entail two classes:

1. Pop Culture driven knuckleheads eager to latch onto the latest fad. Che Guevara t-shirts make way for Nature's Calling...It's For You!" t-shirts.

2. Upper-middle class sorts with a deep sense of inexplicable guilt regarding their success in light of others plight, further compounded by even more guilt derived from the knowledge that, if it came down to it, there's no way they'd give up even a sliver of their lifestyle even if it meant the downtrodden would benefit. And so they buy a Prius, wipe with one sheet and make sure every light bulb in their 4500 sqr ft home is energy saving.

Now, if you'll excuse me I've got a date with a can of Franco-American Spaghetti. Never been to Franco-America and I'm not really all that fond of their spaghetti but we've got no spaghetti trees here and so my own Green rebellion continues.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Sooby Dooby Doo ! !

That's good stuff. Thanks for the Nature's Calling link.
Is that you using another alias in the Nature's Calling comment field, asking what countries they supply? (As in, are they burning fossil fuel to supply non-local retailers?)
I've logged in and asked if they ship into China.
When you get a chance, go in there and ask if their Nature T-shirts (or any other Save The Planet crap) is available in Baha Argentina. I bet the Nature's Calling people have a bigger carbon footprint than Al Gore's House.
Let's see how extreme we can go, asking about more and more countries, before they figure out that we're making a critique of their conservation practices.
(I'm all for conservation, etc etc etc., but we need to be aware of the trade-offs some of these people want to enforce.)
Enjoy the Spaghetti-O's. Be sure the can gets recycled.

The Red Son said...

Perry- You are operating under the mistaken notion that small, family farmers grow our food overseas. Ever hear the term "banana republic?" Agro-business is controlled by huge corporations whose workers have no stake in the company or the land on which they work. It does not provide a means by which to pull oneself out of poverty, rather it is part of a system which perpetuates poverty, capitalism. Also it is pretty ethnocentric to presuppose that all those living in the developing world sleep in mud huts.

Soob- In Iceland I bought a bag of "Cool American" flavored doritos, but they tasted an awful lot like cool ranch to me...

The Red Son said...

Also the argument that shipping food in large containers is more fuel efficient than local farmers trucking food around is flawed. To begin with, local food isn't sold exclusively at farmer's markets and often at regular non-whole foods/whole paycheck super markets. It is sold along side non-local food, which was also brought there on a truck, from a distribution center where it was taken after it was unloaded from a ship. And this doesn't factor in the petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides used in the production of the food (local food is often grown organically).

A reduced carbon footprint is only one of the reasons to eat local. Eating local keeps money in your community rather than sending it to large corporations, money that is then reinvested in the community.

Additionally large agro-business practice mono-culture farming, meaning they cultivate one type of corn (from which all nutritional value has been bred/ bioengineered out. Mono-culture is dangerous for a number of reasons, remember the potato famine? I could go on but the point is that there are many, many reasons to support local farmers. And, at least in my case it has nothing to do with "liberal-guilt"(an awfully convenient way to write off an idea that you don't fully understand/agree with) and more to do with logic and living in accordance to my personal believes. Are you going to start harping on Jews and Muslims for not eating swine, even though their choice not to do so is based on silly books from days of yore, before the Dark Ages?

In the interest of full disclosure, I have recently and temporarily moved to Hawai'i where 99% of everything is flown or shipped in. So my localvorism has waned since leaving the great state of VT.

Perry de Havilland said...

"Perry- You are operating under the mistaken notion that small, family farmers grow our food overseas."

Am I? Please quote where I said that.

"Ever hear the term "banana republic?" Agro-business is controlled by huge corporations whose workers have no stake in the company or the land on which they work."

Yes, wicked companies with the retail contacts in the west and marketing expertise that a small independent African farmer would not have. Damn those evil companies for employing people and depriving sanctimonious western tranzis from their job dishing out dependency inducing aid to them. Much better would be a nice centrally planned system of agriculture, of the sort that served the Ukraine so well in the 1930's. Try googling 'Holodomor' to see how your side does agriculture.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Gents,
Very glad to have both of you in here commenting on a very old post.

The primary flaw in the Locavore mindset: they tend to isolate the freight cost from all other costs, as if the local (and usually higher) costs associated with growing a turnip are good and wholesome, but freight costs are somehow sinister. The costs associated with growing turnips in smaller quantities everywhere exceed the costs of shipping in turnips from elsewhere.

The second flaw is the obvious breakdown in arithmetic. The larger grocery chains are some of the most efficient operations on our planet. See the writings of Russell Roberts on the declining price of one egg. (Cafe Hayek Blog, or the endnotes to his new book "The Price Of Everything".) Efficiency is better than inefficienty. And shipping containers are more efficient than partial loads in a pickup truck.

Flaw number three: If someone drives 1 mile further than necessary to avoid a large chain grocery store and support a Locavore shop, there are plenty of emotional reasons to do so. (Helping your farming neighbor, supporting a locally owned business, etc.) Unfortunately, the fuel cost of one person driving two miles (out and back) further than necessary makes a total mockery of supporting locally grown food for Conservation reasons.

One Semi-tractor pulling a shipping container = incredibly efficient
One Human in a Volvo = one of the most inefficient uses of energy ever devised

The Red Son said...

Perry- Your faux letter is addressed to "third world farmer." If by that you meant multi-national conglomerate, forgive me. The key words in the letter are "trying to pull yourself out of poverty" as trying is all most/all farm workers are able to do. The wages paid to farmers in the developing world are barely enough to keep their families from starving, low enough to require that their grade-school children fore go their education in order to go to work.

"Yes, wicked companies with the retail contacts in the west and marketing expertise that a small independent African farmer would not have. Damn those evil companies for employing people and depriving sanctimonious western tranzis from their job dishing out dependency inducing aid to them. Much better would be a nice centrally planned system of agriculture, of the sort that served the Ukraine so well in the 1930's. Try googling 'Holodomor' to see how your side does agriculture."

If the workers were paid a livable wage and worked in safe conditions that would be one thing, but they are not. If you have any evidence to support your claims that farm workers in the developing world are treated and paid well, I would like to see it. Don't you find it ironic that the regions of the world that produce much of our food are also the regions with the most starving people?
I am glad that you brought up aid as I have always thought that it was counter-productive to send food from the developed world to the developing world rather than provide assistance to small farmers in those regions subsidies to grow the food for their neighbors. But why isn't it done that way? Because corporations effectively control the government and those food-aid packages are multi-million dollar contracts.

Additionally, where do you get the idea that I am a Stalinist/Soviet-style communist? I love how conservative see that I am a Marxist and without fail assume that somehow I am stupid enough to support a corrupted form of the doctrine. Oh Perry, I see that you're a capitalist and a corporatist, could you please answer for the crimes of Pinochet and Hitler? So as far as the Soviets being "my side," I must repeat that I do not agree with or support Stalinism or Maoism. I don't support centralized planning, which another reason why I support local agriculture, local farmers are more able to account for and addressed localized issues and concerns.

I suggest that you look into Cuban agriculture after the fall of the USSR. There is a fantastic film called the Greening of Cuba. That is how "my side does agriculture."

TWS- Glad to be engaged in a spirited debate on the topic. Hope that you return the favor and offer critiques of my ideas posted on my blog.

Flaw one: I do not mind paying more for produce that is usually better quality from a farm which has better working condition and employs my friends, family and neighbors. Cheap≠good.

Flaw two: Grocery stores throw out literally hundreds of tons of food a year, food that is still edible and may only be tarnished by a small cosmetic flaw. For example, if Trader Joe's receives a case of twelve bottles of wine in which one bottle is broken, the entire case is thrown away. How are these types of practices efficient? Again, many large grocery store chains carry local foods. The food distribution system has been built around the needs of these large stores and their large scale food producers. Local food distribution would be more efficient if the infrastructure was in place, which currently it is not.

Flaw three: This flaw is flawed. Back home in Vermont, there is a family-owned farm in my town which also owns a farmstand in my town. The distance separating the production site from the point of sale is a mere 3.7 miles. The stand is probably about 2-3 miles closer to my house than the nearest "super market" (actually a large consumer food co-op), which also carries a lot of local foods. Granted this is not typical for the average American, but it could become more so.

"emotional reasons to do so. (Helping your farming neighbor, supporting a locally owned business, etc.)" These are not emotional reasons, but logical ones. If my money stays in my community, my community benefits. I am part of my community therefor I benefit.

"One Semi-tractor pulling a shipping container = incredibly efficient
One Human in a Volvo = one of the most inefficient uses of energy ever devised "- This is flawed reasoning as it assume that the local produce is not delivered by a semi truck, which is not always the case. Additionally, one human in a Volvo also drives back in forth to the super market, which may or may not be closer than their local farmer's/farmers' stand.

Phew, that was a marathon comment. Time to look up some gun porn.

Perry de Havilland said...

"If the workers were paid a livable wage and worked in safe conditions that would be one thing, but they are not"

Take a trip to Kenya then and see some of the green bean farms (they are hard to miss). In fact a lot of the beans actually *are* produced by smallholders on order and quality control from western purchasers. Other producers are indeed larger farms which dare to hire itinerant farm labourers, who you no doubt think would be better off unemployed.

And are you so ignorant of the Third World you think farmworkers in Kenya are starving?

I have no idea what Pinochet's views on global trade were but Hitler was actually on your side (the German National Socialist hostility to globalised trade and the importance of local German production, particularly farm production, are very well documented indeed).

The one thing we do agree on is the baleful influence of corporations on government... but the only way to reduce corruption in high places is to reduce the number of high places... liking what companies can do not make one a 'corporatist' (perhaps you do not know what that word actually means) and in fact most of my hate mail comes from conservatives every time I point out they are just as statist as the people they nominally oppose. I am a minarchist free trader, so threfore dislike corporate welfare as much as any sort of violence imposed re-distributionist state welfare.

Interesting that you admire Cuba (so much for your claim to not be an admirer of centralist state planners), as it shows what great things you can achieve if you restrict the internet, conscript people, jail dissenters such as uncooperative librarians and stop people trading.

I always find it amusing that Cuba's apologists (usually form the USA) blame the United States for Cuba's third world living standards due to the (admittedly idiotic) trade embargo... yet strangely Cuba can trade with the rest of the world, or were you under the impression the US Navy has blockaded the island?

But of course many Americans, including American lefties, cannot imagine any part of the world which does not revolve around the USA (conservatives assume US influence is always there, but good, lefties think is is always there, but bad) and so claiming no trade with the USA keeps Cuba poor, rather than their communist economic system, does not strike them as nonsense on stilts.

The Red Son said...

I can't believe that this has turned from a discussion about buying food from you neighbor into a debate about the merits of Marxist-derived economic systems. So be it. BTW the Cold War is long since over, so stop using out-date, ethnocentric terms like the Third World (sure is great to have our world be two ranks better than their world isn't?).

"Take a trip to Kenya"- don't tell me what to do. You know that I am not going to Kenya to see the bean farmers so why say that? Either you have been to Kenya and have seen these bean farmers or you read an article in the Guardian about them, in either case you are obviously an expert on the quality of life experience by Kenyan farm workers.

"which dare to hire itinerant farm labourers, who you no doubt think would be better off unemployed."- I knew that you were going to say this. The absurdity of assuming that if the workers of the Global South are not engaged in oppressive labo(u)r relations, then the ONLY other option MUST be unemployment is clear. I suppose that the African slaves should have been thankful for the free trip across the ocean and free food and lodging, better than being unemployed and living in a mud hut huh?

"And are you so ignorant of the Third World you think farmworkers in Kenya are starving?" Yes I am ignorant of the details of Kenyan farmworkers, but then again I never said anything about Kenya. My area of studies has traditionally been Latin America, where very, very often farm workers, picking bananas or coffee are starving or otherwise engaged in oppressive labor relations and dealing with inhumane working conditions.

"I have no idea what Pinochet's views on global trade were but Hitler was actually on your side (the German National Socialist"- I think you missed the point. I did not ask for your thought on their global trade policies. You're a capitalist, and perhaps not a corporatist although you seem to favo(u)r their influence on society, if not government. Pinochet was heralded as allowing pure capitalism to flourish in Chile, only at the minor cost of executing dissidents and severely restricting politcal freedoms. So again, because you support capitalism, why don't you answer for the short comings of Pinochet's system of capitalism? That is essentially what you are doing by comparing me to the Soviets.
Also Hitler and the Nazis were not "my side" (enough with the sides, this isn't a blood game of cricket). Just because they were called the National Socialist Party doesn't mean that they were socialists. In Nazi Germany did the workers control the means of production? Hitler was socialist in the same ways Obama is socialist, that is in no way.

I should say that I don't "oppose global trade." Other regions of the world can produce items that New England or even the US for that matter cannot. I love coffee which I prefer to buy fair trade and organic. While writing this post I ate some granola (I know, how stereotypical) with cacao beans in it. There are many items such as these which have to be imported. But given the choice between an apple grown in Vermont and one grown in Washington, a tomato grown in my backyard(literally) or one picked by an immigrant in Florida receiving the same wage as 25 years ago, I am going to go with the local alternative

I do know what corporatism means but let's just say I had a long day and was out of it when I wrote that post last night and used the word in the wrong context.

Being a "minarchist free-trader," I assume that you are opposed to economic pacts such as NAFTA as they create systems of trade which are anything but free and unrestricted or influenced by government policy.

Libertarians/minarchist and Anarchists/Marxists have more in common with than either group cares to admit. You and I both favo(u)r the dissolution of the state. Where we differ is that I want people to have agency and control other their own lives, for the citizenry to control society whereas you would prefer cabals of elites to exploit workers for their own benefit and control the organization of society.

"Interesting that you admire Cuba (so much for your claim to not be an admirer of centralist state planners)" where did I say that I admire Cuba? I only claimed that "I don't support centralized planning" and don't ascribe to Stalinism or Maoism, as far as it was practiced. Now my admiration of the innovation taken by Cuban farmers, not the Cuban state to create a petroleum-free system of agriculture is very different from my admiration of post-Batista Cuba. Just because I support the liberation of the Cuban people does not mean that I support everything done by the Castro regime. Similarly, even though you are such an ardent support of the private sector, I do not expect you to agree with everything ever done by a business. Excuse that rather poor analogy, I looked at your web pages only to discover that you merely edit those incredibly sort blog posts and thus I was unable to gather any sort of idea of what you believe or which countries/governments/causes you support.

Among Cuba's crimes on your life are "conscript people, jail dissenters such as uncooperative librarians and stop people trading." Again I am not sure where you reside, I am assuming Britain, in which case your claim to be a member of a well-armed member of the Illuminati is clearly false, but I could be wrong. But in the United States, we have had several drafts/military conscription in our history. In Israel, everybody is conscripted at age 18, if you dissent to this you are jailed, I had a student who served 465 days in Israeli jail for this "crime". In the US, librarians can be prosecuted for opposing the USAPATRIOT Act. I am not sure what "people trading" is but it sounds disgusting, humans are sentient creatures with rights, not commodities to be traded. However Cuba does export doctors to countries in need, is that what you meant.

"I always find it amusing that Cuba's apologists (usually form the USA) blame the United States for Cuba's third world living standards due to the (admittedly idiotic) trade embargo... yet strangely Cuba can trade with the rest of the world, or were you under the impression the US Navy has blockaded the island?"

Did I even mention the blockade? Or blame Cuba's problems on it? No. Do I? No. I see Cuba's current condition as a result of a large number of factors, ranging from being a former colony that was host to hundreds of thousands of slaves, to being treated as a playground for Americans to gamble, drink, and fornicate, to having their government be the target of literally constant subversive actions by the U.S. to yes the blockade. Yes Cuba can trade with the rest of the world, but the U.S. is 89 miles away and is the largest viable trading partner for Cuba's agricultural goods. Imagine if the Mexico couldn't trade with the US, it wouldn't make a difference if it could trade with the rest of the world, the results would be crippling. I don't doubt that there has been a good amount of mismanagement by the Castros' regimes but to say that it Cuba's condition is solely the result of its economic system is as ridiculous as placing the blame only on US intervention.

Don't tell the State Department but once upon I time I did travel to Cuba for a little over a week. Granted this doesn't make me an expert but I know what I saw. The living conditions there are far better than in many other places in Latin America to which I have traveled. And universal health care and education are no small achievement, just look at the US health care and education system. But I will be the first to say that life there is far from ideal, repression is omnipresent and there is a sense of desperation that hangs in the air.

Perry, I thank you for providing some much needed intellectual stimulation.

The Red Son said...

P.S. give me a samizdata link too, if only to illustrate to kind of people that you are so ardently opposed to.