3.06.2011

Primer on "localism"

Michael Hartwell at Young, Hip and Conservative has just published a great introduction to the economic problems behind the idea of "buying local" at IndieSkeptics.

As a liberal fresh out of college, I was drinking the "localism" koolaid. It just seemed to make sense that eating local/organic food and enjoying locally produced goods was more efficient and better for the environment. It's also very romantic to think about supporting small local farmers who live near you. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

To this day, I still enjoy walking through local farmer's markets and buying fresh produce. There are certainly aesthetic brownie points for localism. But sentiments and aesthetics are truly subjective.

The fact of the matter is "food miles" aren't as damaging to the environment as we thought. We forget that qualitative differences between local farmers and farmers in Kansas are few and far between. In addition I have to ask why a farmer local to me is any more deserving than a farmer in Columbia working just as hard and long - maybe more so - to put food on the table for his/her family. We're all human beings after all.

If you're a local tomato munching liberal like me, you're probably skeptical. I haven't done a lot here to convince anyone about what's wrong with localism and you may not be inclined to take the word of a conservative who proclaims to be "young and hip." So i'll point you to the very liberal Stephen Budiansky who wrote in the New York Times about what's wrong with the eating local movement in a post titled: Math Lessons for Locavores.

To further drive the nail in the coffin, Budiansky subsequently followed up his NYT Op-Ed with four excellent blog posts responding to criticisms. Take some time to read these. It's worth it.
That's a lot about food specifically - but the principles can be applied to other locally produced goods.

Now how do I reconcile this difference of opinion with many liberals as Chair of a progressive political party that is very pro-local, especially when it comes to food? I honestly haven't yet. It will take more than a blog post and some suave politicking to convince my fellow Greens about the economic fallacies of localism. It's particularly tough because localism is such a romantic idea. 

I should clarify that our current food system is far from perfect. I specifically avoid eating meat because I disagree with how animals are treated in most farms, and it's more efficient to grow crops than animals. (It's also been one of the best things I've done to take care of my own health.) Ultimately, I think there's a strong moral argument against eating animals in general.

In addition, Big Agri-Business goes too far to maintain its intellectual property stepping on the toes of other farmers (think Monsanto protecting its GMO crops.) There's also the issue of how highly processed and lacking in nutrition a lot of food is these days. 

That said, it's absolutely true that the best way to protect our environment and feed our growing population is to embrace technological and trade efficiencies won by Big-Ag. 

In a twist of irony I will spend this summer "indulging" in my desires to enjoy fresh air farmer's markets. Meanwhile, to protect the environment and to support a food system that provides for our neediest by offering inexpensive calories, I'll be shopping at Walmart.

2 Intelligent Comment(s):

Abner said...

While it makes me cringe to even think of stepping foot into Wal-Mart (not because I hate big business, but because I hate Wal-Mart. I'm a Hannaford lover), this is a nice post. I enjoy seeing people deviate from their political party's platform when they can defend their deviation. It shows that they haven't surrendered their duty to think when so many in America aren't even aware they have the ability. Thanks for the post and for being conscious of our duty, Jeremy!

Jeremy Corbally-Hammond said...

I really like Hannaford too. They are HUGE supporters of the food-bank and have been so since the beginning in 1981.

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