Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Is local the answer?

Today I went to Target, something I don't do that often, and discovered they now have their own brand of industrial organic food.

This reminded me that I wanted to say some more about local eating, and about the detractors from that movement.

Over the last two months several people have called to my attention an article in The Economist, print edition of December 7, 2006. Called "Ethical Food?" it raised yet more questions about shopping one's way to a healthy planet. (If you subscribe to either the print or on-line version of the magazine you can access the article at the web site. If not, check the print version at your local library. There's no free linking with The Economist.)

Some of the article made good sense, reminding us yet one more time that shopping is not the answer, but concerted political action. I wonder though, about people who have to engage at the level of shopping before they start thinking politically (and we hope, eventually questioning shopping as their entry point!). Is shopping a place to start for some folks, just not the place to stop?

The article also made a good point about fair trade crops. Fair trade may contribute to economic justice for growers now, but if fair trade encourages mono-cropping, in the long run it's not going to be good for the planet or for the grower's community.

There some silly stuff in the article, though. Like a comment that growing lamb in New Zealand and shipping it to the UK uses less energy than just growing the lamb in the UK in the first place. How could this be? We know for humans one pound of body weight equals about 3500 Kcals. Presumably it would be about the same for warm blooded creatures of similar body temperature and metabolic rate. And presumably a pound of lamb takes the same number of calories to produce whichever hemisphere you are in. Then the energy needed to ship would be added to that. If someone reading this understands how shipping something half way around the globe takes less energy, please add a comment!

But this is quibbling. As one of my colleagues here pointed out, the thing that is not considered in The Economist article is the value to the human community of the locavore movement. It's not just the cost to the planet which we must consider, but also the value in rebuilding communities, in fostering human connections - in ways that often feedback to the health of the planet.

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