Grist.org recently invited bloggers through it’s Grist Talk: Food Fight series to respond to an August 20th op-ed piece, “Math Lessons for Locavores,” by Stephen Budiansky in the New York Times. What follows is my response:
“I agree with Mr. Budiansky that freight is by some measures cheap, and that the interstate system and trains are convenient conduits from farms to distributors to markets, although this idea is not so new.
A more interesting question to tackle is: what does the desire to be a locavore say about our disjointed food system, and is there room for improvement by developing regional food systems?
Mr. Budiansky’s argument runs thin when we take a hard look at what consolidated industrial farming and food animal production “return to our land,” as he puts it. It is difficult to be in favor of a farming approach that relies upon mono-cropping using genetically modified seeds and synthetic fertilizers. Likewise, food animal production facilities make for poor neighbors when their (virtually unregulated) wastes and associated land application and spray-field sites spread allergens and antibiotic-resistant bacteria throughout farming communities.
So why pick on locavores? Because when they seek local food, they may also be seeking to buy organically grown or raised foods, from small to mid-sized farms, which can impact entrenched agribusiness interests. Changing food preferences and buying habits may be changing the way food is grown, distributed, and consumed.
For example, the American Meat Institute was defensive when the Meatless Monday campaign, for which Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future serves as a scientific advisor, suggested on NPR that reducing meat consumption one day a week could be good for your health, by potentially reducing saturated fat intake. It isn’t surprising: the average American spends about $550 annually on meat. If the conventional food-animal industry improved production methods by removing growth-promoting antibiotics and recognizing animal welfare, both the quality of their products and the perceptions of their customers may increase.
Food decisions carry weight, and so the lesson here is to speak with your fork and the farms will follow!”
– Dave Love
[This post originally ran Monday, August 23 on Grist.org]