Saturday, January 5, 2008

Is it lunchtime yet?

Tom Philpott at Gristmill looks over and links to five big local-food stories of the year:
"From low-income neighborhoods in Milwaukee to Detroit and Brooklyn, to the very heart of industrial agriculture, people are getting their hands dirty and building up their own alternatives to industrial food. ..."
OK. Everyone needs a hobby, and this certainly beats stamp collecting. But I've never been able to quite convince myself to be a food zealot and believe that any kind of localism could actually work as a food system for everybody.


NeilRest said...

localism could actually work as a food system for everybody
It doesn't have to.
What if 10% of your food were local? 20%? What if, other things being nearly equal, you tried to make a point of buying whatever was shipped the shorter distance?
The current petroleum+corn-based American diet makes it easy to be radical!

Gray Axolotl said...

Rising oil prices and/or a carbon tax would and may make lowest cost food buy correspond roughly to eating local.

Harold said...

Interesting points.

10-20% is fine (wonder what it is now?) but that's not what food zealots are aiming for. For something bigger, I agree that rising oil/carbon prices are the best thing, I just can't figure out how it would actually work and organize itself. But that's what we have markets for: Double or triple the gas tax [good luck with that] and stand back and see how various local entrepreneurs and would-be farmers do it.

Paul Botts said...

Right, what Harold said.

FYI, the giant Kellogg Foundation has made this subject a major funding focus for several years now and among the things they have made grants for is a lot of research. They've concluded that no more than 2% of food consumed in the U.S. right now is grown locally, probably much less, and have set a target of 10% which they regard as a "big hair audacious" goal.

As with any trendy subject there is currently a lot of hyperbole and exaggeration flying around on this, so it's easy for one's bullshit detector to start buzzing. For example, the idea that transportation costs are a large factor in the current form of the food system doesn't hold up to much factual examination. It's also true that in some ways the contemporary U.S. food system is a miracle without precedent in human history; it would be a sin and a shame to throw that entire baby out with the bathwater.

All that said, there is also no question that reaching even Kellogg's 10% goal, let alone 20% or more, is quite achievable and indeed is I think likely to happen within our lifetimes, and could on balance be an enormously positive change from several perspectives.