*The Locavore’s Dilemma*

The authors are Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu, and the subtitle is In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet:

The publisher’s page summarizes it thus:

Today’s food activists think that “sustainable farming” and “eating local” are the way to solve a host of perceived problems with our modern food supply system. But after a thorough review of the evidence, Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu have concluded that these claims are mistaken.

In The Locavore’s Dilemma they explain the history, science, and economics of food supply to reveal what locavores miss or misunderstand: the real environmental impacts of agricultural production; the drudgery of subsistence farming; and the essential role large-scale, industrial producers play in making food more available, varied, affordable, and nutritionally rich than ever before in history.

They show how eliminating agriculture subsidies and opening up international trade, not reducing food miles, is the real route to sustainability; and why eating globally, not only locally, is the way to save the planet.

I very much enjoyed reading the book, you can order a copy here.  For the pointer I thank Daniel Klein.


You mean, it turns out that farming is a lot of work, when you don't enjoy doing it every day in your cute suburban garden with a couple of chickens you're not even gonna eat?

I am shocked - shocked - to learn that!

Somehow my mental stereotype of a suburban gardener does not align with someone capable of killing chickens with their own hands. It isn't an easy skill. Not for the squeamish.

Hence the "you’re not even gonna eat"

What's the real story behind the locavore movement, since, obviously, its rationalizations don't make much sense? It must tap into important psychological urges to generate this much energy. What are they?

Signalling value? Deluding the self that they are doing good for the environment? A sense of control?

The human need to choose sides creates false dichotomies.

The Moral Economy of Guilt?

In such a world, where there are few intrinsic limits to what I can do, there is almost nothing for which I cannot be, in some way, held accountable.

The demands on an active conscience are literally as endless as an active imagination’s ability to conjure them. And indeed, as those of us who teach young people often have occasion to observe, it may be precisely the most morally sensitive individuals who have the weakest commonsense defenses against such overwhelming assaults on their over-receptive sensibilities—assaults that may amount to little more than propagandizing and manipulation, particularly when questions of environmental sin are at stake.

The same things that create chauvinistic impulses nationally create them locally or for sports franchises.

Part of it is sticking it to big ag, part of it is a variation on "buy American," part of it is a recognition that a fruit grown in-season by a local farmer may very well taste better than a fruit grown out of season or transported 10,000 miles, part of it is what goes into every fad [people like to try out new, popular things, like Crocs or being taught how to Dougie], part of it is the often-incorrect assumption that less energy will be used to grow and transport something 100 miles than 10,000 miles.

I include two more factors-- once it was relatively easy for people to get organic food at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, status-seeking led to making Eating Well Enough more difficult than just going to a somewhat expensive supermarket.

The other factor-- one I'm less sure of-- is that "eating locally is good for unspecified reasons" was still floating around from macrobiotics.

The need to eat coupled with a desire to support something that is the antithesis of big agri-business.

Read the excellent comment at the Amazon link to the book.

The gist (the appeal of locavorism) is a mis-guided desire for self-sufficiency, autonomy, etc.

Never picked off the vine and ate a tomato you grew yourself, have you?

The low effort low energy way to match that is at a farmer's market from a local farmer you can trust.

No one can deliver a good tomato from more than 100 miles away, much less a great tomato.

The same is true for greens, herbs.

For a number of foods, in season and local just trump out of season so much that satisfaction out of season is impossible.

I will agree that the average tomato at the grocery store is fairly taste-free and has poor texture. However, I've found that the hothouse tomatoes that sold in the
plastic clamshells (with the vine still attached) are usually pretty good. Next best are the same tomatoes free (but still with the vine attached).

Tomatoes are tough due to the conversions that take place under refrigeration causing flavor loss. Though 100 miles is a bit extreme. I'd say the range is about 500 miles if shipped immediately after picking. Many farmers market growers are bringing in tomatoes from further south prior to the start of the local season because people will not stop at a booth with produce if there are no tomatoes.

Upon arrival they have to be sold and eaten within 48 hrs. Or, take the time honored tradition of picking them at slightly green-orange and placing the picked tomato on a windowsill 3-4 days until fully ripe. Of course, most people don't know that this is the way that many people pick tomatoes so they will not buy a slightly green one thinking it inferior.

Herbs and greens are very easily transported and are quite stable for several days under refrigeration with minimal loss of flavor. The big one for me is squash. I've never had a good summer squash outside the months of may-september. I lose weight every summer since I primarily eat squash for 3 months. Very cheaply I might add since I grow them in the yard.

fine logic for tomatoes and some vegetables, but doesn't apply to frozen blocks of ground lamb.

Homeowners are big on the locavore movement because converting farms to houses increases supply and lowers prices, makes buyers less desperate, etc. You hear this explanation all the time in the fancy towns that host boutique farms. Farms also serve to make towns quaint.

It is pure anti-corporate sentiment. There is a wide swath of the population that don't understand that "corporation" and "co-op" are the same root word, and the distinctions are purely superficial. Wrap this up with romantic notions of the noble savage, and a healthy dose of neo-Luddites.

The ironic thing is that most localvores are upper-middle class, or come from upper-middle class families, and highly educated (or should I say credentialed?).

"“corporation” and “co-op” are the same root word"
Um, no. "Corporation" comes from "corporatus"--to become a corpus (body) [i.e. a collective or legal entity]; "co-op" is short for "co-operative"--you know, work together. But yes, co-ops are a kind of corporation.

I predict that this will convince no one.

"eliminating agriculture subsidies": but how to do that in the USA, EU, Japan?

Step 1. Eliminate agriculture subsidies.
Step 2...Oh wait, it's done already.

Politically it might need some sort of unholy alliance between libertarians, deficit hawks and environmentalists.

Libertarians: I will support any "green", "budget reduction" that involves diminishing of government control.
Environmentalists: I will support any budget reducing diminishing of government control that is green.
Deficit Hawk: I will support any "green" diminishing of government control that cuts expenditure.

No locavore I know, nor even those who strive to local, claim saving the environment as their motivation. Biodiversity seems the only environmental concern they have, and this excerpt hardly argues that industrial food production resolves that problem.

Eating local seems just like any other ritualized behavior: it makes you more aware at that moment about that act.

Even the locavore wiki page makes no mention of improving the environment...except the local environment.

There may be plenty of locavore's who don't make sustainability claims, but plenty of "sustainability" folk often include eating local as part of their propaganda. You don't have to look too hard to find people who believe eating local reduces their carbon footprint.

See here under "Food":

I missed the memo that sustainability was synonymous with reducing carbon footprint.

70 some million people died last century because their food supply wasn't sustainable.

"I missed the memo that sustainability was synonymous with reducing carbon footprint."

Then you've never been to a Sustainability Fest!

You're darn tootin'

To me, "sustainability" means what the actual word means, not what some crowd wants it to mean.

It means, if in the future we have no oil, but plentiful fusion power plants, then we can keep doing what we want to do.

That's all.

Being a locavore made so much more sense when I lived in the San Joaquin Valley, for some reason.

Except for bananas. Gotta have bananas.

Thanks for the suggestions. It seems like part of an inchoate anti-globalization, particularist backlash driven by deeply human emotions. Too bad that intellectual discourse has been so gelded that people have to make up silly rationalizations for natural feelings like local loyalty.

Maybe it's because some of us believe that our feelings aren't the best guide for ethical behavior.

Most people are motivated by their feelings, but they are often not terribly frank about which feelings (e.g., the urge to feel superior toward people around them is flagrantly common among both liberals and libertarians).

Of course reason is slave of the passions, but most won't come out and admit that passions amount to their ethical philosophy.

What you're fighting against, Steve, is that local isn't local anymore. I talk to my Ukrainian colleague in Mexico City more than I talk to my neighbor. My Ukrainian colleague in Mexico City seems more "local" to me than my physical neighbors because, unlike them, we talk and share laughs. I'm not rich or anything, I'm not an elite, but my daily life makes me feel like my true neighbors are in Mexico City, Kiev and Mumbai.

I am a xenophobe to my neighbors who have passed around a petition to get speed bumps put on our street. I don't understand those people, because they were recently happy that the city came in and flattened the street. So I consider those people stupid and absurd. They are the foreigners to me, not my colleagues in Mexico City, Kiev and Mumbai. Local isn't local anymore.


You should use your intellect to try to rise above your anger issues.

This is a very bad book, and I only read some pages that are available on Amazon! I was suspicious when I saw where the authors worked - a conservative anti-environment, enviironment think tank in Bozeman. They make accusations about Joel Salatin that are just flat out wrong. This book, just like Tyler's, are aimed at people that are not educated in ecology, more like economics types. Tyler makes dismissive remarks in his book about "locavores" without being specific. I've read this blog for several years and have closely followed the book reviews and paper links and I can't recall material that shows me an understanding of ecology or health. That's the problem with economists, they so often pontificate on things they are not educated in, and make pronouncements and then accuse anyone who disagrees as heretical. (Personally, I refer to this as Gary Becker disease)

That's a good point you had there about criticisms that aren't specific!

Your "critique" lacks substance. Please refute any claims made with i) evidence or ii) explain internal inconsistencies. If you cannot do either, then please think again about leveling charges against other people.

So lets begin :

Please point out the factual and/or logical flaws in either TC's book or this one and we can take have a discussion.

Maybe you'd prefer "Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly" by James E. McWilliams, food and environment historian.

The point is that the locavores aren't educated or knowledgeable about ecology. They possess the delusional belief that they are doing something positive coupled with an insatiable need to be recognized by others for doing so. But they dont exercise due diligence in researching the net impact of their actions. Even if they are right, they don't know that they are right. And they don't care that they don't know.

Desrochers works as a professor at a publicly funded university outside Toronto. What are you referring to?

thanks for saying this- I've been waiting for someone to point out some of the more obvious flaws in what he's saying.

I've grown vegetables for years. My vegetables taste better and are safer than most anything you can buy and they cost less. I grew about 500lbs of vegetables last year in my 2000 sq. ft garden for about $100 and I wasn't trying to do it on the cheap. We're still eating butter nut squash (great in pies) and sweet potatoes from last year.

You might argue that my labor makes the food more expensive than store bought, but from my point of view the labor is valuable in itself, for the physical exertion and for the community with the other gardeners and my neighbors and friends who share in the bounty, for being outside, for having dirt on my hands, and for knowing where my food comes from.

I hope I never have to give up the garden. But I also like the bounty I find on the supermarket's shelves.

It doesn't have to be one or the other; it should be both.

I doubt either industrial food production or local, sustainable food production will save the planet.


I had fresh organic lettuce out of a German neighbour's garden the other day. Delicious! Better than the crappy lettuce grown in some solution, whether nearby or in Calif. or in Mexico. But that doesn't make me a locavore. Nor does lxm's gardening make him/her a locavore. It makes us prefer good quality food over less good quality food, even if it costs more in effort, money, barter...

Reasons for eating fresh organic food aren't identical with the practice of only eating food grown within a certain radius.

and for knowing where my food comes from.

How come there isn't a movement yet to smelt your own metal and blowmould your own chairs?

I am puzzled why the "desire to know where it came from" is a curiosity uniquely food related. Is this some primeval hunter trait that exposes itself in modern people?

When you start eating metal and plastic let me know.

Origin labels aren't food-exclusive, many people don't want to direct their clothes (or electronics, or automobile, etc) dollars to certain countries for political or cultural reasons.

Ingestion seems like a pretty bright line between manufactured goods and food.

This. Very much so.

Most decisions people make are emotionally based, even when it comes to spending money.

Offer someone the choice between a free cup of coffee every day for a year and a mind-reading barista who can have your perfect, wait-free (and full-price) cup of coffee ready by the time you walk into the coffee shop... and most people will choose the mind-reading barista. Most economists will tell you to take the free cup of coffee.

this argument is rehashed repeatedly without ever considering how many people support local farmers for a purely aesthetic reason of wanting to support local farmers, rather than from an environmental perpsective. economists rarely begrudge the populace its consumption of Apple products, despite the fact that those products are technologically purely equivalent or even inferior in many cases to products that cost 1/2 - 1/4 as much in less shiny and trendy packages, thereby serving no purpose except satisfying aesthetic values (and of course redistributing income to the wealthy through the resultant obscene profit margins).

oh and yeah industrial agriculture has *definitely* made food more 'nutritionally rich' than ever before--evolution never in its wildest dreams imagined the human GI tract would be exposed to such a 'rich' variety of pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones, steroids, and antibiotics. it's miraculous, really, and sorely underappreciated.

"this argument is rehashed repeatedly without ever considering how many people support local farmers for a purely aesthetic reason of wanting to support local farmers."

A year ago as I was leaving a park I spotted a car with an "eat local foods" bumper sticker. I laughed at it because the bumper sticker was on the back of a VW minivan. They want others to support local farmers yet they bought a car made outside the US (this was a month before the VW plant in the US opened).

I hate to break this to you, but farmers don't build cars. You're comparing apples to Volkswagens.

Also, if the car was not new its purchase was most likely also local. Nice try.

Why does the courtesy extend only to farmers? Why not "drive local" and "wear local" too?

As a mother of four children, np--I can clear this issue up for you=)
I consider it a type of food insurance (just in case). I would rather not be completely dependant on our current food system--It has too many factors out of my control. It's comforting to know that more people are growing and eating food locally. I am definately not an elitist (it is to laugh). I think the Locavore movement is a healthy thing for local communities. So no, it's not the environment or the economy, it is survival that drives me as a prospective Locavore.

Where do you think the grocery store produce comes from? When in season, they get it from local farmers. They just don't advertise it. Farmers markets are branding.

I have no problem with branding to increase profits of farmers. The smart ones are doing just that. Organic is little more than a brand as well. The best brands always have been those that make you think you are either special for buying it or getting something extra good. Organic foods and farmers markets fit both while making more money for the grower/retailer. Win-win.

They have started announcing and advertising local foods in the Safeway brand here

One would have to beleive that the transportation of food was subject to some mind-bogling negative externalities for the locovore idea to make much sense.

You are, of course, referring to the fact that growing and transporting local food causes more CO2 emissions than traditional market sourced food?


Why do people stubbornly refuse to believe that market forces actually are pretty darn efficient?

Go to a good local farmer's market. Buy and eat some local asparagus. Eat some local strawberries. Sometimes in your life you'll need to buy these things in the supermarket, but once you've had the real thing, you'll never be confused about the importance of local food.

But these aren't good just because they are local. They are good because they are good.

As it happens, I like high quality organic kiwis and oranges. As I'm in Canada, I must buy certain things non-locally. I pay more for good quality exemplars, and don't care where they originate.

They're better because they are fresher. "Good quality" organic produce in the supermarket is good, but there is a difference. Too bad asparagus and strawberry seasons are over or you could do an experiment. Soon you could probably buy some local sweet corn in Canada. Try it. It will knock your socks off. Clearly this doesn't work for oranges or kiwi where I live (Wisconsin).

Would you still eat local if they were better in taste and worse for the environment? To me that's the crucial question.

Ha, in parts of Canada, strawberry season is in July

Being a locavore seems a lot like rooting for your hometown high school football team: both are quite Burkean.

You greatly overestimate your own cleverness.

Being loyal to the local football team doesn't cost you anything. Burke was a native-born Irish man who integrated into English society, supported free trade and opposed Britain's war in the American colonies: he was hardly one to champion loyalty to one's roots above all else.

I suspect locavores are motivated by a mix of status-seeking, the desire for a pseudo-religious form of life discipline ("buy local" in place of Halakha or Sharia), anti-industrial romanticism that has existed since the 19th century in both Left and Right forms and (possibly misguided) environmental concerns.

Can't they just be wrong?

Also, are you picking the "locavore" part so that you can paint that wrongness across the entire crowd who also hold views about peak oil that a lot of people believe to be correct?

I'm not sure I follow the part about "picking the 'locavore' part so that [I] can paint that wrongness across the entire crowd...". It requires energy to produce fertilizers, to irrigate fields and to transport food from farms to markets. If non-solar energy were to suddenly become unavailable, I believe the result would be famine -- a set of natural experiments relevant here are the WWI and WWII embargoes in continental Europe.

Is it possible for most industrialized societies to produce enough calories with their local, arable land without recourse to fossil fuels? I'm not at all sure it is. Is it possible to not just produce enough calories but also produce a balanced diet for all their people full of essential protein, vitamins and minerals? I'm even more skeptical. If peak oil is correct, I think getting nuclear power plants on line and relying more on natural gas and, in a pinch, coal would be the only way out in the medium-run. I don't see how locavorism would be viable unless populations were radically reduced (cue Dr. Strangelove reference). But this isn't my area.

It is possible for an industrial society to produce enough calories to feed them without fossil fuels. Of course, they would cease being industrial since everybody would be walking the fields with a hoe and basket 12 hours a day.

"I don’t see how locavorism would be viable unless populations were radically reduced"
Or unless MORE PEOPLE started growing locally=)

Why are libertarians against locavores? They have chosen to consume local, why does it bother you?

It's the often specious reasoning behind locavorism that bothers.

Because they are often liberal democrats and don't distinguish betwee "I want" and "I want my politician to subisidize my right choices and tax or punish my neighbor's wrong choices."

I only eat organic because I buy my kids organic because the geniuses who make pesticides use neurotoxins. There is some evidence that this contributes to Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases too, so while I think most adult consumption is at the cost of giving the kids the best food it might turn out I'm wrong in that.

I'm not against locavores per se, except in that they may be completely wrong because they jumped on a band-wagon before they did actual analysis. On the other hand, I certainly don't believe a priori what one side says about what the other side believes.

Since I don't actually talk to people on either side and make my own decisions to the best of my knowledge, I can't really speak to what either side wants or thinks.

The debate is not about current data, it is about projections of future data. So, saying that neurotoxins and fossil fueled farming "works" is completely irrelevant.

You do realize that "organic" food uses pesticides too? And that the pesticides and fungicides that are approved for organic use tend to be more toxic than more modern products? Or that the modern products are typically used in smaller quantities? Also, you are aware that many pesticides in use today aren't actually "neurotoxins", but instead hormone-based, and designed to merely interrupt the reproductive cycle of the pests, not kill them?

The reason that most libertarians don't like localvores and organic food advocates is because they don't understand the basic science that their beliefs are founded upon. The movements are Luddite and fundamentally anti-scientific.

If somebody tells you he prefers apples to bananas, do you demand that he justify his decision objectively and rationally?


OTOH if he claims his choice promotes world peace (say), I do laugh at him.

I've been eating apples all my life and there hasn't been a nuclear war yet. Proof!

Now ask me why I've got a banana in my ear...

Because stupid social movements are stupid.

I enjoy going to the farmer's market as much as the next person, but what's the point of making it a movement? Why identify yourself as a "locovore" or proselytize for local foods? Surely it's not just because they taste better (you don't see bumper stickers advertising peoples' favorite foods or restaurants). Those who would identify themselves as part of the movement clearly think there is some reason to buy local that goes beyond personal benefit.

Why is every word from a libertarian's mouth construed as a political testament on liberty? They are permitted to criticize behavior or ideas without restricting the freedom of others to do those things or hold those beliefs.

As academics, T&A have a duty to combat ignorance. There's also a general motive to denounce snobbery and hypocrisy.

If you were sincerely concerned about public and personal health, the environment, the local economy and fair labor practices, wouldn't you want to know if behavior you believed promoted those ends in fact worked against them? Or is ignorance blissful?

locavores suck my motherfucking dick

Why post this here? Craigslist would be more local:

DEAL LOCALLY WITH FOLKS YOU CAN MEET IN PERSON - follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts.

Always wondered what the "Locavores" would do if everyone in the area decided it was a good idea to eat locally. How many people could actually be fed in the DC-to-Boston megalopolis if everyone insisted on "eating locally"? Especially in the winter months? That Farmer's market arugula might become a bit pricy.

What percentage of modern urban life is dependent on industrial food production?

"What percentage of modern urban life is dependent on industrial food production?" -- all of Hawaii loves SPAM (TM). It's the most popular dish there.

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Aren't markets supposed to respond to such a strong, widespread demand? That arugula (what is it about you people and arugula?) would drop back to an acceptable price within time.

But how much of that arugula (or whatever food you'd like to consider) could actually be locally grown, especially in proximity to places such as NYC? Anywhere near enough to feed the city for the entire year?

The invisible hand will always lose out to thermodynamics. Providing people with enough calories to survive is a physics and chemistry problem as much as an economic problem. Two relevant questions:

1. Is it possible to feed the D.C.-Boston megalopolis locally given current population, agricultural land and technology?
2. Is it possible to do the above without a large increase in energy inputs [fertilizer, irrigation, mechanized farm equipment]?

If the answer to #2 is no, then locavorism would potentially take all the fuel consumption and CO2 output that comes from transporting food long distances and replace it with the fuel consumption and CO2 output that is needed to make this area agriculturally productive enough to feed everyone. In places like Southern California and the Southwest, more local agriculture would put a serious strain on the already overtaxed water supply. Is this really any more environmentally friendly?

I might as well point out that transporting food need not consume many fossil fuels. Ancient Rome sustained a population of 1 million in part by shipping grain across the Mediterranean from North Africa. If America's transportation network is too wasteful, surely there are ways to improve it and cut down its carbon footprint directly rather than relying on more dubious ideas like relying on locally produced food.

"surely there are ways to improve it and cut down its carbon footprint directly rather than relying on more dubious ideas like relying on locally produced food."
Surely there can be a happy medium? It doesn't take much to grow something--so many things can be grown inside...garlic, green onions, peppers, herbs, fruit trees...ect. If I had my way, I would be growing things in every room of my house. Growing some of one's own food brings a joy that is easily missed in our fast-paced, stress driven society.
=) "Slow down, you're movin' to fast; You've got to make the moment last..just kickin' down the cobblestones, lookin' for fun and feelin' groovy...Ba da, Ba da, Ba da, Ba da...Feelin' Groovy." -Simon and Garfunkle teeheheelol

"Always wondered what the “Locavores” would do if everyone in the area decided it was a good idea to eat locally."

In that case, a lot of land in the Northeast corridor would be repurposed to agriculture.

I take issue with this book on a couple of levels! Here's my blog response: In Defense of Locavorism! http://www.meghaneatslocal.com/2012/07/in-defense-of-locavorism-lets-cultivate.html

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