Ethical Consumption and the Debate over Locavore Math
In an ethical consumption blog post from earlier this month, I weighed in with some thoughts on the pragmatism of the locavore movement. Â It turns out that I was in good company, as a debate about the movement has been raging since August 19th, when Stephen Budiansky published an Op-Ed in the New York Times criticizing the math behind the movement. Â His main argument: that food transportation represents a negligible fraction of the overall energy use quoted by proponents of local eating. Â In fact, according to Budiansky, 32% of energy use in our food system derives from home preparation and storage, and a large chunk of the remaining 68% represents the energy use required to grow the food itself.
Not surprisingly, Grist had a field day responding to Budianskyâs op-ed, assembling responses from farmers, locavore-related non-profits, and columnists and analysis specializing in food systems. Â Arguments embedded in these responses run the gamut. Â Here are a few samples of points made in the Grist responses in defense of the locavore movement:
-Selling food in mass quantities means contamination in a batch can affect massive numbers of people.
-Economic arguments about energy use in production donât take into account the spread of allergens and antibiotic-resistant bacteria from agribusiness.
-Calculations like Budianskyâs may not take into account economic distortions caused by perverse government subsidies.
-We waste more energy throwing out food than transporting it.
-Budianskyâs calculations would look different if he took into account that the local food movement should more accurately be considered a regional food movement.
-Local food is yummier.
And here are a few more adding more fuel to the fires of criticism:
-The economies of scale lost in farmers markets make buying locally a luxury that only the wealthier among us can afford.
-Farmers need to make a living, and may have difficulty doing so if they limit their sales to a 250 mile radius.
Notice that there are far more arguments against Budianskyâs position than in favor of it. Â Does the fact that these ethical consumption pieces are critical of Budianskyâs New York Times op-ed indicate that his point of view is truly flawed and partial? Â Or is the bias in these articles simply a reflection of Gristâs sympathetic stance on the locavore movement? Â If only Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland would actively weigh in on these perspectives. Â Perhaps this is a future article for Justmeansâ CSR section.
Photo credit: Tanakawho