Posts Tagged ‘local food’

Local Food From Cave 73

December 23, 2011

“Buy local,” “Eat local,” and watch your “food miles.” So say earnest people who sincerely want to live responsibly and make a better world, helping both the environment and neighboring farmers.

The general sentiment is admirable. But, as so often, the specific policy is actually misguided.

First, regarding environmental impact, “food miles” are relatively unimportant. Modern technology makes food transport so highly efficient that its cost, and carbon footprint, are not a big part of a food item’s overall profile. Far more important, environmentally, is the manner of production. It’s better to produce a food where climate and other factors are most favorable, and then transport it, than to produce it locally: to grow lettuce in sunny California and ship it to Maine than to grow it in an energy-guzzling Maine hot-house. This is true even if the best production site is half a world away. (One study found it more energy efficient for Brits to buy apples, lamb and dairy items from New Zealand than from British farmers.)

But there is a mentality that simply hates the idea of products coming from all kinds of foreign places; as if it’s somehow lamentable that a car is today made from parts crafted in 18 different countries. Maybe it’s romanticizing a supposedly simpler time when everything you consumed or used came from nearby (and life was pretty wretched, partly in consequence). And maybe it’s the deeply embedded ancestral human xenophobia and distrust of strangers. Thus the hostility to globalization in all its manifestations. Not much anyone can do about it; but the “local food” thing does provide at least one way to strike a blow against globalization.

And, in fact, this strikes a blow against non-local producers – many of them actually poor people overseas – whose poverty anti-globalizers are also always bemoaning (and blaming on capitalism). “Eat local” helps keep poor foreign farmers poor. (And that poverty is far worse than anything in America.)

The locavore movement deems it admirable local loyalty to buy your neighbor’s products rather than others. Likewise do many feel that buying something made in China betrays our own kind, whose jobs are being poached – rather than feeling they are actually helping some poor peon in China become a bit less poor. (Why else would Chinese peons flock to these “sweatshop” jobs?)

Carl Reiner with Mel Brooks as the 2000 year old man

Thus I find the whole locavore and anti-globalist attitude small-minded and ugly. Its tribalism reminds me of Mel Brooks as the “2000 Year Old Man” recalling how cave-dwellers invented national anthems. This (in full; sanitized version) was his:

Hooray for Cave 73!
Everybody else can go to Hell!

It also reminds me of the Biblical injunction, “Love thy neighbor” – which was meant literally, applying only to your own tribe-mates. All other people could be freely slaughtered (as God himself often commanded). Yuck.

The rise of an integrated, globalized world economy is beneficial, for both people and the environment. It’s good when a car’s parts come from 18 different nations. Promoting production in the places where it’s most efficient makes more and better goods available to more people, with actually smaller environmental impacts. And, by enabling more people to participate in the global economy, and to benefit from the resulting efficiencies, it gives the average world citizen a better quality of life.

Sure it’s imperfect and there are downsides; some lose jobs or pay; but the gains of the winners – people in rising nations, as well as consumers everywhere – are vastly greater. Globalization reduces world poverty. Period.

It also helps to overcome the Cave 73 (and Biblical) mentality. Adam Smith commented that an Englishman who’d suffer torments about the loss of his little finger would sleep like a babe after the earthquake deaths of a million Chinese – because he did not know them. Well, today, because of globalization, we do know them. It is making for a world in which we not only trade with each other more, but understand each other better, trust each other more, care about each other more, and help each other more. To me that’s a better world.

Think globally. Act globally. Eat globally. Rise up from Cave 73.