Comments: Eat local? No thanks.


Nicely put. I really enjoyed this very sound no-bollocks post.

Since I moved to New York City, I have had a blast hitting the Greenmarkets and specialty shops, finding and tasting all sorts of locally grown goodies that I had never heard of growing up in Detroit, and my inner food nerd has blossomed... so yeah, I do love buying and eating and drinking locally produced stuff, BUT... I don't want to give up imported cheeses or olive oils or wine. I don't want to deny myself the little taste of home that Michigan cherries or Kowalski kielbasa provide. I don't want to give up my morning coffee or tea, the bright flavor of lemons and limes, or that slice of Prosciutto di Parma wrapped around my blanched locally grown asparagus spear just because they are not in season or locally produced!

Excellent, thoughtful post. Thank you.

Amen. Researching and seeking out "foreign" products has taught me as much, if not more, than what is available right here in Southern Indiana.

Barrett, I agree with all of what you say about the positive benefits of importing food - good for trade and culture both in the past and in the present. But the Eat Local Challenge (for me, anyway) isn't about religiously excluding food from far away but about exploring more thoroughly what IS available locally and in season.

Also, although in the 15-18th centuries (as you mention) the food was imported and then grown locally nowadays it's possible to just transport from the country of origin regardless of the climate of the importer. And more importantly (and part of the point of Eat Local) those boats did not burn oil and add to the pollution.

So, yes, I'll think twice before I pick up that ripe mango. I'm not saying I'll eliminate exotic foods from my diet permanently, but I'll use them more judiciuosly in the future and be more aware of the resources that don't have such an ecological price tag.

(I'll stop preaching now...)

Meg, one could argue that the forests of Britain fell to supply the wood for the ships that controlled the oceans to help bring those spices and foods back to Britain from India and beyond.

Certainly they used the fleets to protect cod fishing grounds thousands of miles from England.

I understand there is an impact on the Earth from importing food, but there's an impact on the Earth from living in a city or suburb, having electricity, flying to visit friends and family, and having a personal motor vehicle.

I don't think most people are willing to give all that up. I'm all for limiting the use of these technologies as I am for limiting my purchase of importated foods to the ones that just can't be done well in our local area.

I personally would prefer we focus on finding carbon-neutral fuel and energy sources, like cellulose based bio-fuels or alternate energy production than give up the benefits of a global economy.

I personally would prefer we focus on finding carbon-neutral fuel and energy sources, like cellulose based bio-fuels or alternate energy production than give up the benefits of a global economy.

Well, until we do I am going to limit the support I give to the importers.

Actually, I should try to get the Critic in on this discussion - he made a point in a discussion recently (if nothing else the ELC is good for generating debate!) about the idea of creating a new taxation system to equitably handle it. We'll have to get him to explain it because I'm not sure I can do it justice...

Three cheers for contrarian point of view!

I sure do love mangos and I don't want to stunt the growth of developing countries, but I also support the "eat local" movement to some extent.

I think for a lot of people, "eat local" is more about supported the community and seeing what is out there than only eating local food. I am also in Illinois and I think I would get sick of eating all local because there really isn't all the much, but I have discovered a lot of good local products that are now a big part of what I eat.

Disclaimer: I'm blessed and cursed to live in the cornucopia and traffic nightmare that is Silicon Valley.

I can't verify it, but I have a hunch that ELC supporters also share the common view that one should, for example, reject Starbuck's in favor of the local coffee shop. Fair enough.

But what's the premise of that? Promoting competition? Shop quality products, regardless of who produces them, and competition naturally wins on a "majority rule" basis.

Punishing the corporatization of America? Rewarding home-grown entrepreneurialism? Even Starbucks was small once, and thus "okay" for support. When did it get too large for support? At 5 stores? 10 stores? 50 stores?

Being different? Cool. I can deal with simple contrarianism. :)

However, realize now that, when you reject one company and favor another, you're still putting real, live people out of work, or helping get others employed, clothed, fed, etc. This is the power of our wallet, whether you are working as part of a campaign, or not.

But here's the nut: assume we shun chain coffeeshops for the mom/pop. Now assume the "chain" -- or Starbucks -- is the U.S. Likewise, assume the less-affluent elsewhere, who thrive primarily BECAUSE of that one specific food item (with few options) . . .well, assume they are the mom/pop.

Am I imposed an analogy that may or may not hold? Yes. But -- pardon the pun -- let this be food for thought when you wield your wallet with any sense of moral cause.

Because I can make a good case that supporting a global economy -- particularly the less affluent with fewer options for making money -- is more effective at promoting universal progress than is supporting a local economy only.

Anyway, calling it a "Challenge" is just bad PR. Why should it be a "Challenge"? Call it a freakin' "Experiment" and engage peoples' inherent sense of adventure and playfulness, instead of carrying the word "Challenge" like a club and alienating people who might otherwise get your point and play along.

Columbus was financed by the Spanish, not the Portuguese, to try discover a new route to India (the Portuguese already explored various sea routes along the western and eastern african coasts trying to reach the valuable indian spices).

Other interesting facts:
- Columbus discovered the "New World" in 1492.
- The Treaty of Tordesillas between the Spanish and Portuguese governments was signed in 1494, dividing the world in two exclusive "commercial zones".
- The Portuguese Vasco da Gama reached India in 1498.
- In 1500, another Portuguese (Pedro Alvares Cabral) reached Brazil wich was inside the line drawn by the above treaty.

Best regards, from Portugal

I love this thread.
As both an archaeologist and cook, I have to agree with the original statement. The exchange of food products has been a part of civilization for thousands of years and it is what makes our menus so diverse.
To me, "going local" is really about recognizing what food products are superior in your region and ordering those products from your local vender/farmer/fisherman etc. I'm all for supporting your local businessmen but not at the expense of good food, because as we all know, the dish is (usually) only as good as the ingredients ; )

I heard this once "buy local. think global"

BrainstormZ - I had Portuguese on the brain. Thanks for the correction.

I think that this is a brilliant and well thought out piece, Barrett. I fully agree with you.

I think your eloquent post makes many good points, but as someone taking up the "challenge" for the month of May, I think there are a few things missing. For me, it's not about the spices and the coffee and the basic grains like rice (all of which I exempted from my list) but more about making sure to buy a chicken from a close-by farm that I can visit instead of the shrink-wrapped pieces at Albertson's or even the supposed-free range Rosie chicken at Whole Foods. It's about making the right choices and the changes in my food where I can, without attempting to deprive myself. And the items you cite at the end of your post--italian tomatos, swiss chocolate--are not the "problem" I'm concerned about--instead, it's the mass produced, industrial farmed food your average Americans eat every day, and the fact that most Americans don't have access to local foods--and I think an event/challenge/whatever-ya-call-it can help, in a small way, to change that.

I don't think the "eat local" movement means you must only eat locally grown produce. I think it means that you should eat foods that are grown in the places where they occur, more or less naturally, and if that happens to be close to you, you should prefer the closer.

In other words, mangoes don't grow in Illinois. That doesn't mean don't eat mangoes. Just be aware of the place where it comes from (e.g. california?) But, likewise, lettuce grows right up the street (more or less) so when you shop for lettuce, you should prefer local to california lettuce.

I think the "eat local" movement should be interpreted both with respect to where you are, and to where the food grows naturally. I think that it just asks the consumer to stop and think about where the food is coming from: is there a particular reason you are favoring california cheese over wisconsin cheese? is there a particular reason why you should buy the dole lettuce when, on the same day you are grocery shopping, there is a giant farmers market at daley plaza? etc.

Jeff has essentially put it the way I would have.

To me the point of this "challenge" is that I'm trying to increase my own personal awareness and in turn increase the awareness of others. I think that when you consume something, you ought to know a bit more about the product then blindly purchasing something simply because it's the first thing that you see. Essentially, we should be more thoughtful.

Which you obviously have been with your post and I don't oppose it, but you're already in a better state than most people. You've sat down and considered the points instead of just claiming that there is simply no point. Part of this, to me at least, has been about learning more from both sides. It's just easier to learn when you're experiencing it for yourself. I know the benefits of eating exotic and imported products, now maybe it's time to get the other side's view. And this all coming from someone who is "restricted" by living in Toronto.

I appreciate what you're saying, Barrett, but at least for me, excluding exotic produce is not at all what the Challenge is about. I'm mostly concerned with getting rid of redundant, wasteful shipping. For example, it's currently strawberry season here in Georgia, but all the strawberries in the stores are from California. During Georgia's apple season, the stores are full of Washington apples. During our peach season, our local producers can all their peaches and ship them elsewhere; meanwhile, we are stuck with mealy "fresh" peaches that have been shipped cross-country. It's just pointless, and I think we should make an effort to fix it.

Because of the Eat Local Challenge, I've found excellent local producers that I otherwise would have had no idea existed. So now I get cheese, whole wheat flour, free-range pork, fruit, and all kinds of other ultra-fresh foods from my own state, rather than buying inferior versions from big multinational corporations. Imagine, if you will, if everyone did that!

Jeff, Vanessa, Jamie et al, I think I'm not very far outside where you're at. Most Eat Locallians (hey, my blog, I can make up words if I like) aren't going to completely cut items out of their diet that aren't from around them, especially when it comes to spices.

But I'm really not worried about the shipping costs. Where I fovor local produce, it's simply better.

I especially like to avoid the tomato problem. Most tomatoes are picked unripe and gassed until they turn red. the fruit itself, however, is still unripe and doesn't have that lovely tomato taste. That's why I buy tomatoes by scent rather than by sight.

As far as lettuce goes, I'll usually buy my lettuce by crispness, color, scent, etc... I don't look at where it comes from. If somehow they can send a better lettuce to my market from California than I can get from Illinois, I'll buy the shipped head.

Really, for me, this all is reminiscent of the debate over buying foreign cars that we had back in the 1980's. If I get a better car from Toyota or Honda than from GM or Ford, I'm buying the Honda/Toyota. (In fact, we currently own a Civic and are about to buy a Scion xB.)

Local products have to survive on their own merits. I live near and enjoy Wisconsin cheeses. But I'm not going to cut Cowgirl Creamery cheeses out of my diet because it comes from out West. If there's a commodity item I don't really care that much about, I'll favor the local product, but in this time of global trade, I will let the best product win my dollar.

That doesn't mean I'm only going to the Safeway. I plan on buying a CSA share once we move to our new house in Maryland. I'm also naturally curious about little non-corporate paces for everything from cheese to shoes. The Safeway may still be a part of my lifestyle, but it's never going to be my exclusive source for foodstuffs.

Most virtuously from a local perspective, perhaps, I'm planning on starting a container vegetable garden when we move to our new house next month. With produce out on the deck, I will favor those most immediately local goods of all over even the best of the supermarket competitors.

For me, it is all about taste.

Locally grown produce, locally raised, grass-fed meat and eggs, and locally produced dairy products -taste better-.

Why? Because they were picked today, were raised on grass, or otherwise did not have to travel a bazillion miles to get to my kitchen.

I agree with you--and in the posts where I state my position when I start the ELC, that food has been traded about the world forever, and I am not about to step in the way of that now.

My way of looking at it is this--that which is produced in Ohio and that is good, I will prefer over that which is shipped in and not so good.

That which is never going to grow or be produced in Ohio, like say, chocolate, coffee and olive oil--I will buy according to its flavor and the ethics of the producer. (I prefer fair trade coffee, for example, but only if it tastes good. Which it usually does.)

Yeah, I still eat mangoes and avocadoes and limes and soy sauce and the like. But I am also serving all of my meat, most of my vegetables and fruits, all the eggs, most of the tofu and all of my milk from Ohio sources--and my cooking tastes better for it.

It is all about balance.

Well, Mr. Contrarian, it would seem that we are none of us all that far from agreement on most points:

- Columbus was sponsored by the King of Spain

- Buying locally is often a good idea, whether you do so for freshness, ecological reasons or laziness

- Buying bad/untasty food is not a good idea regardless of whether it came from near or far, fair trade or not

- It's good to know where your food comes from so that you can make an informed choice.

For myself, I am finding that the latter point is the most important one in the ELC. I have discovered new sources for good food and feel better about buying from some of the ones I already knew. I will never eliminate ALL exotic produce from my cooking (it would seem we are all agreed on that one!) but I'll be more inclined to save them for special occasions and try to make something special out of the products at hand first.

Oh, Barrett--the farmer's markets where you are moving to are fabulous. The one in Columbia (which may have changed where it is located, so keep an eye out for it) is great. Look for Dorthea's Breads--that lady can bake like crazy!

There is also a lady who does her own hot smoked and cold-smoked seafoods, and there are the wonderful hippy farmers who grow heirloom tomatoes to die for.

There are also great farmer's markets in Laurel, and if you want to travel, in DC.

excellent thread..and i would only add the angle of peak oil. The cost of shipping our produce has almost doubled in the last twenty years as we moved from more regionally based food sheds to huge national agribusiness. ..And that figure comes from a time when petroleum was really cheap...not 60 dollars plus a barrel like it is now. Some geologists say we have already gotten to tpeak oil...meaning half of all the oil in the ground (the cheap, easily attainable half) has been taken and now oil will become increasingly scarce and more expensive to extract. With international demand growing exponentially from places like China and India , in the not to distant future buying a grapes in winter form Chile or New Zealand lamb will be extremely costly.

Some experts think the future economy will be more locally based...and food economies will be the top of the list. It makes sense if you like to eat well, that you support the local infrastructure now so that somewhere down the road, if the oil economy as we know it disappears (or just becomes very expensive) we have the local resources to keep feeding ourselves.

I reject most of it too. It's easy for garden spots, but very, very hard for those in the frozen north or the mountains or similarly challenged climes.
I don't live in the US, although I used to. If you carried this back to what would grow here naturally, it would pretty much be fish, game, grains, wild greens and blackberries. That's the way Romans ate before they became powerful. No thanks. They also lived about 40 years.
I like my coffee, chocolate, pineapple, lemons, vanilla and other spices, new world veg and fruits, won't finish the list.
Besides, what the heck are the people in the places that produce these things supposed to do? Scratch gold out of the soil so they can buy wheat?
I am for using alternative fuels, certainly, and conserving resources, but I am not willing to return to a dietary Iron Age, nor do I think it makes sense to starve the half of the world who have climates that only produce well bananas and pineapples.
By the way, there are lots of very productive people on the blogging server you are blocking. I have never spammed anybody and use a code to protect my site. Maybe you could try something inoffensive like that.

Judith, thanks for you comment.

Unfortunately, its not legitimate blog owners who have spamming issues that are the cause of our block on b*** Rather, it's the unscrupulous spammers who create whole blogs that exist simply to spam other blogs that caused us to raise shields.

I regret having to do it but 50%+ of our spam was coming from zombie blogs on that site.

I think the go local movement is wonderful. THere isn't a single harmful thing about it. The biggest reason I like to support local farmers is for the envoronment and the economy. WHen you support big businesses that import products from other countries it seems at first that it would be helping that countries economy. BUt in fact what is happening is the big corporations are shipping from these places only to dodge environmental laws and exploit foreign workers. THe ccountry where the food is coming from is forced to export their local resources to places like America due to very corrupt politics. THis enables that country to stand on their own. IF their resources would stay local the economy would stay local and they would not have to depend on risky govenrment actions. IF you are interested in learning more about this type of thing I strongly suggest you watch a brilliant documentary called "Life and Debt."
When you support local markets you are doing so many wonderful things. You are putting money right back into your own local economy which in turn helps you (if your life revolves at all around your local area). You are lowering pollution from the transportation otherwise needed to transport foreign goods. You are becoming more involved with your community. WHen you become more aware of where you food comes from it helps with your mental state (this is true for me anyway). When I buy packaged good from who knows where I get a very disconcerting feeling where I feel so detached from my food.
Going local has so many benifits. I'm not saying you should completely abandon all big business, but can you imagine a world where every starbucks was replaced by a local coffee shop where all the coffee came from close by and was grown in an environmentally safe fashion? Well thats a far far stretch and will never happen, but imagine how wonderful that would be.

I think you're missing the point as to why people are so passionate about buying locally. To transport these beautiful fruits and vegitables you speak of accross the world you must use oil. oh yeah oil. which in turn produces emissions (about 1/5 th of our emissions comes from growing and TRASPORTING food. so all these beautiful fruits and vegitables you speak of will all be gone. burned away by a massive hole in the ozone (or do you say phooey to the ozone too?). yes true, helping out third world nations get food is a good thing. but you are not in a third world nation. so stop being greedy and save your planet.

I think you're missing the point as to why people are so passionate about buying locally. To transport these beautiful fruits and vegitables you speak of accross the world you must use oil. oh yeah oil. which in turn produces emissions (about 1/5 th of our emissions comes from growing and TRASPORTING food. so all these beautiful fruits and vegitables you speak of will all be gone. burned away by a massive hole in the ozone (or do you say phooey to the ozone too?). yes true, helping out third world nations get food is a good thing. but you are not in a third world nation. so stop being greedy and save your planet.

To the comments about "what will the people in the places that grow those things do if we don't buy their products?"
They will also eat locally. Instead of Dole Fruit Company monopolizing the farms of South America to ship us cheap bananas, South American farmers can grow food to feed South Americans.
I agree it's ok to buy imported food if that's the only place you can get it, especially if it's something used in small amounts, like spices. But we don't really NEED bananas, mangos, or pineapple when we have wonderful apples and pears here in Washington and fabulous peaches in Georgia. For reasons of energy, economy, personal nutrition, AND the benefit of developing countries being RAPED by American companies, it is best to buy as local as possible, and buy fair trade certified when you feel you MUST have that imported luxury item. (For me that means I haven't given up coffee and chocolate or cinnamon, but I buy them fairly traded.)

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