Food fight breaks out as locavores defend their turf

A new food fight has stirred up the locavore movement, which promotes eating of local products, after fresh challenges to the assumption that the practice promotes environmental sustainability.

The locavore movement, which has been gaining steam rapidly since emerging in California in 2005, is now boiling over following a commentary last month suggesting that the "math" underpinning the practice is flawed.

Author and journalist Stephen Budiansky stirred up the pot with a piece appearing in the New York Times arguing that locavores are mistaken on the notion that local food is better for energy conservation and the environment.

"Words like 'sustainability' and 'food-miles' are thrown around without any clear understanding of the larger picture of energy and land use," Budiansky wrote.

Budiansky has his own vegetable garden, but argues that on a commercial scale, large farms are far more energy-efficient than small ones and that transportation energy costs are often overstated by local food advocates.

"It takes about a tablespoon of diesel fuel to move one pound of freight 3,000 miles by rail," says Budiansky, who calls the transportation fuel costs "a negligible amount in the overall picture."

"The real energy hog, it turns out, is not industrial agriculture at all, but you and me. Home preparation and storage account for 32 percent of all energy use in our food system, the largest component by far," he said in the commentary titled "Math Lessons for Locavores."

Budiansky added that "eating food from a long way off is often the single best thing you can do for the environment, as counterintuitive as that sounds."

He said that "the relative pittance of energy we expend on 'industrial' agriculture... pays huge environmental dividends which the organic and local gurus always ignore."

The comments heated up the debate about the locavore movement, which has been gaining ground among groceries, restaurants and consumers in the United States and elsewhere, based on a philosophy of using more foods produced closer to home.

Elanor Starmer of the watchdog group Food & Water Watch says Budiansky misses the point, and that locavores want more diversity in the facing of growing concentration of the food chain in the hands of multinational companies.

"When I buy local food, energy use is not the driving rationale (no pun intended)," Starmer says in a blog posting.

"I buy from a variety of local farms when at all possible because if I don't, I will probably be eating from a stream of food that has passed through the hands of a tiny number of massive companies."

Kerry Trueman, cofounder of the website EatingLiberally, points out that "energy efficiency is only one small part of the equation when you add up the reasons to buy local."

She said factors include flavor and nutrition, support for ecological farming practices, avoidance of pesticides and more humane treatment of livestock and workers.

Dave Love of the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future, was incensed by Budiansky's argument.

"It is difficult to be in favor of a farming approach that relies upon mono-cropping using genetically modified seeds and synthetic fertilizers," he said.

"Why pick on locavores? Because when they seek local food, they may also be seeking to buy organically grown or raised foods, from small to mid-sized farms, which can impact entrenched agribusiness interests."

But James McWilliams, a fellow in the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University, said Budiansky echoes his own views that the locavore movement relies on flawed logic.

"The recognized benefits of a local foodshed are numerous, but - while small might be beautiful - small is also expensive and, in turn, prone to exclusivity," says McWilliams, author of "Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly."

Jennifer Wilkins, a faculty member at the Cornell University College of Human Ecology, says the strict economic and environmental calculations can be complex but that diversity in the food supply "tends to increase stability and resilience."

She said that recalls and accidents in the food supply can highlight problems when a small number of producers dominate.

"When something goes wrong in a highly concentrated and specialized system, as we are reminded by the recent recall of shell eggs, the consequences and costs related to public health, economic loss, food waste, and consumer confidence are on a much more spectacular scale and much more widespread," she said.

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders