The real value of local food versus the straw man

Anna From Anna Blythe Lappé  (Co-author of Hope’s Edge and author of GRUB, Anna will be the keynote speaker at the Presbyterians for Restoring Creation’s National Ecojustice Conference in October)

I don’t know how many of you are Economist readers but, if you are, you might remember the magazine’s relatively recent attack on local foods advocates. Are locavores just clueless environmentalists who don’t have their facts straight? Might it be, as the Economist claimed, actually better for the environment to buy food from halfway around the world, if that food was produced more ecologically?

A recent New York Times op-ed picked up a similar line of argument. See below for my mother and my unpublished response to the editor of the Times, click here to read the letters the Times did publish, and check out fan-of-the-local Michael Shuman’s “On the Lamb” for an in-depth response.

Best, Anna

To the Editor: In an apparent attempt to set us straight on real value of “local food” in lightening our earthly footprint, James E. McWilliams (Food That Travels Well, 8.6.07) beats up on a straw man, confusing the whole question. Local foods advocates don’t promote just any kind of local, as he implies. Tyson Foods’ highly inefficient, large-footprint factory may be local to some, but an anathema to sustainable eating activists. His prime example, that in the U.K. imported grass-fed lamb embodies less fossil fuel use than local grain-fed, is not proof that imports are superior but that we should eat less grain-fed meat. He notes that we must include organic, sustainable farming practices, as well as minimal packaging, into our eating calculations, but eat-local folks already heartily agree. The author, moreover, ignores the many reasons beyond the ecological for provisioning locally whenever possible—such as less vulnerability to concentrated political and market power.

Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Blythe Lappé
Small Planet Institute