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100-Mile Diet
October 18, 2006 12:56 PM   Subscribe

How Much Fossil Fuel Does Your Dinner Burn? Ingredients for the average American meal travel well over 1500 miles to reach your plate. Our food might be inexpensive, but it's costing the planet a lot (and doesn't taste so hot either, since it's bred to withstand shipping and have long shelf life rather than to taste good). So what happens when people reject the large-scale industrial food system? One recent development in the growing localism movement is the 100-Mile Diet, originated by a Canadian couple who spent a full year eating only foods grown or raised within 100 miles of their home. They'll even give you a road map to having a 100-Mile Thanksgiving. For other variations on the eat-local idea, check out ideas like the Eat Local Challenge, Slow Food, and Locavores encourage you to rediscover your place on earth, build community, and enjoy the Local Harvest.
posted by Miko (66 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's our local version: The Seacoast Eat Local Challenge.
posted by Miko at 1:00 PM on October 18, 2006


This stuff really annoys me.

Most urban centers simply could not be supported solely by food produced within 100 miles. The largest probably couldn't be supported by food produced within 500 miles.

Smug factor = high, practical factor = low
posted by Ynoxas at 1:03 PM on October 18, 2006


Smug factor = high, practical factor = low

Maybe they're smug. Maybe they're impractical.

Are they wrong?
posted by Bearman at 1:06 PM on October 18, 2006


ynoaxes: perhaps you raise a good point, if most major cities can not feed the people living there with only the food in the closest 100 miles what is going to happen if the system of food transportation is disrupted in some way (global warming, oil shortage, hurricane, war, political problems, take your pick).

The current system of food production is not sustainable, we need to fix this problem sooner rather than later.
posted by stilgar at 1:09 PM on October 18, 2006


If I live in the middle of a desert, is it ok to eat more than rattlesnakes and drink more than cactus juice? Or should I just move?
posted by billysumday at 1:10 PM on October 18, 2006


billy: perhaps you should not live in the middle of a desert.
posted by stilgar at 1:11 PM on October 18, 2006


that unless you are prepared to eat nothing but rattlesnakes and cactus juice. Just because something is convenient right now does not mean that it is going to work forever, las Vegas is not a sustainable model of habitation.
posted by stilgar at 1:12 PM on October 18, 2006


Politically, this seems ineffective. I suppose it is important to get a certain group of people thinking about where their food comes from, how long it takes to get there, and what detriment to the environment and economy these methods cause. However, to a great majority of people, and certainly to most all poor people, this is ridiculous. People buy cheap food, no matter where it comes from, because they have to buy it. Also, public policy largely dictates the cost of food - ask the countries to whom we give huge amounts of excess produce, and the corporate farms who get huge tax breaks. The thinking here is along the right track but is misguided, IMHO. I will buy an orange even if it shipped hundreds of miles (also - wouldn't we hurt the viability of certain third world countries whose economies depend on exotic food exports?), but when it comes to food that can be grown locally, I will absolutely buy that. Then again, the food grown locally should be cheaper. Ultimately, the nasty machinery and eventual success of the large-scale industrial food system is not a result of people's buying habits, but public policy that favors it.
posted by billysumday at 1:22 PM on October 18, 2006


The irony of localvorism, which I adore in the summertime, is that it's sooo much easier to walk across the street to my local crappy produce market to buy fruit and veg, whereas if I go to the Greenmarket, I have to take the subway or walk an extra 30 blocks and organize my day around their opening and closing times. Still, it's worth it - no more expensive than the Whole Foods, and the produce, dairy and meat are way tastier and healthier than the Pathmark. But in winter, hooo boy, I don't know how many beets a person can eat. That will be a challenge.

Whatever, dude. What's more annoying than a bunch of hippie granola gourmands is equally smug dingdongs who assert their half-assed opinions without really giving the matter a whole lotta thought.
posted by DenOfSizer at 1:24 PM on October 18, 2006


From the linked newsletter:
"As Adamson explained, there are farmers on the peninsula so concerned about animal handling that they hold sweetgrass ceremonies for their lambs and talk gently to calm each chicken before it is killed.

These gentle individualists are also challenging the argument that a town is too small or too isolated to make a go of local eating. No, it’s not easy. But they are consistently turning up pleasant surprises: apple cider vinegar from the Comox Valley, bok choy, stinging nettle tea, fresh walnuts and hazelnuts, cherries as good as any from the Okanagan, “pastured poultry” raised according to the Label Rouge program in France, Muscovy duck, and such wild foods as fireweed, seaweed and mushrooms
..."

I agree, ynoxas: annoying.

(They do make it too easy to make fun!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:24 PM on October 18, 2006


I can't keep up anymore...

Are we all supposed to move to the large urban centers because there won't be enough oil for everyone to have cars and drive all over everywhere?

Or should we all move out to the country because there won't be enough oil to ship all the food all the way to the urban centers?

Or, should Topeka or Des Moines become the new NYC?

Should I never eat bananas because I don't live within 100 miles of where they are produced? I'm 500 miles landlocked no matter which direction you go... should seafood be forbidden in the country's interior?

Instead of expecting the entire world's population to return to an agrarian lifestyle, finding more efficient ways of transport and cheaper/renewal fuels MIGHT be a tad more productive. These neo-agrarian dreams are just that... dreams.

I think most New Yorkers would rather eat a protein pill every day than be deprived of the god-given right to live elbow to asshole with 12 million of their closest friends.
posted by Ynoxas at 1:30 PM on October 18, 2006


The area within a 100mi. radius of New York City has great farmland. It is just not being used to produce food. It is producing cash crops, or grain for cattle to eat. Big farms are trying to grow money, not food. The small farms barely survive, and yes, there is no way they could support the large urban centers.

While a friend was applying for a grant for his small farm, the grant-writer told him he was living below the poverty level.

I really think people should stop ignoring how we feed ourselves. It is a basic human need. I don't think it is smug. It is earnest.
posted by bobobox at 1:38 PM on October 18, 2006


One non-smug thing you can do is get a subscription to a Community Supported Agriculture farm locally. You get a box of whatever they're growing delivered to you each week or so, and they often sell organic meats/eggs/etc. as well.

I don't agree that a 100 mile radius might not be enough. I am not a farmer, of course, but there are certainly many ways our urban land usage could be improved--community gardens, lots of small scattered plots, rezoning wasted easements for small scale farming, and a lot of other good ideas for growing food in small spaces. Why should urban/rural be so sharply divided? What would our cities look like if we actually grew some of our food there?
posted by emjaybee at 1:38 PM on October 18, 2006


It doesn't sound like the 100-mile diet people are advocating anything all that radical. They admit that it isn't for everyone. All they're saying is that it wouldn't kill people to think about where their food comes from and the resources used to transport it. And I think they're right. Seriously, where is the smug?
posted by 912 Greens at 1:43 PM on October 18, 2006


Ynoxas, if we ate food that was produced closer to where we live, we might re-discover the 'treat' of an orange (or a bannana) at Christmas.
I used to marvel when my mother (child of the Depression) would tell me that oranges in winter in Kansas just weren't seen - except at Christmas. Now, I'm beginning to understand that "cost".
I don't see how bannanas can be sold at .23/lb (a price I've seen recently in Puget Sound), when they're shipped from South/Central America! The fuel has to cost more than that.
So it's not about being 'smug', it's about thinking (and acting) sustainably - whether it's food or politics, it's really all local, you know...
posted by dbmcd at 1:45 PM on October 18, 2006


Maybe they're smug. Maybe they're impractical.

James MacKinnon is the primogen of the 100 Mile Diet. Smug doesn't begin to describe him, as pretty much anyone who has ever read an issue of Adbusters, (or, for those of us in BC), Monday Magazine or The Georgia Straight will attest.

I also found it amusing that he and his partner switched away from vegetarianism because virtually no soybeans are grown within 100 miles of Vancouver.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:59 PM on October 18, 2006


I think it would be better to solve the problems caused by trucking things so far then simply throw up our hands and begin living 1904 style. Some people might find romanticism in rediscovering non-local foods at special times or living off locally produced foods but dammit, if I did that I'd be eating barbeque and bread all day. Hmm...
posted by geoff. at 2:06 PM on October 18, 2006


Smug doesn't begin to describe him, as pretty much anyone who has ever read an issue of Adbusters,

Smug doesn't describe Adbusters? Color me surprised.
posted by zabuni at 2:11 PM on October 18, 2006


Nobody is saying that anybody has to do this. It's being presented as an option for those wealthy enough to do it. For them, it's a great idea. Leave it at that. And you'll take my bananas when you pry them from my cold, dead, potassium-enriched hands.
posted by I Am Not a Lobster at 2:14 PM on October 18, 2006


I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not, zabuni. MacKinnon is perhaps the smuggiest smugmeister that ever smugged his way through Captain Smug's School of Smug. Adbusters, the official school newsletter, reeks so strongly of smug that special smug-detecting dogs cry out "Smug! Smug!" whenever a single back issue is ruffled in any smug magazine rack in the world.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:17 PM on October 18, 2006


Hah! I'd love to see where these people will hang out and pat themselves on the back while sipping coffee (err nope!) or enjoying a nice glass of wine (oops sorry again!).

Eating local is a good thing when practical. Thats the key idea: practical.
posted by ozomatli at 2:21 PM on October 18, 2006


"Seriously, where is the smug?"
posted by 912 Greens

"Smug" is the foodie dinner party luxury staples listed in the linked newsletter as "pleasant surprises" under the 100 mile rule, i.e. "apple cider vinegar from the Comox Valley, bok choy, stinging nettle tea, fresh walnuts and hazelnuts, cherries...Muscovy duck...fireweed, seaweed and mushrooms"...
posted by Jody Tresidder at 2:26 PM on October 18, 2006


In the interests of sounding smugier than all you motherfuckers, let me just say that I joined a CSA only because it was expensive and that I let most of my food rot and then I throw it at the homeless people who fall down in the street due to poor-mans-problems. New York has plenty of CSAs if you want to be like me. (I highly recommend joining; it's cheaper than whole foods and sometimes the food's just too delectable to throw at the bums.) If you're not in NYC, obviously you should move here to enjoy our bounty.

Oh, and enjoy your nanners while you can. Soon we'll all be forced to work the state farms, like in North Korea, or Cuba. Soon we'll have nothing but gluten.
posted by eatitlive at 2:30 PM on October 18, 2006


billy: perhaps you should not live in the middle of a desert.
posted by stilgar at 3:11 PM CST on October 18 [+] [!]


Are you warning him off because of the sandworms, or the Harkonnen repression? Shoddy stillsuit manufacturing?

posted by COBRA! at 2:31 PM on October 18, 2006


I'm all for this, but I'm not convinced eating local is always better - there are substantial energy savings shipping in bulk to distribution centers (supermarkets) where a single car trip can get everything you need. Driving around everywhere to pick up individual items is not very inefficient. This does not apply to food on airplanes (apples in summer from New Zealand for example) which should just be avoided.
posted by stbalbach at 2:34 PM on October 18, 2006


That's why I avoid astronaut ice cream.
posted by eatitlive at 2:37 PM on October 18, 2006


Or Sun ChipsTM or Moon PiesTM
posted by ozomatli at 2:40 PM on October 18, 2006


I have nothing against "eating locally" and attempts to reduce CO2 production, use of fossil fuels, etc. All good stuff.

But... Surely the fossil fuels consumed in the production and transport of a food is reflected in that food's price?

Commerical transportation is vastly more efficient than private vehicles. Even the big loser of the commercial options - a semi truck - probably gets at least 10x the mileage of the average car, on a per-pound-of-cargo basis. And trains and ships, also used to transport food, make trucks look downright spendy. This is part of why it's possible to ship something like a head of lettuce 2000+ miles and still make a profit selling it for $0.89.

I bet most people who are thinking about reducing their ecological footprints have other, better opportunities to start. Places that will offer far more ecological payback for the time and effort invested. Like avoiding the daily drive to work one day per week.
posted by Western Infidels at 2:41 PM on October 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Or should it be Sun Chips&reg? I forget.
posted by ozomatli at 2:42 PM on October 18, 2006


Between the Santa Barbara farmer's market and my cousin's backyard, I managed to eat organic, locally grown food for an entire summer. It was fantastic. I wish I could go back to eating that well. When a community is not geared toward such an endeavor, it becomes much more difficult to live like that.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 2:43 PM on October 18, 2006


The options in life are not limited to "all" and "nothing". You can get as much as you can locally but not have to deprive yourselfbut buying the shipped items. It's ok. Really.

I get a CSA box every week from May to November. I enjoy gardening, so I can grow my own lettuce through late December (and even longer) just outside of DC. But I like to garden and I thinks it's swell that I can walk out back and cut my salad for dinner.

But I buy chocolate and tea that are not local. Ditto the orange juice and tangelos. But if you can change to getting some portion of your food locally, things are that much the better. My CSA also offers canned tomatoes and similar items for off season if I should be inspired to buy them.
posted by Red58 at 2:49 PM on October 18, 2006



Most urban centers simply could not be supported solely by food produced within 100 miles. The largest probably couldn't be supported by food produced within 500 miles.

Smug factor = high, practical factor = low
posted by Ynoxas at 4:03 PM EST on October 18 [+] [!]


Huh? Please provide some reference for this. While it's true that a city like Phoenix probably couldn't do too well with stuff grown within 100 miles, ALL cities up through the 1950s survived on food within 100 miles because before then there were no interstates and it simply wasn't feasible. There were dairies in Brooklyn in the 1960's, for god's sake.

At any rate, it's not clear what you're saying. Do you think that 31,000 square miles isn't enough land to feed a population of 20 million people? Or is it just that you think the land in the areas around cities aren't arable? The green revolution took care of both of those problems.
posted by one_bean at 3:05 PM on October 18, 2006


Commerical transportation is vastly more efficient than private vehicles.

My understanding is that CSAs truck their food down for local distribution. If the weekly haul is large enough to fill a trailer, the efficiency for that last leg into the city is as high as for any supermarket -- except for CSAs, that last leg is the entire journey.
posted by eddydamascene at 3:30 PM on October 18, 2006


I think most New Yorkers would rather eat a protein pill every day than be deprived of the god-given right to live elbow to asshole with 12 million of their closest friends.

Please, one of the main reasons I live here is for the food.

*whiffs hot Italian sausage in Vincent's medium hot sauce from the kitchen*

Ynoxas, don't hate the playa, hate the game ;>
posted by jonmc at 4:11 PM on October 18, 2006


But... Surely the fossil fuels consumed in the production and transport of a food is reflected in that food's price? - Western Infidels

Ever heard of subsidies? Farm income supplements? Governments paying for the cleanup of water contaminated by agriculture? Etc, Etc. All the costs to produce and distribute food are NOT reflected in the price you pay at the store.
posted by raedyn at 4:15 PM on October 18, 2006


It is simplistic to focus merely on distance.

For example, quoting a recent study from Lincoln University in New Zealand:

"... the United Kingdom, for example, uses twice as much energy per tonne of milk solids produced than New Zealand uses, even taking into account the transport of those goods over 11,000 miles. The energy used in producing lamb in the United Kingdom is four times higher than the energy used by New Zealand lamb producers, even taking transport into account, and for apples the New Zealand energy costs for production are 60 percent of those in the United Kingdom, including the energy used in production."

So in fact the soundest thing for the UK (and no doubt US) consumer is only buy NZ agricultural goods, assuming that fossil fuel usage is their major criterion for purchase.

(Relevant press release)
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:19 PM on October 18, 2006


Let them eat condos
posted by Fupped Duck at 4:19 PM on October 18, 2006


gingerbread condos?
posted by jonmc at 4:23 PM on October 18, 2006


I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not, zabuni. MacKinnon is perhaps the smuggiest smugmeister that ever smugged his way through Captain Smug's School of Smug. Adbusters, the official school newsletter, reeks so strongly of smug that special smug-detecting dogs cry out "Smug! Smug!" whenever a single back issue is ruffled in any smug magazine rack in the world

solid-one-love, I take back every harsh word I ever said to you. Marry me.
posted by jonmc at 4:27 PM on October 18, 2006


In Quebec you have Équiterre to support ecological agriculture. All of my vegetables and most of my fruit come from one farm only 50 km away from apartment in downtown Montreal. There are about 10,000 other people in our province who do the same. Similar services are also available for meat, so it's not just for veggie freaks.

Once a week I walk two blocks from my house to the pickup point, get two bags of organic vegetables and fruit, chat with the farmer, get some recipe suggestions and it costs me about $10. Also, since all the money is paid up front in early spring, the farmer is guaranteed an income regarldess of how well his crop goes, and if it goes well we all benifit, while if it goes bad then we all suffer, but not that much. This year was fantastic. I'll admit it does take getting used to having certain vegetables only when they are in season but you adjust fast, and next year I'll get into canning and pickling, which should make the bottom line that much more apealing.
posted by furtive at 4:36 PM on October 18, 2006


On the question of, does this make sense in terms of saving energy transporting food over 100 miles -- NO.

But, neither did recycling glass and aluminum in the pioneer days of recycling (1960s, 70s). The idea was to point out the reusable resources being squandered. In time, recycling of all kinds of things come to make sense.

Localvores (I'm not sure why those left-coasties drop the second L) are still idealists. But the notion of buying local (not just food) in the long run is good economics, good for people's health, good for their psyches, and good for the environment.

Besides all that, it tastes good.
posted by beagle at 5:27 PM on October 18, 2006


> Most urban centers simply could not be supported solely by food produced within 100 miles. The
> largest probably couldn't be supported by food produced within 500 miles.

Lagos manages it. New York will manage it the same way.

posted by jfuller at 5:31 PM on October 18, 2006


Do you think that 31,000 square miles isn't enough land to feed a population of 20 million people? Or is it just that you think the land in the areas around cities aren't arable? The green revolution took care of both of those problems.

C'mon, one_bean, if that was the case we would not be having this discussion. Probably there has not been an exhaustive study, but most urban centers do NOT have 31000 square miles of arable land around them. Many of the largest cities are on sea coasts, so that cuts the circle in half. Urbanized areas within those circles are now 30-50 miles in most cases, and are overlapping from one center to the next. And there are mountains, deserts, etc.

Yes, indeed, 20 million people could be fed by about 150 or 20o square miles of land if they were all vegetarians. (On the theory that as little as 15 square meters is enough to feed one vegetarian for one year.) But you show me where anything approaching that is happening.
posted by beagle at 5:42 PM on October 18, 2006


> Yes, indeed, 20 million people could be fed by about 150 or 20o square miles of land if they were all vegetarians.

And for those that aren't, the management reminds you that Soylent Green is not algae, in spite of that chlorophyllish color.
posted by jfuller at 5:58 PM on October 18, 2006


So in fact the soundest thing for the UK (and no doubt US) consumer is only buy NZ agricultural goods, assuming that fossil fuel usage is their major criterion for purchase.

The soundest thing is to avoid inefficient producers and distributors, which does not require looking to sources on the other side of the planet.
posted by eddydamascene at 6:11 PM on October 18, 2006


raedyn: Ever heard of subsidies? Farm income supplements? Governments paying for the cleanup of water contaminated by agriculture?

Sheesh. Yes, of course I've heard of subsidies.

Don't smaller, local, organic farms receive subsidies too? Are there subsidies targeted specifically at the transport costs, since that's the issue at hand? How much energy does it take to ship a head of lettuce from California to New York, anyway?
posted by Western Infidels at 6:31 PM on October 18, 2006


The soundest thing is to avoid inefficient producers and distributors, which does not require looking to sources on the other side of the planet.

OK, but what if it does? In the example I cited, it uses a quarter of the fossil fuel to raise lamb elsewhere and ship it to the UK as it does to raise lamb and ship it within the UK. From a UK consumer's perspective, every local producer is inefficient as far as fossil fuel usage goes. If you still want to favour local producers, there must be other reasons to do so.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:00 PM on October 18, 2006


But... Surely the fossil fuels consumed in the production and transport of a food is reflected in that food's price?

not to be smug or anything, but I am very surprised that you can imagine this to be so if you live in the US.

The United States is spending billions on securing its fossil fuel supply, and the region of the US, including a very large port, through which much of the fossil fuel is distributed has been devastated for over a year. And still, commerical gas prices are very low, not having risen much. What's more, is that firms handling the fossil fuel are making record bank.

Just because Paul Hawken wrote a really decent book on how corporate capitalism could exist within a stable ecology doesn't mean many people have taken him up on it, 13 years out of the gate.
posted by eustatic at 7:54 PM on October 18, 2006


See: Omnivores' Dilemma
posted by lalochezia at 8:37 PM on October 18, 2006


Whether we do, or we don't, implement sustainable agricultural and energy systems the implications of "sustainability" is simple:

People in the first world are going to have to have radical shifts to their lifestyles

—AND/OR—

People are going to die.

It's that brutal. It's that simple.

To become sustainable means a massive contraction in world population. This correction will occur if we do nothing only it will be chaos and death. Or we could voluntarily reduce population pressure without all the needless horror.

Most those people dying will continue to be in the third world. So most of us will only pretend to care. But it won't stay there. It will spread to us first worlders in the form of more wars, more economic polarization, and the total loss of democratic institutions. The powerful elites entrench themselves. Sound familiar? It’s a familiar pattern throughout history. And will happen again on a massive scale.

Therefore, we have to choose. We choose from a “painful way” and “slightly less painful way” of achieving what will occur naturally.

ANY way we can tap the pressure off the system voluntarily... FI: by raising more food closer to where people actually LIVE then the better off we ALL are.

Even if it is at a premium and considered a "luxury" to a lucky few. Developing and preserving healthy local farmlands will help create systems that can save lives in the long run.
posted by tkchrist at 8:38 PM on October 18, 2006


billy: perhaps you should not live in the middle of a desert.
posted by stilgar


eponysterical

and good, dialogue-provoking post.
posted by dreamsign at 10:11 PM on October 18, 2006


In the example I cited, it uses a quarter of the fossil fuel to raise lamb elsewhere and ship it to the UK as it does to raise lamb and ship it within the UK. From a UK consumer's perspective, every local producer is inefficient as far as fossil fuel usage goes. If you still want to favour local producers, there must be other reasons to do so.

I suspect that 4:1 energy difference reflects averages of grain-fed vs. grass-fed industries. The difference between the most energy efficient NZ producer and the most efficient UK (or US) producer will be slim. My point was that if an efficient local producer exists, it makes no sense to choose imported NZ products.
posted by eddydamascene at 7:54 AM on October 19, 2006


> we have to choose

tk - you do grasp, don't you, that there's no such thing as this "we" of which you speak? Not in the sense of being an intelligent actor. The only "we" that exists on the large scale is a vaporous wooly abstraction. To hope for a wooly abstraction to make conscious, substantive choices and take intelligent action to save itself is, um, optimistic. Make your personal plans accordingly.
posted by jfuller at 7:56 AM on October 19, 2006


But... Surely the fossil fuels consumed in the production and transport of a food is reflected in that food's price?
posted by Western Infidels at 2:41 PM PST


Food's price?

How about Tax law? Or subsidies in the form of the military that keeps the crude flowing about the world? How about the road system?

The sticker price of an item of food misses out on the subsides that back up that cheap food price.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:48 AM on October 19, 2006


But the notion of buying local (not just food) in the long run is good economics

Hmmmm, what's the argument supporting this again?

Why would something from far away be economically inferior to something local?
posted by storybored at 10:04 AM on October 19, 2006


Why would something from far away be economically inferior to something local?

Because your dollar stays local when you buy local.

Here in New Hampshire, if I buy tomatoes from Florida, a few cents on the dollar goes to the tomato grower. (Of course, since each ounce of tomato earns him less, he cuts corners elsewhere and selects breeds that increase yield, pushing the land beyond its carrying capacity and then adding soil amendments (not always organic) to replace the lost nutrients. But anyway.) After the farmer gets his few cents, a Florida fruit and produce dealer gets a few cents for buying from hundreds of farmers and packaging the produce in boxes. A trucking company gets a few cents for the refrigerated, ripening-gas truck shipping. A national gas and oil company gets a fraction for fuel. A New England distribution company gets a few cents for sorting the produce for local sale to groceries. The market gets a few cents for selling the food, some of which is profit, some into payroll and benefits for local store staff. But the massive bulk of the money is leaving my state.

In contrast. At the farmer's market, I puchase a dollar's worth of tomatoes. The farmer takes the whole dollar. From that, he pays for seed, farm equipment, soil additives, and labor. He has to pay a decent wage, because labor here is more competitive (no migrants to exploit). The dollar is spent locally at the hardware or feed and seed store, improving community bonds and helping keep businesses afloat which otherwise would not see the income from the farm. In addition, the farmer lives here, so he can spend his disposable income at local restaurants and clothing stores and help keep them afloat, too. When it comes time for charitable donations, he's more likely to give to the local fire department, Red Cross office, school band, food kitchen, etc. The money stays here, where we live, and enriches our community, not a faraway one supported by a hungry and expensive infrastructure.

What's more, I can talk to the farmer and ask what kind of soil amendments they make. I can get varieties of tomato that are unknown in grocery stores. I can get recipes. I can volunteer on the farm and get some sun and exercise and meet people. The ways in which local eating strengthens communities are almost immeasurable once you begin to appreciate them.

Can I get tomatoes in New England in January? Not fresh ones, no. But that's when you get into other systems. You can preserve your own tomatoes in summer, when they're abundant. Or you can set aside that part of your diet and concentrate more on grains and root vegetables and meats. The point is not to suffer, but to respond creatively to the seasons with human intelligence and forethought.

I agree with those who say hey, no system of local eating need be all-or-nothing. I won't give up coffee! It's just something to think about, and make a decision as to whether this is an idea worthy of your support. Our present food system is definitely broken - not sustainable, and not good for us environmentally, physically, or gastronomically. Small changes are better than no changes. This couple did something extreme to create a provocative example, and it's inspired others to thinking about food issues.

And what was said upthread about pre-1950 America applies. During World War II, 40% of the nation's produce was homegrown in Victory Gardens - backyard and community gardens, even on vacant lots in cities. It's not insane to think we could return to more local supply systems for our food; that was our system until sixty years ago. It does mean different land-use and zoning choices though. It means it would be better to live more densely in urban areas and not create sprawl in the outlying areas. We can encourage changes in land-use patterns through local and state law. It's all connected.
posted by Miko at 10:37 AM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


State Populations:

New York:
1950 - 14.8m
2005 - 19.2m

Texas:
1950 - 7.7m
2005 - 22.8m

California:
1950 - 10.5m
2005 - 36.1m

US Total
1950 - 151.3m
2006 - 300m (all over the news)

If you don't think it is much harder to feed an extra 150 million people, well, you've never tried to feed 150 million people.

But besides that, food has been moving all over this great land of ours since the 1860's and the railroads. Grain, fruit and vegetables, sugar, coffee and livestock were all common train commodities even at the turn of the century. Where are you people getting these absurd ideas that we ate everything from our own backyard until a couple of years ago?

Figure in traditional shipping, along with barges up and down the major waterways, and we have practically ALWAYS been a nation who ate on the run, so to speak.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:10 AM on October 19, 2006


Because your dollar stays local when you buy local. ...The market gets a few cents for selling the food, some of which is profit, some into payroll and benefits for local store staff. But the massive bulk of the money is leaving my state.

Yes, but would you buy something locally even if the product was inferior to something made elsewhere?

The assumption that's being made is that if you buy locally you are better off. But are you?

Let's say your tomato grower is inefficient and just not that good a farmer. He can only grow tomatoes for twice the average price. If you decide to buy them, you are spending more money than you have to. You are effectively poorer than if you had not done so.
posted by storybored at 12:43 PM on October 19, 2006


If you don't think it is much harder to feed an extra 150 million people, well, you've never tried to feed 150 million people.

If we could grow 40% of the nations produce in backyard and community gardens in the 40s, I don't see why we couldn't do the same today, given a similar sense of urgency. Backyards and communities scale with population.
posted by eddydamascene at 1:34 PM on October 19, 2006


If you don't think it is much harder to feed an extra 150 million people, well, you've never tried to feed 150 million people.

Our caloric needs are much less than they used to be, since we've shifted our energy away from manual labor. Our agricultural systems are much more efficien than they were sixty years ago. We also eat much less meat, and can choose to continue to eat less, making far more acreage available for the production of grains and beans. We also have the power to devote land to any resource we want - if we'd like to devote more of it to food production rather than big box retail, developments of two-story single-family homes, and the like, it's within our power. The earth is capable of sustaining populations far beyond what we actually have, if our resources were better managed.

food has been moving all over this great land of ours since the 1860's and the railroads

True to some extent, but in nowhere near the tonnage we're talking about today. And no, not fruit. Just air-temperature stable dry goods until the invention of the refrigerated container. Note also that these goods were far more expensive, comparitively, than they are today, so there was much less per-capita use of things like sugar and coffee.

And storybored - it's not as though there is only one farmer available to most people. It's not as though you can't grow your own tomatoes in a #10 if you need to. It's not as though you are forced to buy tomatoes rather than something else.

would you buy something locally even if the product was inferior to something made elsewhere?

The short answer might be no. I don't drink the wine from the local winery, because it sucks. On the other hand, that's a single item. I do buy local goat cheese and triple cream cow's milk cheese because it's awesome. I buy local milk and tons of local produce, and it's much better than the produce at the grocery. Much. Quality is found as often locally as inferiority. Let me share some fresh Maine raspberries or blueberries with you if you require convincing!

Remember, it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing thing. If my nieghbor buys nothing locally because he's hung up on the idea that not everything can be locally sourced he has done zero to change the marketplace for food or to improve local sustainability. Meanwhile, if only 50% or heck, even 20% of my groceries are locally sourced, I'm doing more than my neighbor to create change, even though my consumption isn't completely local. I'm advancing my goal, whether it's in a small way or not.

A person can spend a lot of time trying to argue why eating and participating locally is a bad idea. But compared with our present food system, it's darn hard to find any actual negatives to participating in your local agrarian economy to the extent that you can without making sacrifices you're not comfortable with. No one is demanding that we remake the world overnight - just suggesting that we be more aware of how our food choices impact our communities and the world.
posted by Miko at 1:39 PM on October 19, 2006


eustatic: The United States is spending billions on securing its fossil fuel supply ... and the region of the US ... through which much of the fossil fuel is distributed has been devastated ... commerical gas prices are very low ... firms handling the fossil fuel are making record bank.

I'm sorry but I don't see how any of this is relevant. Are you arguing that energy prices in the US are low compared to the rest of the world? I agree. Are you arguing that US energy prices don't reflect the energy's true costs? I agree.

Even so, even in the US, consuming lots of energy costs more than consuming little energy. If long-haul shipping of food is terribly energy-intensive, shouldn't I expect apples from Washington state (for example) to cost far more than the ones from Ohio (where I live)? But an apple's cost, to the best of my recollection, has little to do with its geographic origin.

What percentage of the energy invested in a food's production is really consumed in that last long-haul ride to the supermarket? How much energy does that add up to for an average person? How does that compare with the energy wasted on commuting by car, or heating and cooling outsized houses, etc?
posted by Western Infidels at 2:38 PM on October 19, 2006


eddydamascene: I don't disagree with you really, I think that growing *SOME* stuff locally is a fantastic idea. I can't think of a downside.

It is the "don't eat anything grown more than 100 miles from you" that I am specifically arguing against, both in sanity and practicality.

miko: same with you. I think buying some things locally, supporting your local farmer, is a FANTASTIC idea. I can't say that strongly enough.

It is the calls to turn the suburbs into cornfields that meets with my eye rolling.

It is simply NOT NECESSARY to do that. Transportation technology is not stagnant, it will continue to evolve, and become cheaper per pound/mile than ever.

Regarding train transport of fruit, there were about 50,000 refrigerated train cars in 1900. That's significantly more than I expected. There were also ice-cooled cars as early as the 1870's. But yes you are right they were a bit more "exotic" back then. But certainly not unheard of. I think bananas took the northeast by storm in the 1890's.
posted by Ynoxas at 2:43 PM on October 19, 2006


that there's no such thing as this "we" of which you speak?

Poppy cock. WE have governments, WE have state legislatures, WE have corporate boards, WE have city councils, WE have grocery co-ops, and WE have frigg condo boards.

There are PLENTY of opportunities where the mythical "we" can make collective choices that improve or advance a non-voilent transition to sustainability.

But to your point... yes, the personal is political. There is more power in numbers, though. Obviously.
posted by tkchrist at 6:35 PM on October 19, 2006


The short answer might be no. I don't drink the wine from the local winery, because it sucks. On the other hand, that's a single item. I do buy local goat cheese and triple cream cow's milk cheese because it's awesome. I buy local milk and tons of local produce, and it's much better than the produce at the grocery. Much. Quality is found as often locally as inferiority. Let me share some fresh Maine raspberries or blueberries with you if you require convincing!

Heh, I would love me some Maine raspberries and blueberries! But I live in Canada so um, I would require them to be transported :-).

Maybe it's utopian of me to believe this, but the more people find out about those great Maine raspberries, and as they get sold to people far away, the stronger your local farmers get.

Your faraway is someone else's local. It's not such a big world.
posted by storybored at 7:11 PM on October 19, 2006


Belonging to a local Comm Farm, springtime means...

Weeds. Dandelion greens and uh... sheepsbane? No, not sheepsbane. Something else. Anyways, it's very earthy. My kid won't touch it, be we manage. It makes harvest things taste that much better.

It's the yin and yang. Bad foods define good foods. One cannot exist without the other.
posted by unixrat at 11:45 PM on October 19, 2006


sheepsbane? No, not sheepsbane

Purslane?

the more people find out about those great Maine raspberries, and as they get sold to people far away, the stronger your local farmers get.

No, not really. It doesn't make them stronger to have to accept a lower price for a guaranteed buy from a long-distance distributor, have their varieties dictated to them by a faraway market or the need for a variety that can withstand shipping without rotting or bruising. It doesn't make them stronger never talk to the people who eat and use their product. If a natural disaster strikes (like the hailstorms that wiped out some of our apple growers this year), they can't call on faraway communities for financial help or labor.

The other issue is that by the time they reach you after their long trip, they're not great anymore. Certainly not better than the much fresher ones you could get locally grown.
posted by Miko at 12:07 PM on October 20, 2006


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