When “Local” Foodies Go Loco

Check out this blog posting by my friend Andrew Potter, Dawn Of The Loco-Wars.

Andrew admits to his, well, let’s say skepticism, about the local food movement. Then he makes this qualified concession:

But if there’s one “benefit” I’ve been willing to concede it’s that contributing to the local economy is something that some people get off on. And while it is an intuition I don’t share — I really don’t see why my moral obligation should be to give my money to someone who lives within 100 miles of where I happen to live — it’s a morally arbitrary line that I’m happy to let other people indulge in.

Except that even this is probably not as harmless as it seems. The “love of ones own” over distant others is little more than parochialism, and as a recent story from the New York Times attests, the latent xenophobia is never far from the surface….

Here’s the NYT story Andrew links to: The Pride and Prejudice of ‘Local’

(p.s. Andrew’s new book, The Authenticity Hoax, is excellent.)

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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2 Responses to When “Local” Foodies Go Loco

  1. While I’ll agree that the arbitrary selection of a 100 mile radius can align with xenophobic attitudes and that the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) benefits are not always as clear cut as locavores would lead us to believe, there are other benefits to locally sourcing more more of our food. The quality of food, especially produce, is greatly affected by the time from field to fork and waste increases proportionally with time in transit. Additionally, GHGs can be greatly minimized in many cases by locally sourcing, or optimizing sourcing, but to determine GHG impacts you have to look at the full picture. (The all in GHGs from production of the products and transportation as well.)
    There are also potential health implications. You can find locally sourced foods, from known sources, where less harmful methods of production are used. Lower use of pesticides and fertilizers deliver a host of benefits from decreased algal blooms to reduced exposure to toxic chemicals in the foods we prepare for our families.
    Finally, anyone who has grown their own tomatoes knows the difference between the delicacy they have cultivated by their own hand, and the poor substitute typically available at big box retailers which is ripened by exposure to ethylene gas, rather than by the sun.
    While I’ll agree that the parochial justification is unjustified, the other reasons I’ve cited seem to make local sourcing an attractive option.

    • Chris:

      Thanks for that. But of course quality is merely a matter of taste, rather than the basis for an ethical claim. As for health: well, you can certainly buy healthy food from far away and unhealthy food from nearby. You may have in mind that it’s easier to have information about local food (e.g., when you buy it directly from the producer at the farmer’s market). But that’s a very limited kind of thing. It’s not something you can translate into feeding a city of a few million.
      I guess really my own worry is that, while I can imagine good reasons for some people to buy some (or most) food locally, too many people are buying locally based on reasons that reflect a poor understanding of economics, and a poor understanding of the real sources of negative environmental impact.


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