Is Local Really Better?

I am currently in the midst of reading Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly by James E. McWilliams.

My copy of Just Food with my thoughts on sticky tabs.

It is incredibly intriguing read. McWilliams is painstakingly fair in his systematic criticism of the local and the organic food movements. What the title does not give away is that he is no proponent of the results of Green Revolution or the industrialization of food production either. Although I am super anxious to post about what I have been reading, I am not yet ready.

I did think I would be remiss, however, if I did not mention that there is a new book (published just last week) making a similar assertion. That is, in terms of the ability to save the environment, locavore/farm-to-fork movements are well-meaning but gravely misguided. The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet is by University of Toronto associate geography professor, Pierre Desrochers, and policy analyst, Hiroko Shimizu.

An interview with Prof. Desrochers can be found here.

Much more on this topic to follow!

If you have an opinion (on locavores/local food movement, globalization/industrialization of food, agriculture and the environment, the books specifically), please share!

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3 thoughts on “Is Local Really Better?

  1. I’m really looking forward to reading all that comes out of your delving into these critiques of local food movements. I think it’s interesting that you say there seems to be a lot of work coming out right now (including this just-published book about a 10,000-mile diet!) which questions the whole ‘eat local’ mentality. Just to be an irritating devil’s advocate: I wonder if local-diet criticism is as much of a trend as was a local diet itself not so long ago?

  2. Hey Kate! Thanks for the really great comment! I don’t think that playing devil’s advocate is irritating at all. And, as I will explain in a bit, it is precisely what McWilliams urges the food conscious to do!

    I think, if I understand you correctly, that your question presumes that locavores/localism is passé. I doubt this trend has run its course. That said, you are right (and so clever) to wonder if criticism or, rather, resulting opposition efforts, of localism are not doomed to become trends themselves. I think that there is always the risk that, when one idea is established in opposition to another better recognized idea, this new idea will become idealised. I think that we tend to like to aggrandise and enshrine our beliefs (however short-lived they may be). This is exactly how we develop polarising opinions and dichotomies that over simplify much more complex issues (e.g., local vs. global).

    I cannot speak for Desrochers (I have not read his book), but McWilliams does not set up or advocate for one opposing food system. He works very carefully to challenge any ingrained perspectives towards food production. He explains, “Our job as ethical eaters in the twenty-first century is … not to seek timeless environmental commandments, nor settle on a single food ideology. Instead, it is to continue our debates on grounds that are swept free of agricultural romance, ideological localism, scientific ignorance, and elitist solipsism.” (Just Food, p. 116).

    As McWilliams points out, it is negligent to vehemently espouse one idea at the expense of considering another (e.g. organic over GMO). It is also dangerous to assume that one system is equally applicable across all places at all times (e.g. localism).

  3. Pingback: A cuppa & some thoughts about food waste | 4000 km + 1 table

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