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The Locavor’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet

  • Pierre Desrochers
  • Today’s food activists think that “sustainable farming” and “eating local” are the way to solve a host of perceived problems with our modern food supply system. But after a thorough review of the evidence, Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu have concluded that these claims are mistaken.

    In The Locavore’s Dilemma they explain the history, science, and economics of food supply to reveal what locavores miss or misunderstand: the real environmental impacts of agricultural production; the drudgery of subsistence farming; and the essential role large-scale, industrial producers play in making food more available, varied, affordable, and nutritionally rich than ever before in history.

    They show how eliminating agriculture subsidies and opening up international trade, not reducing food miles, is the real route to sustainability; and why eating globally, not only locally, is the way to save the planet.

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    TO A LOCAVORE, the future of food looks pretty much like its past: Farmers markets in every small town and city neighborhood where people rediscover the joys of true food and get reacquainted with one another. Seeds from farm-saved stocks rather than commercial producers. The rehabilitation of ancient “heirloom” cultivars developed before synthetic fertilizers and pesticides came along. The displacement of factory-made pesticides by traditional “natural” products based on plants and minerals, and of factory-made fertilizers by animal manure and rotating fodder crops such as clover and alfalfa…

    This stance, however, begs an obvious question. If this past golden age was so great, why were long distance trade in food, modern agricultural technologies, and modern production plants and animals developed? What if some heirloom varieties had lower yields because they were less resistant to diseases or to mechanical handling and transportation? Could it have been the case that seeds purchased from commercial suppliers offered access to superior germplasm and were of better quality, purity, and were available at more convenient times? Hasn’t “natural” manure always been dirty, smelly, chock-full of pathogens, and requiring several months of composting? Could it have also been the case that supermarkets and large chains have displaced farmers markets because of their more convenient hours, better storage and parking conditions, greater mastery of logistics and inventory management, or better quality products and lower prices?

    In the end, was our globalized food chain simply the result of colonial and corporate agri-business raiders who crushed small farmers, packers, and retailers the world over because they could? Or is it plausible that modern practices are but the latest developments in a long line of innovations the ultimate goal of which has always been to increase the accessibility, quality, reliability, and affordability of humanity’s food supply?


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