5 Ridiculous Myths People Use to Trash Local Food -- And Why They're Wrong
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Then consider your own enjoyment and nutrition. Wouldn't you rather eat a fresh fruit or vegetable that was just picked? And wouldn't it be nicer to eat a variety that was selected for flavor and not for its ability to withstand shipping and storage? These are not merely hedonistic considerations, as nutrients can degrade over time once produce is harvested. What's more, nutrients that were never in the soil to begin with cannot possibly be present in the food. A farm with healthy soil will also produce healthier -- and more flavorful -- food. Your body is wired up to desire flavorful fruits and vegetables because they are better for you. And when you eat out at a restaurant that serves local food, often the chef can work together with local farms so that the farmers plant the specific varieties of fruits and vegetables that the chef wants to serve.
One last reason for eating local are the relationships that one forms within one's community, and the economic multiplier effect that occurs within the community when one buys local. This extends beyond just food to other goods as well. When you spend your money locally, it enriches your community. When you buy from a large grocery chain, some of your money goes to pay the clerk who checked you out and the manager who oversees that clerk, but the rest goes to the grocery store's corporate headquarters, to the truckers, the warehouses, and to the farm that grew your food, far away from where you live. What's more, when you buy from the same local farmers each week, you build relationships with those who grew your food. Thus, your weekly food shopping nourishes your soul as well as your body.
Myth #3: Growing food locally is inefficient.
This is the subject of the latest tirade against eating local. The piece sings the praises of "comparative advantage," noting that it makes the most sense to grow Alabama's potatoes in Idaho, where potato yields far exceed yields in Alabama. Alabama should grow whatever it grows best and then it should ship that to Idaho, right?
This depends on your idea of efficiency. Idaho is no doubt growing Russet Burbank potatoes, the kind used in French fries. These are large, high-yielding potatoes, especially when -- as described by Michael Pollan -- they "have been doused with so much pesticide that their leaves wear a dull white chemical bloom and the soil they're rooted in is a lifeless gray powder." In The Botany of Desire, Pollan describes how an Idaho farmer with 3,000 acres grows potatoes (and nothing but potatoes!). He begins with a soil fumigant, then herbicide. Then he plants his potatoes, using an insecticide as he does. Next, another herbicide -- and so on. For "efficiency" he applies these pesticides by adding them to the water in his irrigation system, water that is then returned to its source, a local river. He also has a crop-dusting plane spray the plants every two weeks, and he applies 10 doses of chemical fertilizer. (With all of these chemicals, the farmer told Pollan he won't eat his own potatoes. He grows a special, chemical-free plot of spuds near his house for his own consumption.) Altogether, in a good year, an Idaho potato farmer will spend $1,950 per acre in order to net $2,000 per acre. Efficient?
Perhaps the Alabama potato farmers who are achieving much lower yields than they might in Idaho are using the same business model. If so, they are bad businessmen, as it would require a lot of costly inputs to produce less of a commodity that is sold by the pound, and they would make rather little money for their trouble. But if any of them subscribe to the locavore model of farming and eating, then this will not be the case.