Op-Ed: Locavores

September 11, 2009

I keep hearing Michael Pollan and the random professor of blah-blah on NPR lately.  The guy has turned into a superstar for the local organic movement.  I find myself playing devil’s advocate more often than taking a stance.  My roommates probably think I would eat all local, all organic, all the time if I could afford it, while my girl probably knows that I have my qualms with the self righteous granolas at The Wedge.  First they go argue that local and organic is the healthiest way with all their scientific environmental reasons, then they go to the homeopathy isle for their home remedies.  Dumb.

Sustainable agriculture.  It’s rough out there.  It takes an incredible amount of resources to feed an American, much less (a projected) 310,000,000 of us.  If I had it my way, we would all be growing our own victory gardens again (amazing stuff – those gardens).  It simply is not realistic to suppose that Americans can subsist on our corn, soybean, and beef diet for the remainder of our future.  Meat takes an immense amount of land so that each of us can have our burgers, steaks and chops (according to Pollan it takes 32 lbs of corn to make four lbs of beef – meaning we could eat about 32 meals of vegetables or 4-8 meals of meat and consume the same amount of land doing so).  Besides the amount of land it takes to make so little meat, the detrimental effects of corn production are pretty serious: fertilizers in the water system sucking all the oxygen out of the lakes and Mississippi Delta, nitrogen fixation’s effects on global warming, corn’s sucking of nutrients out of the soil eventually turning the land into waste, etc.  Agribusiness just is not good for the earth (referring to the planet and the dirt).

But is local organic much better?  For one, lets just put to rest that idea that organic is healthier for you.  It is not.  Organic products are not healthier for you than genetically modified organisms (GMOs; for a pdf about this click here).  If you feel healthier eating organic products, you succumbed to the placebo effect.  You’ve been had.  Can I beat this horse anymore?

The organic movement has some ground in that the product being purchased has been grown on land that is not treated with tons of fertilizers (in theory, I plan on exploring this more in the future because I have heard this is not entirely true either).  But when you buy organic, what is the point of purchasing that product that was grown on sustainable land if it traveled from Peru orJamaica and you drove to the market to get it?  The damage to the land is miniscule compared to the damage it did to get to you.  So buy the GMO.  It is cheaper and you are not supporting the local economy anyway.  But when faced with two options of potatoes, russets from Idaho or russets from Wisconsin, why not buy the one that was grown closer to you?

It is nice that you and I can purchase some of our groceries at the local co-op for their outrageous prices, but this local organic movement is not going to feed 7,000,000,000 people.  We have plenty of food on the planet to feed everyone now (even an excess beyond that), but it does not reach everyone.  But to feed 7,000,000,000 people agribusiness is nearly a necessary evil.  That is not to say that we should not try to solve our overpopulation problem too, but we cannot solve it by starving people.

Finally, my roommate brought up another good point.  Yes, it is good to recycle money into the community that you live in (I have read that money spent locally generates a lot more revenue for everyone involved).  But really, capitalism works on competition.  It’s probably good that my co-op has to keep their prices at least somewhat reasonable, because otherwise – I do not care how environmental it is to shop organic – I am hitting up Rainbow.  We can all decry the evils of Wal-Mart, but the fact of the matter is they have some majorly cheap shit there that makes my wallet a little happier, and allows me to buy another drink out with my friends.

So basically, I think we all need to cut the crap.  Anything we do is going to be overshadowed by some evil we forgot to take into account – I am sure there are many that I have forgotten – it is just that some of us look at our silver lining and praise ourselves more for it.  Wrongly.  Too strongly worded?