A diner in Vermont serves food originating within a 50-mile radius, and becomes the darling of "eat local" types. But, in a classic reinventing-the-wheel moment, the owner figures out the only way to make his enterprise sustainable is...to franchise!

Environmental doomsayer (and no friend of reason) Bill McKibben reports:

Still, says [founder Tod] Murphy, the diner remains too small to really make economic sense. What it needs are siblings: two or three more scattered around the state that he can serve from a central commissary kitchen in Quechee. The machine could be making French fries for all of the outlets, and the ad budget could be spread across three rooms full of munching patrons.

And, more to the point, the money that investors have put up to build these diners might come back with some profit attached. Plenty of communities across the state might welcome the idea: a Farmers Diner in Middlebury, in St. Johnsbury, in Bennington.

But of course this is the line of thinking that led to McDonald's. Once upon a time, it was a single restaurant, too, with a small machine to cut French fries. But the more restaurants the company opened, the higher the returns, so it just kept growing. Now the chain's manufacturing plants peel, slice, and freeze two million pounds of spuds a day. If you follow the logic of economies of scale, that's where you end up -- as far from local food as it's possible to be.

For more on local eating vs. McDonald's, go here.