Tucked behind the New York Times paid subscription wall is a tidy little blog post dissecting the "buy local" movement. It's on the Basic Instincts blog, by Richard Conniff, the author of The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide and The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights, and Work Smarter by Understanding Human Nature. Some highlights:
The "local" label also says little or nothing about a product's actual environmental friendliness. A resident of Sacramento, for instance, can take comfort in buying "local" rice, but it's still likely to be rice grown in a heavily irrigated desert, at huge environmental cost. In the overall carbon footprint of a product, the cost of transport often turns out to be relatively trivial. For instance, a New Zealand study recently made the case that better conditions make lamb grown there and shipped to Europe four times more energy-efficient than home-grown European lamb….
Beneath the surface, the urge to buy local is often just a disguised version of the urge to punish someone foreign. But as a way to fix global warming, fretting about where your salad was grown is like thinking you can win a war by calling your sauerkraut "liberty cabbage."
One point he doesn't touch on–in addition to environmental impact, there's also human impact. Buying food grown (or products manufactured) in poorer countries is one of the most effective ways to increase quality of life for those who are less well off.The Europeans who originated the buy local movement did it, in part, to take the piss out of over-subsidized American farmers. But they wind up hurting African farmers whose goods they once imported a heck of a lot more.
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