Environmentalism

Local Lettuce=Liberty Cabbage

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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.

FYI: Anyone with a .edu address can get free access to TimesSelect. Just go here.

For more on local eating, go here, here, and here.

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  1. The buy local ideology in Northern Nevada is also an example of how the left and right can agree on silly ideas.

    I find both anti growth populists who call themselves pro freedom but for immigration and trade issues and anti war leftists who are anti capitalist and green embrace the buy local ideology.

    The populists I know are ant foreign. The lefties are anti multinational business, which can amount to the same thing. Only fair trade foreigners are allowed in their club.

  2. That raises an interesting point. Californians want to act all environmental and stuff, but if they really cared about their impact on Gaia, they’d stop wasting water and move out of the desert. Those living in the arid parts, anyway.

    In fact, California may be the most environmentally offensive place on earth. No offense.

  3. “Buying food 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.”

    Unless something has changed in the last 5 years, I have to question this statement. Most underdeveloped countries have an educated oligarchy that improves its own lot from selling agricultural products, but the quality of life for the actual laborers doesn’t improve much.

  4. “Beneath the surface, the urge to buy local is often just a disguised version of the urge to punish someone foreign.”

    No, it’s not. This is just a dumb slur, marring an otherwise interesting argument.

  5. Heh, this reminds me of the time in my DiffEq class when a guy said he couldn’t use Laplace Transforms because he was boycotting French stuff. At first the professor told him to call them Freedom Transforms, then switched to Newton Transforms because Sir Isaac was also heavily involved in their development.

  6. joe,

    I think he overstates the point, but I agree that the buy local movement does have some anti-foreign elements in it. Not “all foreigners are bad” but “support the farmers at home”. And, as we’ve discussed in other threads, you sometimes can’t pick your fellow travelers. While one person may like the idea of local food in the same way he likes Xeriscaping, another may like it because he doesn’t trust the damned fuhriners. And don’t forget the recent health concerns about food produced overseas.

  7. Okay, but local OR from third world nations?

    Actually I agree with joe. This is more likely a case of good intentions gone stupid than bad intentions masquerading as good ones.

  8. Pro-Libertate,

    Almost all of the local produce in the Lowell, Massachusetts farmer’s market is grown and sold by Southeast Asian immigrants, and it’s almost all bought by white people.

    When I buy a bag of squash from those people, I’m not choosing them over farmers elsewhere; I’m choosing them over some corporation that pays the farmers that supply them a relative pittance.

    “And don’t forget the recent health concerns about food produced overseas.” An aversion to poinsoned food is evidence of xenophobia?

  9. Unless something has changed in the last 5 years, I have to question this statement. Most underdeveloped countries have an educated oligarchy that improves its own lot from selling agricultural products, but the quality of life for the actual laborers doesn’t improve much.

    Indeed, you probably help poor people in developing countries much more by buying Nike’s or other higher value-added manufactured products.

  10. Wait a minute, you mean to say that the liberty cabbage thing doesn’t work?

  11. “Unless something has changed in the last 5 years, I have to question this statement. Most underdeveloped countries have an educated oligarchy that improves its own lot from selling agricultural products, but the quality of life for the actual laborers doesn’t improve much.”

    Buy Free Trade Certified, and you’ll know the local oligarchy isn’t skimming off the top.

  12. Mr. Econotarian,

    Even better would be to buy value-added manufactured products – say, rugs from Pakistan – that are manufactured under local ownership, so that there isn’t a multinational corporation taking a cut that never makes it to the country of manufacture.

  13. joe,

    I didn’t mean you. I meant some other people. You know, them.

    I think people should buy stuff from whoever makes it best and offers the best price. If politics simply must come into play, boycott bad actors. Otherwise, let’s enjoy the wonderful world of global trade. I personally like having access to many choices, be they in food or otherwise.

  14. I buy local simply because I like to support local businesses. There is nothing inherently racist or xenophobic in buying local.

  15. I buy local simply because I like to support local businesses.

    Um, I’m not calling you xenophobic, but you haven’t told us very much there. One still wonders why you “like to support local businesses”??

  16. joe,
    “Buy Free Trade Certified, and you’ll know the local oligarchy isn’t skimming off the top.”

    But you can be sure the Free Trade organization is. At least with coffee, there’s little “free trade” with Free Trade.

  17. Free Trade certification is a tiny cost, compared to what plantation owners and multinationals take.

  18. Not “Free Trade,” Fair Trade.

  19. joe,

    Feel the libertarianism flowing through you. You’ve been posting here too long đŸ™‚

  20. You’re thinking too hard about this. Local stuff tastes better.

  21. That raises an interesting point. Californians want to act all environmental and stuff, but if they really cared about their impact on Gaia, they’d stop wasting water and move out of the desert. Those living in the arid parts, anyway.

    As someone who grew up in the desert part of California and later lived among those who claimed to really really care, I can assure you that those two subsets of Northern Californians are seperated, nay, segregated by the coastal mountains.

    I do not have any opinion on whether or not this phenomenon occurs in Southern California, as I do not like to go there.

  22. joe | June 14, 2007, 11:10am | #

    “Beneath the surface, the urge to buy local is often just a disguised version of the urge to punish someone foreign.”

    No, it’s not. This is just a dumb slur, marring an otherwise interesting argument.

    I used to write research reports about Organic/Fair Trade/’Whole’ CPG market trends (for investment bank) and there were some suprising lessons learned…

    The truth is, none of these things have nearly any effect on environmental practices, or diverts money to ‘local farmers’, or benfits small business more than large ones.

    i.e. Fair Trade in Coffee for instance doesnt necessarily provide significant benefit to the growers other than some stability in prices to some degree. They’re not much better off, but since they have a steady customer with fixed prices, their business can make better predictions.

    Most consumers who make purchasing decisions based on these ‘ethical marketing’ positions rarely care enough to learn about the real impact of these markets; the main benefit is psychological = “I’m a better person for choosing these products over those”. This is the basis of any kind of branding.

    In this sense, the whole Organic/Whole Foods industry is more conniving than ‘corporations’, in that they disinigenously present themselves are morally superior products, when in the end, the products arent significantly dfferent from mass market items in their human/environmental impact.

    Just as an example = The organic produce industry consolidated rapidly over the 1990s, to where no major retail chain buys much from ‘cooperatives’ or individually owned farms. If you went to the organic supplier/farmer, you’d find a business no different than what yuppies think of as “industrial farming’; most of the distinctions consumers make in their minds are fantasies invented by marketing…

    Anyway… the Ethical Consumerism trend is something to be very skeptical of, because it’s simply playing off the idea that “all OTHER products are vaguely ‘unethical’.” This is a canard.

  23. When I buy a bag of squash from those people, I’m not choosing them over farmers elsewhere; I’m choosing them over some corporation that pays the farmers that supply them a relative pittance.

    If the farmers selling to corporations are being paid a relative pittance why haven’t they started selling at the Lowell, Massachusetts farmer’s market? How much locally grown citrus do these guys offer?

    That is the only problem I see with the buy local movement. While Florida may or may not be able to provide everything I like, aren’t people who practice this dramatically limiting their choices? Without some significant genetic modification, which seems to annoy the left more than the right, coffee and chocolate are no longer an option.

  24. *dammit*

    “those two subsets” being “those who ‘want to act all environmental and stuff'” and “those who live in the desert”

  25. At least the set of people who are into “buy local” around here are a set with high crossover with the set who, for whatever their personal reasons, are for the preservation of green space and against “sprawl”. Since “family farms” seem to have backed into the definition of preservable green space, all I can say is, look at that, the free market is working, providing a consumption choice that 1) satisfies a foodie movement and 2) makes regional farms cash-rich enough to remain viable businesses in lieu of real estate development.

  26. in Southern California, as I do not like to go there

    Ah-HA!

  27. You’re thinking too hard about this. Local stuff tastes better.

    This is pretty much my take on it.

    Also agree with joe and others saying the xenophobia associated with the “buy local” crowd is rather minimal.

  28. GILMORE,

    I ran into the same sort of issue when I worked for International Paper. Back in the 90s (and probably today), it was common knowledge in the paper industry that the manufacture of recycled paper was far, far more damaging to the environment than the production of new paper was (for example, because of the use of bleaching agents in recycling). But a certain segment of the public wanted recycled paper, so the “green” branding went apace.

    I run into similar issues today with vendors that my company deals with that are selling “green” or “organic” products. It’s not all b.s., but a lot of it is. And the regulation of the use of such terms is still pretty weak. Not that I want more regulation, I’m just saying that what you think you’re getting and what you’re actually getting are two different things.

  29. The populist right says it wants free trade, but objects to every concrete move in that direction as “violating our sovereignty”.

    The anti capitalist left promotes the capitalistic marketing of morally “superior products” like organic foods and fair trade coffee.

    I agree with Pro Libertate. Just buy what you think is the best product at the best price.

  30. Gorgonzola’s Foil, you took the words right out of my mouth.

    I live in Philadelphia, and regularly shop at my neighborhood farmer’s market. I get top-quality produce (and meats, and eggs, and cheese, and flowers and bread); I also support family farms and thus reduce sprawl. It’s win-win capitalism at its finest.

    The “local rice” example seems to me to be a straw man. I doubt that many people are seeking out local rice– rather, they’re buying local strawberries or rhubarb or whatever.

  31. Many thanks for the Times Select tip. It works with my UK university email address too.

  32. Thanks a million for the .edu tip. I’ve been hankering after that bad boy for some time!

    n.b. Also works for non-US unis, if anyone was wondering.

  33. joe,

    If I could find some products that are “free trade certified”, I would probably buy them.

  34. The Europeans who originated the buy local movement did it, in part, to take the piss out of over-subsidized American farmers.

    Europeans were complaining about the subsidies American farmers get? That’s like the perfect black body absorber calling the limestone black.

  35. Christ on a pogo, I love reading Reason with the exception of this same stupid argument being churned over and over and over…

    Look, local food tastes good. I buy my chicken and eggs and milk and produce from people that I really know, like and and want to support. I got to know them at the farmer’s market and they’re stand up folk. I don’t buy from them because I hate ferners, I buy from them because they make damn fine product, are directly accountable to ME, and I like what they do. Is that so hard to understand?

    As for the other cross-eyed arguments about citrus in New England or rice in Minnesota, other than locavore cultists no one eschews food that has miles on it. You’re picking on 1% of 1% of a population that’s already tiny and waving your finger at it like it represents the norm. How about this one: libertarianism is b.s. because adherents like to live in compounds in Montana with stockpiles of guns while they evade taxes. That work for you?

    Pick on something else. It’s a free market, and it’s my market. If the people in Bangladesh won’t make their 35 cents that day selling bok choi to some multinational because I bought it from the nice Laotian couple at the market, tough merde. Just TRY and make me feel guilty for supporting my neighbors.

  36. Alex,

    The reason it looks the same to you is that I also live in Philadelphia. I will happily plug the Reading Terminal Market – and I can’t wait for south Jersey tomato season!

    Swillfredo, I’m not sure if you’re setting up a strawman or not. Even the most ardent macrobiotic dieters I’ve known make “Marco Polo” exceptions (the term used by one of them) for imported spices and other ingredients, to varying degrees of what they’ll accept from out of the area. It’s a lifestyle choice, and how authentic and complete one wants to try for is up to the individual. Any lifestyle choice has trade-offs and, if not exactly “sacrifices”, implied opportunity costs.

  37. Liberty cabbage. Ha ha ha ha, that slays me. Fact is, when it comes to certain basics, one can settle for nothing less than, say, Freedom flour, Democracy chicken, or Liberty milk. Some things should remain sacrosanct.

  38. 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

    The Sacramento Delta is a desert? WTF?

    While I think these micro-protectionists are just as stupid as the macro-protectionists, there’s no reason to bend the truth to make a point. I buy local California rice because it’s better and cheaper rice!

  39. Bewtween this horseshit, the Green Xenophobes, and the Rachel Carson = Stalin nonsense it looks Reason is having a new contest for who can write the most egregiously disenguous anti-environmental article in June.

    First prize is a Cadillac El Dorado, second prize is a set of steak knives, third prize is you gotta edit Jonah Goldberg’s new book.

  40. I have nothing better to rebut this ridiculous argument than what PBrazelton said.

    Except this: it’s food FFS! You’ve got to be pretty twisted not to understand the inherent preferability of food that was killed/harvested yesterday down the road by someone in your community, as opposed to last month by someone you know nothing about, under conditions you know nothing about.

  41. Californians want to act all environmental and stuff, but if they really cared about their impact on Gaia, they’d stop wasting water and move out of the desert.

    In this sense, the whole Organic/Whole Foods industry is more conniving than ‘corporations’, in that they disinigenously present themselves are morally superior products, when in the end, the products arent significantly dfferent from mass market items in their human/environmental impact.

    Sure, buy local food because it tastes better or whatever, but this conversation highlights the fundamental truth of the environmental movement:

    It is not about saving the planet. It is about making wealthy dilettantes feel better about themselves. Most environmental initiatives represent “feel-good” luxuries that can be purchased by the sufficiently wealthy, who simultaneously eschew making any changes in their lives that might actually make a difference to the planet.

  42. Case in point =

    Look, local food tastes good

    And taste, as we all know, is an objective… wait…

    Pick on something else. It’s a free market, and it’s my market

    If it’s a ‘free’ market, than whats the problem with pointing out it isnt particuarly efficacious at delivering on the kind of ‘ethical’ concerns that drives the very impulse to participate in these markets?

    Oh, wait = because it’s more about your self perception than it is the economic reality. Which is exactly the point we’re making. As long as your relative happiness with yourself is raised, then the ‘market’ has done it’s job, right? Regardless if it has *less* impact on ethical issues in the outside world.

    If you “prefer” something for reason of taste, thats fine and good. But the “preferability” of local markets does not mean they are a) necessarly of greater quality, or b) provide any more ‘ethical’ benefits than shopping blindfolded in safeway.

    Sacred cow, moos, keels over bleeding from nose. Internal brain hemmorage.

  43. Most environmental initiatives represent “feel-good” luxuries that can be purchased by the sufficiently wealthy, who simultaneously eschew making any changes in their lives that might actually make a difference to the planet.

    My god – RC Dean and I are in agreement… twice in 2 days….

    As case in point = Greenpeace spends 87% of it’s budget on…marketing greenpeace.

    Quick, someone say something about Immigrants!!

  44. Reason is having a new contest for who can write the most egregiously disenguous anti-environmental article in June

    Pointing out that things that call themselves “environmental” issues ARENT particularly environmental at all is doing the world a favor by helping people put money and efforts into things that in fact DO have real ‘environmental’ effects. Eating Locally, organic, etc, has no real imact on the environment, and is more about ethical narcissism than the actual outside world

  45. Gilmore –

    Wow, strange that I would have a subjective opinion about food. I mean, we all value food by strictly objective values, right? And our politics, that’s PURE objectivity. How about our friends? The clothes we buy? The cars we drive, and the houses we live in? Just a big bundle of objective standards applied evenly with robotic precision. I’d say that I’m free to say that I like a certain kind of food because it tastes good, don’t you? Or do we have to talk about the difference – nutritional and aesthetic – between a head of lettuce that was in the ground four hours ago versus a week? Hmm?

    As for the ethics of buying local, I personally don’t give a damn what your ethical standard is. If it’s maximizing GNP for some third world country, congrats. Maybe that makes you happy, I have no idea. My standard is supporting people I know and like, who use practices I consider fair and sound, where I can shake their hands when I buy the food and forge relationships that I will pass down to my children. You’re framing your arguments like there’s some massive, evil locavore headquarters emitting thought waves to those of us who frequent the farmer’s market or local coop. We all go there for different reasons, not because Reason’s blog junkies decided we have an agenda.

    Again, you can’t convince me that supporting these families is bad. You can’t tell me that the crap you get from Safeway is superior – as far as most humans are concerned freshness is a critical component of quality. Hell, just go to a good market at see what’s there. You may not start receiving instructions from locavore headquarters right away, but I guarantee that you’ll be thrilled with what your neighbors are laboring over.

    Any other arguments? So far it looks like you killed the wrong cow, pardner.

  46. Two words: Conspicuous Consumption.

    In an economy that can produce cheap clothing for pennies in China, and where even poor people in the “ghettos” often have big screen TVs and ipods and drive SUVs, it is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish class.

    Just about anything, short of fabulous jewels, or 100 metre long yachts that only the ultra-rich can afford, is mass produced and is affordable by most people. When you can buy Louis Vuitton handbags for the average days wage at your suburban St. Louis shopping mall, and when gourmet coffee is easier to find than a McDonalds, it is getting harder and harder for the upper-middle class educated urban professional to distiguish himself as in a higher class than the electrician living up the street.

    The upper middle class, the people who used to be able to demonstrate their social class by purchasing a Cadillac or designer sunglasses, needed to find a new way to demonstrate their “superiority” to the lower middle classes. But what do you do when the very concept of conspicuous consumption is failing.

    This is why the new “responsible eco-shiek” is becoming popular, and why it is popular with both conservatives and liberals (assuming that they are upper-middle class conservatives and liberals). Organicly grown food, fair-trade food, locally produced stuff and hand-made stuff, are decided with a built in scarcity.

    There is only a small amount of working farmland that is local to large urban population centers. Only a limited number of people in large metro areas can purchase locally grown produce. The fact that it is organic, and therefore some of it is destroyed by pests, makes it even more scarce. Consuming local products has scarcity built into the buisness model.

    This new fashion for inefficient production systems is the perfect form of conspicuous consumption, because it is unattainable by the masses BY DESIGN! Of course rich people who participate in this life style think it is morally superior… the rich ALWAYS think they are morally superior. I finished reading a book about victorian culture not too long ago, and they were just as convinced that the fashions of the rich of the day were a choice morally superior than those of the poor.

    When joe, and all the other white people (as he mentioned in his post), go to the local produce market to buy squash… and when joe makes sure to tell us all that he buys his produce local and organic… joe is saying more than “I like organic locally grown produce”. Hidden behind the lines is joe saying:

    “I am an education, intelligent, upper-middle class white man. I am not one of these Budwiser swilling, SUV driving, fast-food eating, Fox News watching tastless crietens! I have taste, I have knowledge, and I have the resources to act on it! I am superior to the average American!”.

    As joe said, of course all the people going to the local organic food market are white (even though the growers are asian)… Because upper-middle class people are disproportionatly white. It is a way for the upper classes to hang out with the upper classes, and congradulate themselves for having a lifestyle, that is by definition unattainable by the masses, more morally superior than all those irresponsible trash who shop at Walmart!

  47. *sigh*

    Rex Rhino, all you’ve really done is create a sweeping generalization to reinforce your delusional beliefs about a supposedly elite class.

    Look up Occam’s Razor, then use its fury against the reality of the situation. You might end up with a slightly less complex analysis now that it’s missing the paranoid psychobabble. Maybe all Joe is saying is, “I like fresh food raised responsibly.” You can read anything you want into THAT, but injecting your classism rant won’t cut it.

    Go to a market. Seriously, just go there. There are all sorts of people there, not just rich white people. There may be MORE white people there, but we whiteys are the populations majority, ya know. Additionally, produce at the market (not meat) is cheaper than at the grocery store when it’s in season. If buying a massive pile of chard leaves for half of what the grocery store charges for a meager few leaves somehow reinforces my elitism… I guess I don’t know what to say. Maybe it’s bizarro day.

  48. Supporting small farmers stops sprawl?

    Only 6% of the US is developed non agriculturally, with cities and suburbs.

    The only place in the US where prime farmland has been replaced by suburban/urban development is California (mainly Southern).

    I am not sure of that linkage.

  49. Gee, when I walk to my local farmers’ market and buy my veggies, meat, bread and coffee for the week I used to think it was because it was handier and tastier than what I can buy at the grocery store.

    Thanks, Rex Rhino, for opening my eyes as to what a total scumbag I am! Seriously, I need prompt psychological help for my deep narcissistic and racist tendencies.

    Le eco-freak. C’est shiek!

  50. joe says: “Not “Free Trade,” Fair Trade.”

    Thank you for the clarification. For a moment I thought you had an epiphany and had embraced the libertarian notion of free trade, instead of the progressive Democratic notion of overpaying a company for its goods based on their claim that they are paying above market rates for labor.

    All is well with the world again – joe is still a reliable shill for Big Democrat with too much time on his hands.

  51. If people are buying locally to meet some producers and get some better tasting, fresher food more power to them.

    However, If the goal is to improve sustainability and environmental protection ending farm subsidies would accomplish far more then eating locally will.

  52. jh — you’re stupid and a little child because you don’t agree with my obviously correct notions about the merits of a large, overweening government.

  53. If buying a massive pile of chard leaves for half of what the grocery store charges for a meager few leaves somehow reinforces my elitism… I guess I don’t know what to say. Maybe it’s bizarro day.

    I shop at a market. Kensington Market in Toronto. It is very nice, and I always get swiss chard for pennies. However, the market hasn’t totally been gentrified yet, and therefore they sell fruits and veggies from non-local farmers as well as local (it is kind of hard to find Mangos or Oranges grown here in Canada), and stuff may not be organic.

    There is a place in the city for the people who only want their localy-grown organic produce, and the prices are very expensive, the selection is pitiful, and it is mostly white people with too much money. It is a sad, pittiful immitation of a real street market.

  54. Brandybuck says: “I buy local California rice because it’s better and cheaper rice!”

    Try eating Thai Jasmine rice (available in Costco in 50 pound sacks). Tastes way better than any other rice I’ve eaten, and it only costs a few pennies a pound more. You’ll never go back to eating that California rubbish.

  55. The Fake joe,

    There’s overweening and underweaning. I think bibertarians prefer the latter.

  56. TJIT – YES. That’s exactly the conversation that should be happening. I consider supporting unsubsidized growers a start, but eliminating subsidies entirely would radically change the economics. I’d also like a way to bring externalities into the equation, but that’s a pipe dream.

    Rex Rhino – we’re getting there. I’m sorry to hear your Rich White Person Market sucks. I’ve seen plenty of them, though not here in the Twin Cities (MN). It’s usually a handful of hippy farmers (god bless ’em) selling chewed up heirloom varieties at beastly prices. However, established markets are a very different beast. The Minneapolis market is very much like yours, a melange of produce brokers, local farmers and the usual junk like magic detergent discs and knock-off watches. St Paul, the other twin, has a smaller but still substantial market that only allows local growers. It’s magical – dozens of local growers displaying veggies that might make you cry with joy (yes, I like food) along with meat that was walking around yesterday. People of all class/gender/color in both markets – seriously, it looks like the UN. The prices are rock bottom in both markets, though I prefer the latter if only to escape the carnival atmosphere of the former.

    Lots of writing to say: this is what we see and what shapes our opinions. You see the polarization in Toronto, and you perceive a class rift. I see the opposite, so perceive no such thing. What we need to get straight is that while classism/racism/whateverism certainly exists all over, it’s not inherent to this model. Sometimes a farmer’s market is just a farmer’s market, and people are there because there isn’t another place to buy a bag of massive, ripe tomatoes for four bucks. And sometimes they’re there because they hate black people and want to look better than their beer-swilling brother-in-law. I have no idea, but at the very least it seems like the sane thing to do is not lump everyone in one category or the other.

    Does that sound reasonable?

  57. “GILMORE | June 14, 2007, 12:16pm |…”

    Nail on the head. I’m reminded of the Fosterites in ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ who judge each others morality primarily by whether they by products approved of by other Fosterites.

    Most of the feel good labeling of the past few years – most visibly ‘organic’ – is an absolute crock. On the whole ‘Organic’ foods tend to be worse for the environment than the ones not so labeled. ‘Organic’ foods generally require more irrigation and have higher culls (the percentage of crop thrown away as unsalable) than non-organic foods. Organic farming is inefficient in terms of land and water use, and would if practiced extensively result in greater degredation to the environment than standard modern practice. And organic foods are neither safer nor more nutritious. The plain truth is that many organic foods are produced with ‘organic’ plant pesticides which were abandoned years ago because they had higher toxicity levels than newer products.

    As for ‘tasting better’, for the most part neither locally grown nor organic is any assurance of higher quality. This is especially true of organic, but even with ‘locally grown’ its going to be only a few highly perishable crops where the difference is going to be noticable. I buy locally grown seasonal peaches, pears, nectarines, and tomatoes because you can’t transport these foods ripe. You’ve never bought a ripe peach or pear at a grocery store and most people have never had one. But for most foods, the argument that locally grown means ‘better’ is ridiculous. For one thing, often as not if you go to the farmer’s market you are buying the exact same thing that farmer shipped out on a truck and which is in your local grocery store. For example, local strawberries are available seasonally in my local grocery. They are the exact same ones available at vegetable stands and farmers markets. When in season, they are the best strawberries available. Most of the rest of the year, they just aren’t available so if you want them out of season your best bet is a berry grown where it is seasonal. Similarly, I buy locally grown watermelons, but the climate north of here is better (drier) for watermelons and results in a superior melon when it comes to ripeness. I get my early watermelons locally, but the best watermelons I get are shipped in from elsewhere. Ditto blueberries, cherries, broccolli, onions and a host of other crops that do better in someone elses climate. I expect they feel the same about our strawberries and mandarin oranges (even if they’ve never thought about where they come from).

    Most of all, this is an example of marketing. It tastes better to you because you expect it to taste better, but in a blind taste test I’d put money on the fact that people that swear by this and that couldn’t tell the difference.

    And for the record, Wal-Mart’s produce is generally superior (riper, fresher, etc.) to Whole-Foods. The reason? Volume. Not only that, but its generally half the cost, which means its probably produced or distributed in an environmentally friendlier way. For example, I bet that a good bit of the price difference is that Whole-Foods wastes more food.

  58. Welcome to the Thread of the Long Postings đŸ™‚

    PBrazelton,

    What’s that grocery store with the carpet in Minneapolis? I used to go there for the higher-end foodstuffs. Before I escaped to warmer climes–like Chicago–on my eventual path back to Florida.

  59. Sorry, I tend to avoid coffee but today was a notable exception. I’ll be lurking again by tomorrow AM đŸ™‚

    Byerly’s is what you’re thinking of. The markup is egregious but it’s the place to go if you’re looking for the choice between 25 different brands of olive oil. Oh, and the carpet feels nice.

  60. I have no idea, but at the very least it seems like the sane thing to do is not lump everyone in one category or the other.

    Not everyone who purchases local organicly grown produce is a classist or elitist. Sure. I agree with you.

    But everyone who says it is morally or ethically superior to purchase local organicly grown produce is.

    As a libertarian, I have no problem with people purchasing luxury items. But just don’t pretend luxury items are any better than any other item because they have scarcity built into the buisness model.

  61. Byerly’s! Right! Overpriced in a way that inspires nostalgia for Soviet breadlines, yes, but what a great grocery store.

  62. Rex – you lost me there a bit. What would you consider a morally or ethically superior choice when purchasing your food? And why is buying fresh, cheap produce considered a luxury?

  63. When I was a kid, the Edina Byerly’s used to have a guy in a tux tickling the ivories of a grand piano. Strange.

  64. But for most foods, the argument that locally grown means ‘better’ is ridiculous. For one thing, often as not if you go to the farmer’s market you are buying the exact same thing that farmer shipped out on a truck and which is in your local grocery store.

    Absolutely true.

    The people here buzzing around trying to defend “their preferences to shop locally” (who cares what anyone *prefers*?) are the one’s missing the point, because they dont know enough about the supply chain… Farmer’s Markets arent different than supermarkets in terms of the *product*… they’re different in terms of the retail format. You’re just cutting out a middle man. Telling yourself ‘it tastes better’ may be true. Maybe thats the lack of the “commercial” taste in your mouth, which so many people equate with “Big Evil”.

    And for the record, Wal-Mart’s produce is generally superior (riper, fresher, etc.) to Whole-Foods. The reason? Volume.

    Again – true.

    The problem is that the organic/whole foods business is predicated entrely around convincing people that *Normal* food is somehow so fucking bad for you and evil and tainted with Corporateness and it kills trees and undermines proletariats etc. … and suprise! we have a solution! spend 30% more and you too can be guilt free from participating in the global exploitative network of capitalism.

    Never mind that this organic food product was made by a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a pretty large fucking corporation…

    Anyway, no one here is AGAINST farmers markets for @#(*$ sake. It’s maybe useful to have the occasional injection of realism into debates about what is/is not healthy/sustainable/ethical…

    Funny how you guys got into the Class & Race element of this so quickly… ahh, college in the 90s = where ONLY Class and Race matter!

    In case you want some boring/mock-worthy reading, here’s a piece analysing the Classist psychology of “Yuppie Food”

    www2.ucsc.edu/cgirs/research/environment/ afsrg/publications/Guthman_2003.pdf

    It’s typical PC Liberal Arts strewth that considers bagged salad part of a Classist Imperialist AntiFeminism or something, but at least she got some of her points right about the psychological effects of organic branding

  65. Farmer’s Markets arent different than supermarkets in terms of the *product*… they’re different in terms of the retail format.

    Although the produce at the supermarket I go to is usually pretty good, it wasn’t fucking picked this morning. And for some reason or another the honey I get at the farmer’s market is, how to quantify this, slightly better than the stuff in the plastic bear bottle.

  66. de stijl,

    I can’t get the famous Tupelo honey at my grocery store, so the farmer’s market is the only non-ridiculously priced option.

    Tupelo honey–tasty, and the subject of that good Peter Fonda movie without General Zod.

  67. bagged salad

    Best. Invention. Ever.

  68. NOT AS GOOD AS BAGGED HAGGIS.

  69. Yes, de stijl, but that’s your worthless subjective opinion, tainted by your deep hatred of capitalism and corporations. What you’re *actually* experiencing is something entirely different. If you’re ever curious as to what you’re really feeling or why you’re doing something, just post here and Gilmore will fill you in.

    Also, a vendor at my market has this dark buckwheat honey I would murder a bus full of orphans for. Now if only I could get a large – really, the largest possible, and preferably based in another state – supermarket to carry it I would be maximizing my efficiencies and not buying into the hype. If it were produced by bees 12,000 miles away that would be nice too. Maybe I should ask…?

  70. jesus

    Guys, farmers markets are great. But stop taking any comment as “something’s wrong with you”. we’re talking about common misperceptions about consumers and food supply. Yes, you can get fucking fresh honey maple syrup, fresh…whatever…. but it’s not that different than many other types of small grocers, supermarkets, or even Fresh Direct for christs sake. The reason Im not adressing any of your points directly is because they’re largely besides the point. I didnt mean to trample on your god, but give it up already… Im not saying your local market isnt like…*awesome*. Here, have some swiss card, and a cookie.

  71. Wow, I actually Googled “swiss card” to see if I were missing some sort of international reference. Then I realized you meant swiss chard, and felt like an idiot. Also, you’re clearly not that into food. For those of us who really like it, the quality is important. It’s like saying Boones Farm is pretty much the same thing as a fine French Cabernet to someone who loves wine. Your argument just isn’t going to sell.

    Anyway, I accept your offer of swiss card and a cookie. But only if they’re organic and locally produced. Because that’s way better.

  72. Also, you’re clearly not that into food

    har har.

    Two of my best friends are chefs, and we do monhly barbecues where we do competitive-style cookoffs.

    my local market is this on essex on the lower east side – although the produce is just as good at the c-town down the street… i go there for the butchers.

    the difference between you and i, friend, is not culinary appreciation or sensibilities, but the fact that I spent 10yrs as a food industry analyst

  73. Oh yeah I also sometimes misstype

  74. swillfredo,

    “If the farmers selling to corporations are being paid a relative pittance why haven’t they started selling at the Lowell, Massachusetts farmer’s market? How much locally grown citrus do these guys offer?”

    1. Individuals farmers in New Jersey, Alabama, and Chile might have trouble coming to the Lowell Farmers Market each Friday.

    2. Squash is not a citrus.

    GILMORE,

    That’s very interesting. It’s also a pretty good rebuttal to the slur that people who are interested in such things are motivated by a hostility to furrners.

    gorgo’s foil,

    Good point! Those are people who are actually making decisions with their own dollars in an attempt to bring about a change in the market throgh completely non-coercive, market-based mechanisms. The chance that Reason will ever publish or link to a piece noting and applauding this idea is approximately 0, for no othe reason than “they’re not our sort of people, dear.”

    Rex,

    “As joe said, of course all the people going to the local organic food market are white (even though the growers are asian)… Because upper-middle class people are disproportionatly white. It is a way for the upper classes to hang out with the upper classes, and congradulate themselves for having a lifestyle, that is by definition unattainable by the masses, more morally superior than all those irresponsible trash who shop at Walmart!”

    Oh, I must not have mentioned that the Farmer’s Market taked Food Stamps, and that poor people from nearby neighborhoods shop there, too. Or that the produce is cheaper than at the store.

    Aw, look, I killed Rex’s puppy. And he was feeling so good about gettin’ dem libruls, too!

    jh, you fucking twit, you posted your email address when you commented as “the Fake joe.” Is it physically painful to be that stupid, or is it sort of a numb sensation?

  75. NOW WITH 2X PATHOGENS!!

  76. jh,

    I’ve come back to mock you some more.

    Not only did you comment under a fake name, and screw up and post your real email address. No, that wouldn’t display nearly the level of cowardice and stupidity that does you justice.

    No, you actually go so far as to post under a fake name, so you can write a comment congatulating yourself, and backing up yourself up in an argument with another poster – and THEN you screw up and post your comment with your real email address.

    What’s the matter, you forgot to type in “fake@joe.com” like you usually do?

    I don’t think you should hang around here anymore, jh, because I’m going to make a point of reminding everyone about this sorry little episode if you do, you sorry little man.

  77. YES, HOW OFFENSIVE! BETTER TO HIDE BEHIND A WHOLE BLOG!

  78. The first year I lived in NorCal, they had to close Interstate 5 and Highway 99 through the rice belt as the El Nino-fed Sacramento River was runing at something like 700,000 cubic feet per second and flooded … oh, pretty much everything.

    Friggin’ barren desert.

  79. “the Farmer’s Market taked Food Stamps, and that poor people”

    Watch it.

  80. Gilmore – the swiss card comment was a dig on my own stupidity, not on your miskey. Sorry, dumb joke, but hopefully I got a smile out of the last sentence.

    As for the rest: eh. The coffee’s worn off and I don’t care enough about what you think without the caffeine molecules racing through my bloodstream. Enjoy your food where ever you get it, you crazy food analyst, you.

    Alsolocalandorganicsarebetter.

    xxxooo

  81. Urk,

    Definitely–I always put my haggis into one of those big, black 55 gal. bags the moment I get it home from the store! There’s simply no better way to store it.

  82. Could somebody please explain to me how I’m supposed to buy local produce in the middle of winter here in the northeast? Not many green peppers growing when the ground’s been frozen solid for 10 weeks…

  83. Amom – you can’t. Humans have relied on food preservation technology (drying, canning, pickling, cold storage, etc.) for almost as long as they’ve been around. If you want to eat local in the winter, you eat from your pantry, freezer and root cellar. Of course, this requires a LOT of preparation in the warm months…

    There’s also the option of a heated greenhouse, but that’s very energy intensive (read: expensive).

  84. Kirk parker,

    URKOBOLD SEES THAT YOU ARE A CONNOISSEUR, UNLIKE THE USUAL HOI POLLOI SEEN AT REASON. YES, AGED HAGGIS IS THE BEST. URKOBOLD SOMETIMES BURIES IT IN THE COLD, COLD GROUND FOR A MONTH OR TWO BEFORE DEEP FRYING IT.

    URKOBOLD’S GOOD FRIEND, ALTON BROWN, GAVE THE URKOBOLD A LOVELY HAGGIS RECIPE. AND FOR THOSE WHO DON’T HAVE THE TIME, THERE’S ALWAYS HAGGIS IN A CAN. SCRUMPTIOUS! THE URKOBOLD RECOMMENDS BREAKING OUT A HAGGIS FOR THOSE ROMANTIC OCCASIONS.

  85. So produce is better when grown in a laboratory setting (i.e., a heated greenhouse) than in a field, as long as it isn’t transported more than 100 miles?

  86. For me, the Farmer’s Market is about getting specialized produce as well as getting tasty ripe fresh stuff. The grocery store has to stock what most people are likely to buy. They’ll have Roma tomatoes and slicing tomatoes and grape tomatoes. The farmer’s market will have yellow tomatoes and black tomatoes and tomatoes so large that you’ll have to cut a slice of one in half to make it fit on your sandwich (no kidding!) There’s a choice of six different varieties of hardneck garlic, not that softneck kind that grocery stores carry, but the stuff with the easy-peel cloves that’s so spicy you only need half what the recipe calls for. That kind of “long tail” produce just isn’t available at any grocery store, at least not out where I live. Our grocery stores do carry local produce which I buy there in season, but even if all their produce were locally grown, it wouldn’t be economical for them to carry that much variety. Backyard garden hobbyists, on the other hand, tend to take pride in growing the unusual, and if they can sell it at a farmer’s market and make a little money besides the prize money from the county fair, so much the better for them!

    Now maybe some of you guys live in fancy, highfalutin’ cities where anyone can wander down to some gourmet food district and buy one of those black tomatoes the size of a toddler’s head any day of the week. But for the rest of us, living out here where Wal-Mart’s the only store in town, there’s farmer’s markets.

  87. “And why is buying fresh, cheap produce considered a luxury?”

    Because it is. We happen to live in a society which is so wealthy that it is a luxury which can now be shared by almost everyone, but never forget that it is in fact a luxury. The natural state of man is that fresh foods are not available, and certainly not any fresh food you desire. For the vast majority of human history, fresh foods were only available at certain times of the year perhaps only for a few weeks of the year. The rest of the year, these foods would be out of season and hense unavailable. Only by investing enormous resources in distribution and refrigeration of produce have we achieved the illusion of produce being available on a whim, cheaply, and at any time of the year.

    I should also point out that for a food to be locally grown and available at any time of the year, even more resources must have been invested in its production. For example, if you want a ripe locally grown tomato in January, then you are buying a hothouse tomato.

  88. “Also, you’re clearly not that into food. For those of us who really like it, the quality is important.”

    Har har, indeed.

    Rather than addressing the pompousness of that statement directly, I’d like to reflect on this belief generally.

    I’ve been alot of places in this great country. One thing that is universal to all of them is that the locals sincerely believe that the local culture has a special and unique appreciation for food (and for eating food, and for fellowship while eating food, and for celebrating the eating of food) which far exceeds that of people elsewhere. Likewise, they all believe that they have a local cuisine which is exceptional and superior to that of thier neighbors. The funny thing is that this is true even of areas where the local cooking is exceptionally bad. In fact, the even more ironic thing about it is that in my experience some places which have a national reputation for exceptional food tend to have rather bad cooking on the whole. (Not naming names to avoid offending anyone.)

    The point is that everyone thinks that they have an exceptional interest in food and in eating. But, in fact this is silly. Humans generally are exceptionally interested in food and eating and almost univerally take great pleasure in it. Claiming that someone else clearly isn’t into food doesn’t directly demonstrate anything about your love of food or his, but it does demonstrate your own narrow experience and THAT may say something about whether you are a creditable judge of food or not.

    In any event, I buy spices from Penzey’s and tea from Stash and I can do all the whole food snobbery and ‘I’m more of a food snob than thou’ thing too. The difference would seem to be that I don’t care a wit about what anyone thinks about my taste in food, nor do I give a flip about eating or buying things because it is fashionable. I really only care about real and detectable differences in quality, not percieved quality and certainly not status. Which is why you are just as likely to find me in Wal-mart or some hole in the wall that doesn’t look like it would pass a health inspection, as whatever the trendy place to shop is or some fashionable restaurant.

  89. celebrim | June 17, 2007, 2:47am | #

    can i quote you in some consumer research i’m doing? đŸ™‚ really.

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