Environmentalism

"Food Confused"

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Brit writer Lucas Hollwegtries joins me in the ranks of the "food confused":

Some choices are straightforward. Processed food clearly puts you on the fast track to hell. As for animal welfare, I won't eat anything that hasn't had weekly spa treatments. But organic? I used to think it was a no-brainer: good for the planet (no energy wasted on fertilisers and pesticides); good for the soil (it works with nature, rather than against it); good for the creatures that inhabit furrow and field (livestock, wildlife, farmers). It is also, arguably, good for us.

But when food miles enter the equation, organic quickly loses its halo.

More about the various demands on your stomach and your planet from Ron Bailey, who says organic farming could kill billions.

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  1. I won’t eat anything that hasn’t had weekly spa treatments.

    Better keep Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie away from this guy.

  2. Bushels per acre also tarnishes organics standing as ‘good for our beloved mother earth’.

  3. “But when food miles enter the equation, organic quickly loses its halo.”

    Maybe keep the chemicals and go No-till?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No-till_farming

  4. A fundamental principle of sustainability is that processes should seek to maximize benefits along the entire spectrum of measurements, rather than only looking at one.

    Acreage under tillage vs. in a natural state is certainly an important measure, Warren, but someone truly interested in making decisions about which process is the most sustainable wouldn’t just look at one measure like that.

  5. Given what we know about the state of deforestation in the United States (forested acres cover more the US than at any time in the last 150 years), and given what we know about global warming and water pollution from crop runoff, trading acreage for cleaner agriculture should be a no-brainer.

  6. joe,

    Sustainability is certainly an important measure, but someone truly interested in making decisions about which process is the most beneficial to himself and his family wouldn’t look at one measure like that.

  7. Oh, yeah. Warren’s bringing the smart-ass.

    Props.

  8. If we all become locavores, what happens to the farmers in Israel and Chile and Peru who are providing us with our tasty, out of season fruits and veggies? Sending them back into poverty seems like a bad idea–we’ve established that as countries’ populations become wealthier, their environmental quality improves.

  9. Emma: Ehh…the Environmental Kuznetz Curve of which you speak may be more of cross-sectional than a time-series beast…but I am firmly against not being able to get berries out of season!

  10. Just as long as I avoid anything with the “organic” label, I feel like I’m doing my part.

    This whole movement needs to disappear.

  11. …organic farming could kill billions.

    Well, I’m in.

  12. To be serious now, I shop at an organic only co-op just down the street. My biggest beef with the chains is their shit produce. I can get top shelf produce and specialty items like local and imported cheese also. I look at it like I’m paying for quality, not the organic label. But they are often the same.

  13. joe is right here.

    Sustainability is the key issue. His 4:05 comment is exactly on point: By and large, ecologically sound decisions are economically sound ones.

    Warren’s point is valid in the sense that a subsistence farmer often cannot afford to look at the long term issues and consequences. However, it is frequently the case that both the short- and long-term returns can be improved with appropriate use of technology. Indeed, the reason that a subsistence farmer is in his predicament is due to the inefficient use of his land and labor.

  14. Sorry.

    That last sentence should read:

    “the reason that a subsistence farmer is in his predicament is often due to the inefficient use of his land and labor.

  15. To be serious now, I shop at an organic only co-op just down the street. My biggest beef with the chains is their shit produce. I can get top shelf produce and specialty items like local and imported cheese also. I look at it like I’m paying for quality, not the organic label. But they are often the same.

    I’ve always found that local organic produce tastes better by a long shot. Organic farms also tend to treat their workers better.

  16. This “dilemma” seems like a pretty good example of the market at work. The market does an excellent job of balancing such preferences.

    Water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, natural foods, etc. are no more locked in a zero sum game than automobile emissions, miles per gallon, and style are locked in a zero sum game in the auto industry.

    …as people become increasingly concerned about global warming, the market responds. Market actors start weighing its importance in their decisions against other factors–and that is as it should be.

    “…trading acreage for cleaner agriculture should be a no-brainer.”

    To people with your preferences, at this point in time, maybe.

  17. “…trading acreage for cleaner agriculture should be a no-brainer.”

    To people with your preferences, at this point in time, maybe.’

    Ken

    I see no conflict with libertarianism in joe’s comment. Many bad agricultural practices can be traced to bad government policies which promote waste of resources and pollution, usually to the benefit of a favored few. e.g. The sugar embargo and its negative impact on the Florida swamplands.

    I think you will find joe and Ron on the same side on this one. (Each wearing a garlic clove to fend the other off, of course.)

  18. I appreciate joe as much as the next guy, probably more. …and I think you’re probably right about Bailey being on board. He seems to know a “no-brainer” when he sees one too.

    But this thread is about consumer choice. …and when I hear people talk about “no brainers”, I usually don’t associate that with people who see the wisdom in letting consumers pick whatever they want.

    …if joe thinks consumer choice is the best instrument for deciding matters like this, then I might try to drag him into the libertarian big tent after all, kicking and screaming all the way.

    “Many bad agricultural practices can be traced to bad government policies which promote waste of resources and pollution, usually to the benefit of a favored few. e.g. The sugar embargo and its negative impact on the Florida swamplands.”

    I’m not so sure that’s so true of the organic little guys.

  19. They are both shills for Big Garlic.

    anyway, I would like to see some review/critique of the recent University of Michigan study on organics:
    http://www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/story.php?id=5936

  20. by ‘they’, I meant Ron and Joe.

  21. the reason that a subsistence farmer is in his predicament is often due to the inefficient use of his land and labor.

    Funny that this guy actually thinks people who are subsistence farmers own the land they work on.

  22. “But when food miles enter the equation, organic quickly loses its halo.”

    Oh, and buying from farmer’s markets might kill all those birds with one stone…

    Are farmer’s markets as big in the rest of the country as they are here in Los Angeles? …seems like every town I know has one now.

  23. Are farmer’s markets as big in the rest of the country as they are here in Los Angeles? …seems like every town I know has one now.

    Funny that this guys thinks farmers markets are new fad invented by modernity.

  24. Fun with numbers:

    “since crop yields were considerably higher in the conventional systems, the difference in energy needed to produce a crop unit was only 19 percent lower in the organic systems.”

    Secondly, the researchers declare that they found nutrients “in the organic systems to be 34 to 51% lower than in conventional systems, whereas mean crop yield was only 20% lower over a period of 21 years.”

  25. “Funny that this guys thinks farmers markets are new fad invented by modernity.”

    Funny how this guy thinks a question about magnitude is a question about novelty.

  26. Funny that this guy actually thinks people who are subsistence farmers own the land they work on.

    Nothing funny about it at all. By “his land”, I referred to the land he works, whether as a tenant farmer, sharecropper, or smallholder. Where the land is used inefficiently, the actual title to the land is not relevant except in the sense that, where the farmer does not have title, he has no incentive to exercise stewardship.

  27. “I’ve always found that local organic produce tastes better by a long shot. Organic farms also tend to treat their workers better.”

    I suspect that that’s because of the minority nature of the practices — that they can be more selective, so they are. Were inorganic farming the specialty item, it might produce the better tasting produce and treat workers better.

  28. Funny how this guy thinks a question about magnitude is a question about novelty.

    Funny how this guy conflates the re-branding of “all-natural” to “organic” as a shift in magnitude.

  29. I asked how big it was. You seemed to think I thought it was new.

    “Funny how this guy conflates the re-branding of “all-natural” to “organic” as a shift in magnitude.”

    What does that mean?

  30. What are you, a troll now?

  31. Trolls generally mannage to actually express an idea, Ken.

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