Food Freedom

Are Locavores Loco for Ripe Fruits? Or Just Plain Loco?


In a new regular column for The Wall Street Journal, former Reason Editor Virginia Postrel discusses what might be called the "locavore's dilemma":

Like tastemakers from Anna Wintour to Steve Jobs, [local food and best-selling author Michael] Pollan is just trying to persuade the public to share his sense of excellence and, with it, his willingness to pay [for fresh. locally grown produce]. The real problem with his prescriptions isn't economic elitism but produce xenophobia. The locavore ideal is a world without trade, not only beyond national borders but even from the next state: no Florida oranges in Colorado or California grapes in New Mexico, no Vidalia onions in New York or summer spinach in Georgia.

Fully realized, that ideal would eliminate one of the great culinary advances of the past half century. Unripe peaches notwithstanding, today's supermarket produce departments are modern marvels. American grocery shoppers have choices that would have been unimaginable only a few decades ago. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, the only way to get fresh spinach or leaf lettuce was to plant a garden. Avocados were an exotic treat, asparagus came in a can, and pomegranates existed only in books….

The local-food movement's ideological parochialism would be dangerous if it were somehow enacted into law. But as persuasion, it tends to focus on the positive: the delights of local peaches and fresh cider, not the imagined evils of Chilean blueberries and prepeeled baby carrots. In this regard, it resembles the English Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century. William Morris, who is remembered today more for his wallpaper and book designs than for his social theories, didn't manage to overturn the industrial revolution. But he and his allies left a legacy of beautiful things. Pleasure is persuasive.

More here. Postrel has follow-up thoughts on possible locavore coercion at her Dynamist blog.

Just remember that in a world without produce shipped all over the place, there would be no Mackinaw Peaches ("like having a circus in your mouth!"):

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  1. As pure persuasion/education, I got no beef with the locavores. When you eat what’s in season, as fresh-picked as possible, its gonna taste better.

    Unfortunately, they share the rhetoric of the eco-nutters and the nannies, both of which are famously fond of coercion to achieve their goals. So I’m deeply suspicious of them.

    1. I don’t fear them for the same reason I don’t fear peddle powered tanks and solar powered machine guns.

      1. locavore…does that mean we get to eat our neighbors when the food runs out? neighbor…the other white meat

        1. gives a whole new meaning to “cultivating new friends:”

          1. A life without pineapples is a life not worth living.

            1. HEAR, HEAR!

              I’ll become a locavore as soon as they can grow Pineapples (yes it should be capitalized) in Virginia.

          2. They say that sharing meals is one of the best ways to bring people closer together. How much closer can a neighbor get that when he’s inside you?

            But, DADIODADDY, I do have to call you out for being a racist. You just assume the neighbor will be providing you with white meat–what kind of lily-white neighborhood do you live in, anyway?

            1. Pork, is called a ‘white’ meat. Longpork is given the appelation for the same reason.

              The color of the hide does not denote the color of the meat–or do you think that brown cows give chocolate milk*?

              *everyone knows that brown cows are where malt liquor comes from.

  2. The local-food movement’s ideological parochialism would be dangerous if it were somehow enacted into law.

    It’s already in law in one way or another, Nick, across several states, not only in the form of the misguided “Buy Local” bumper sticker culture.

    1. Link please? Unless you’re talking about space for farmer’s markets, I haven’t seen any laws requiring buying local.

      1. Re: Mo,

        What the fuck do you think licensing/land use laws are FOR??? You think States don’t run protectionist schemes against each other?

        I did not say there are EXPLICIT laws in the books, but that there are laws that impose this localist mindset in one way or the other. I’ve lived it.

        1. What the fuck do you think licensing/land use laws are FOR???

          Restricting how people use their property? Just a guess. I don’t see how that is relevant to restricting what kind of food people can buy.

          1. Re: Hugh Akston,

            I don’t see how that is relevant to restricting what kind of food people can buy.

            If you restrict the building of stores that sell out-of-state produce, like California does as a matter of routine, you are restricting what people can buy. That’s how it works.

            1. I guess I know how it works now. But the CA legislature must not be doing its job very well, because I can still buy Chilean tangerines at Ralph’s for $5.99 a bag.

              1. Re: Hugh Akston,

                Well, I am not arguing that the government does a good job of anything, only that it does try to undermine liberty in oh-so-varied ways, including forcing me to “buy local.”

          2. And yet in Decatur, GA a man is fined for growing “too much produce” on his land.

        2. Isn’t restricting people from farming or preventing slaughterhouses within city limits the exact opposite of forcing people to buy local?

        1. Wow, that’s really messed up.

  3. Nick, thanks for linking to a Postrel piece.

    1. I know what you’re thinking…DRINK!

  4. To be a locavore in the Boston area, where I live, means that in winter I will be eating no vegetables unless i had the foresight to stash some root stock in my basement and can or pickle some local veggies acquired in summer. Yeah, like I’ve got time for that shit.

    Locally grown veggies do taste pretty darn good, as compared to the “factory farm” produce, but even those taste better than any canned vegetable I’ve ever had the displeasure to taste.

    1. Canned tomatoes are far better than any you can buy in the fresh produce section of a grocery store. Otherwise, you are correct.

  5. I think I know what’s happening here. Companies in the travel industry are secretly behind this movement, because they know that people will travel to get their Georgia peaches and Maine lobsters once it becomes illegal to ship them.

    1. On a related note, someone linked to me a survey that the MD state gummint is conducting on ordering wine over the Internet (on surveymoney no less. How modern!)

      They are asking quesitons about how many wine festivals you attend in-state and out, how much you spend on wine at festivals, how many bottle you buy, if it’s the same price online and in a store, where do you buy it?

      How is any of this the state’s business and how is it relevant to whether or not I should enjoy a basic liberty? Are my free speech rights dependent on how many magazines I read a month?

      I didn’t bother finishing it, because it was absurdly lengthy and was a fairly obvious proxy for the in-state middlemen who stand to lose from this revolutionary and dangerous idea of ordering things online.…..survey.asp

      1. Protectionism: It’s What’s for Dinner.

  6. Virginia Postrel’s observations are astute. I’m only 56 YO and living near where I grew up in the Bronx, and yet even this late in the story, local grocery offerings are so much better than when I was little. It’s not that the airplane or railroad was invented over my lifetime, just that the world has grown so much richer that the mass market can afford to carry items that were technically possible then but just too expensive to sustain. It’s not like Mother couldn’t cook or like we didn’t have a refrigerator or freezer, but canned food was a larger portion of our diet back then. Corn on the cob was kind of special when much of the year there was only canned or frozen corn. Spinach wasn’t considered a salad ingredient because you couldn’t get it raw. Salmon was canned or smoked. Even though Daddy was a doctor warning Grampa Nick (Mother’s stepfather) to avoid sodium, Daddy never considered the salt in canned goods, because that was sort of an unavoidable background level.

  7. Eight dollars for a dozen eggs?

    THANKS, public health ordinances local production prohibition!

  8. I’d go to the Farmer’s Market more often if it weren’t for the fucking hippies.

    1. Why do the hippies fuck there?

      1. Heirloom tomatoes make for great lube.

      2. Animals are more natural.

        1. Are you saying you still fuck sheep, Pro Lib?

          1. mice, I only fuck mice.

  9. William Morris, who is remembered today more for his wallpaper and book designs than for his social theories, didn’t manage to overturn the industrial revolution. But he and his allies left a legacy of beautiful things.

    All made in China, at rock-bottom prices, affordable to all.

    I truly believe that the localists hate the poor. I hate those that hate the poor, ergo I am a Free Market Advocate.

    1. Lies. Hating the poor is our turf. Unintentionally fucking them over, now that’s for the other team.

    2. That is really the thing, OM. There is no fucking way people without a pretty good disposable income can eat good local food all the time. Also, a lot of parts of the country have this thing called winter. There is no way New England could come close to feeding its population on local food, for example.

  10. It shouldn’t need a law, and it shouldn’t ban trade. That’s the “we know better than you” aspect of both far left and right people. Eating local is a choice, the same way that eating junk food is a choice. It’s an option. It should stay that way. If someone wants to pay to import something from Zimbabwe, then so be it. That’s their prerogative.

    The reasons I prefer it for MY option are as follows:

    Keep capital local
    Instead of going overseas, my capital is local. Granted, there’s many businesses that get paid along the way, but I like to keep it local and in the hands of…

    Support Independent business owners
    That’s what a small farmer is. It’s a business. Of all the farms I purchase from here in Northen Virginia (Bull Run Farm in The Plains, Over The Grass Farm in The Plains, Great Country Farms in Bluemont), I have met the owner or manager and can easily get them on email or when I visit the farm. I also see the fields and the people working them and in many cases, can walk out there and pick my own on certain days.

    Reduce petrochemical dispersal
    Many of the local farms work on smaller scales, requiring less fuel on large machinery and less pesticides. They are also not mono-culture based, and therefore, have fewer pest problems that require massive spraying of pesticides. They also use compost as opposed to petrochemical fertilizer, so you have less runoff into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. We’ve had serious issues with runoff affecting the bay ecosystem, which is a business as well (ask any family running a Crabbing operation out there how bad it’s gotten). Since compost is decaying organic matter, it ties up the nutrients and releases them over time, which is better for the plants and closer to what nature does itself.

    I enjoy growing it myself
    I have a pretty decent sized garden. It’s a nice momentary zen and removes me from the day job of code and photoshop. I like getting dirty and a garden is a big sandbox where you eat the proceeds. After fighting for them with the local groundhog population.

    Reduce taxes on the food
    The sheer number of things taxed between, let’s say… Argentina and here is asinine. Cutting that out puts more money in the hands of the grower and less in the hands of the government. With the CSA model, since I am buying a share, it’s only taxed if the farmer makes a profit. Sharing the risk with the farmer, but reaping the rewards.

    1. Instead of going overseas, my capital is local.

      Until that farmer buys a car made in Mexico or stuff from Wal*Mart made in China.

      This “keeping capital local” rationale makes no sense whatsoever. If it gives you some kind of moral boost, then by all means, pay more for the same product. But recognize that it is not a decision based in reason.

      1. Agreed. Sometimes there are reasons to buy local (for example, I like to buy local beer when possible because a thriving local beer scene means more new breweries and thus more beer options) but there’s nothing inherently valuable about buying local. Just because I know people here in Chicago but don’t know people in India doesn’t mean that my neighbors should get all my money and Indians should get the shaft.

        1. Buying local also has a lot to do with where your location is. I’ve lived in a lot of isolated places where the “local” faire was very bland to my tastes. Not that it wasn’t good, but after growing up with Texas’ variety of flavors Wisconsin simply doesn’t offer things that please my taste buds as much.

          1. You don’t like jalape?o cheese curds?

      2. I tend to buy based on a share system and I pay about half of what I’d end up paying for produce in the grocery store.

      3. It’s a good hedge on trade apocalypse — everybody gotta eat.

    2. “a garden is a big sandbox where you eat the proceeds.”

      So is a catbox.

  11. Say, think they’ll ever commercialize mulberries? I pick them every year from all the local trees where they’re considered nuisances because they stain so easily. I even saw silkworms on one of the trees one year — but they’re parasites to the tree, eating the leaves during the growing season, not the berries.

    Anyway, the berries are so soft and they fall off so easily on ripening that commercializing them would be a real challenge. You’d more or less have to camp under the tree with a jam-making pot. They’re umbelliform, not as seedy nor as tasty as raspberries, not as seedy nor as sweet as blackberries. Some of them are large, ripe and sweet but fairly bland when they’re just pink, but the best tasting ones go thru a tangy red phase before turning sweet and very dark purple, also highly staining.

    1. That’s against Local Regulation #1290867823654 – “You Can’t Do That Cause We Said So!!!”

      Officer Barbrady, Officer Barbrady, arrest this criminal!!!

    2. grab 15 lbs or so of those mulberries, add 1 gallon dark honey, four gallons of water, and some wine yeast. Wait a little while.

      You’d be amazed at the product.

  12. Yeah, I like that I can buy EXCELLENT corn and tomatoes and beans from the farmer up the road in the summer, and do so.

    No, I don’t want that to be my ONLY choice, for fuck’s sake. I live in MI – corn doesn’t grow very well in January, and I do like the odd Florida Orange? over the winter. To avoid the scurvy and all…

    1. What’s weird in MI, at least southern MI, is that the produce seems to be a worse buy than here on the East Coast, and judging by restaurant food, they eat a lot saltier stuff there, heavy on the pickled olives, nachos, cheese, and sausage.

  13. Years ago while hiking in Pyramid Mtn. Park in NJ I realized the economics that’d caused that land to be abandoned from farming and to have gone back to wilderness. We don’t need it any more.

    1. ANother good point. It is not as if farms are great for the environment and they are very inefficient in places that are likely to turn back into forests when farming is abandoned.

  14. I saw two imported SUVs last Thursday with “buy local” bumper stickers. Both drivers looked like soccer moms. Perhaps they have a loose definition of local.

    1. Depends. Lots of “imported” cars are made in the U.S.

      1. But what are the chances that those particular vehicles were made within 250 miles, the common cutoff point for locavore “food miles”?

  15. Eating local is a choice, the same way that eating junk food is a choice.

    Yeah, but for how long?

  16. In a new regular column for The Wall Street Journal, former Reason Editor Virginia Postrel discusses what might be called the “locavore’s dilemma”

    Remember when Reason didn’t suck?

  17. To the tune of Gilligan’s Island.

    Come listen to a story of a community that wanted only locally grown.
    They thought that’ll be the way to go, eat only what they have sown.

    They drew up an ordinance, to buy nothing from afar.
    They pledged nothing would then come in by train, ship or car. (Train, ship or car !)

    No lemons!, No Limes, No pineapple! Not a single citrus fruit!
    No papayas and no mangos, and bananas were out to boot !

    No maple syrup or fluffy rice cakes, they were three hours away by car !
    No crab, nor clam nor lobster bisque, all shores were just too far !

    They sowed their fields with assorted grains of wheat, barley and rye.
    But, too late they realized, their land was just too dry !

    And the cows they kept ate what little what was left. And within the ensuing drought,
    their utters were left quite bereft, and their calves all died out. (Their calves all died out!)

    The children cried, the elderly moaned for days when they were fed.
    But now they could only dream of that, when they tossed in bed!

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