Archives for locavores



“A Guide to Meat Consumption for Vegetarians”

You never know what Freakonomics Radio listeners will come up with after listening to our podcasts.

Here, from Josh Miner, is a response to our recent episode “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Avocado,” in which we wondered why some people get upset over the plight of factory-farmed chicken while not many seem to care about the humans who suffer because of the extortion and violence in the avocado industry.

What makes Josh’s response so noteworthy? Among other things, it comes replete with flow chart. Read on!

I love your show — in fact, I loved this episode on the moral impact and consequences of our choices. I got so unbelievably mad, though, when you both simplified the question of how consumers’ choices about what they eat affects the food market in which they participate.

Here are some thoughts — not so well organized.

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Extreme Locavorism

As part of The Decolonizing Diet Project, a new study at the School of Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University, a group of 25 volunteers will spend the next year eating primarily foods that “were part of the Great Lakes diet prior to the year 1600.” As the blog Found Michigan explains:

The purpose of the study is to explore the relationship between humans and regional native foods; components include an ethnobotanist (for native plant identification), a physician (to check up on participants’ physical changes), group outings and potlucks, daily journaling for research subjects, and a master list of “DDP-eligible” foods. So, things like squash, bison, and wild leeks are in; things like tomatoes, cheese, and chocolate are out. What can’t be bought from local suppliers must be grown, hunted, fished, or foraged—meaning your next meal might be waiting in the woods as opposed to the grocery store.

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The Prius Driver’s Conundrum

For a singularly grim, if fiercely literary, assessment of the earth’s environmental fate, the grizzled wisdom of Cormac McCarthy is always there to deliver the dark pronouncement that we’re flat-out doomed. “The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die,” explains the judge in McCarthy’s masterpiece, Blood Meridian. “[B]ut in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night.” Darkness, in essence, will fall at the very moment when we think we’re out-of-our-mind brilliant. 

Brilliance in conventional environmentalism has thus far been embodied by the caricature of hybrid-driving solar evangelists with soft spots for local farms, grass-fed beef, and re-useable shopping bags adorned with inscriptions of ecological virtue. Such popular solutions to our environmental quandary come not only with the eager endorsement of a progressive political establishment, but with the added appeal of basic pragmatism. Drive a more fuel-efficient car, eat locally, seek energy-efficient light fixtures, and vote “yes!” for public transit initiatives — such ideas simply make sense. And thus they’ve become the nuts-and-bolts of modern environmentalism. Read More »



Smart Stuff From the Comments

From a reader named Paul Kilmartin, in response to Steve Sexton’s post “The Inefficiency of Local Food”:

Well, if we’re going to think like economists, then lets talk about how we got here. The food distribution network cannot thrive as it does now without the massive public works program called the Interstate Highway system, which subsidizes distant food movement. Large, “efficient” agribusiness is as much a result of farm subsidies leading to consolidation, and the percentage of crop land dedicated to corn is a function of ethanol policy. Furthermore, FDA policies prohibit or discourage the farming and production of items people want, such as hemp and unpasteurized milk.

On top of that, misinformation of the USDA has driven the public to choose grains over protein and fat, driving the obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates higher, which shifts resources to those with government-granted monopoly rights to market pharmaceuticals to treat those diseases.

So, in the absence of all these price distortions, would local food be at such a disadvantage? I contend not. So those liberals who want more local food should dismantle the nanny state and public works programs that made pseudo food so much more profitable.

Who cares to argue with Paul?



The Inefficiency of Local Food

Two members of Congress earlier this month introduced legislation advancing a food reform movement promising to help resolve the great environmental and nutritional problems of the early 21st century. The intent is to remake the agricultural landscape to look more like it did decades ago. But unless the most basic laws of economics cease to hold, the smallholder farming future envisioned by the local farming movement could jeopardize natural habitat and climate change mitigation efforts, while also endangering a tenuous and temporary victory in the battle against human hunger.

The “Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act” sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine, throws about $200 million to local farm programs. That’s a rounding error in the $3.7 trillion federal budget. But the bill follows on a federal rule that gives preference to local farms in contract bidding for school lunches. It also builds on high-profile advocacy by Michelle Obama, who has become a leader of the food reform movement, joining the likes of Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and famed-chef Alice Waters. The bill’s introduction came as the world population hit 7 billion, a milestone that provides a stark reminder of the challenge agriculture faces to feed a world population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050. Read More »



Lessons of the Listeria Outbreak: Do Locavores Make Us Less Safe?

As the death toll from listeria in cantaloupe reached 25 this week, marking the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in a quarter-century, some industry insiders are placing blame on the local foods movement. On economic grounds, they may have a point.

The contaminated melons were traced to a self-described small farm in Colorado that the FDA said had “poor sanitary” conditions. The FDA reported Wednesday that it found listeria in numerous areas of the farm’s packing facility, including a floor drain, a produce dryer, and a conveyor belt. Standing water and poorly designed equipment created “the perfect environment for listeria growth and spread,” according to one FDA expert. The farm claimed to have passed an outside audit just days before the outbreak that has sickened more than 100 people and devastated the cantaloupe industry. Farmers in California are plowing their crops under because of the collapse in demand. Read More »



Locavores Moving the Markets

Little dairy farms disappeared from the map, but now they’re making a comeback. Do “locavores” have anything to do with it? Read More »



Is Locavorism for Rich People Only?

Sustainably produced local food is not accessible by all. In general, only the elite few with the time and material resources to capitalize on such environmental munificence have the time and money to benefit from transparently sustainable farms. As a result, the preconditions are inadvertently established for something that generally tends not to bind diverse communities into a cozy whole, but to fragment them: exclusivity. Read More »