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eat weeds

Nothing sets my BS detector on high alert quite like admonitions to “buy local” in the interests of “sustainability” and protecting the environment. I like to support local merchants and producers as much as anyone, but in the end, one should buy what they like without guilt, regardless of its place of origin. The notion that local production is always better for the environment is based on faulty logic and a simple ignorance of actual production costs. The bad economics of locavorism is exposed in a recent Don Boudreaux column, “‘Sustainable’ and Superficial:”

… transportation consumes only a small portion of the resources required to feed us. Labor, fuel, water, irrigation equipment, tractors and other farm tools, fertilizers, pesticides, packaging and (of course) land must also be used. … the amount of resources required to eat only locally grown foods would be stupendous. Some lands and local environments are better suited than are other lands and local environments to growing particular kinds of crops.

The following Alberta Farmer post from 2010 illustrates the kind of ignorance cloaked in snobbery that typifies the locavorism:

With their simplistic focus on food miles, locavores ignore other factors of sustainability. I was in a very chic restaurant in Tucson, Ariz., where the smug chef righteously proclaimed that all his ingredients were locally grown. He was quite offended when I asked him about the environmental and other costs of importing all that fresh water to grow that food in the Arizona desert.

The author notes correctly that “the locavore fad is primarily restricted to the foodie elite …” who are often willing to pay premium prices to eat fungus and roughage scrounged from local woods and creek beds. (Oh, yum!) That fact is made abundantly clear in a post referenced by Boudreaux: Pierre Desrochers, author of The Locavore’s Dilemma, describes locavorism as “famine food”. His subtitle: “Middle-class foodies are paying a fortune to eat what peasants once lived on.”

Not surprisingly, as soon as they could do it, our ancestors tried to supplement their local fare with imports from distant places. In time, non-perishable commodities like wheat, wine, olive oil, cod, sugar, coffee, coffee, cocoa, tea, spices, frozen meat and canned vegetables, produced in the most suitable agricultural locations rather than in close vicinity to final consumers, became increasingly plentiful and affordable.

Our ancestors sensibly embraced these new opportunities to balance and improve their diets. The reactionary mindset of today’s locavores prevents them from understanding the true nature of “sustainability,” which is best promoted by markets and a willingness to engage in trades that are mutually beneficial. In a sense, locavores promote the sort of provincialism that is characteristic of many protectionist anti-trade arguments. That kind of rhetoric often supports monopoly rents for local producers.