Buying local will not save the planet

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Buying local will not save the planet

Amanda Daniel, who writes a blog called “Into the Eyes of God” sent me a link to a story in Forbes Magazine called “The Locavore Myth.”

Forbes: The Locavore Myth

Forbes: The Locavore Myth

The author, James E. McWilliams, starts off with:

Buy local, shrink the distance food travels, save the planet. The locavore movement has captured a lot of fans. To their credit, they are highlighting the problems with industrialized food. But a lot of them are making a big mistake. By focusing on transportation, they overlook other energy-hogging factors in food production.

Here is one challenge to the goodness of buying local:

Locavores argue that buying local food supports an area’s farmers and, in turn, strengthens the community. Fair enough. Left unacknowledged, however, is the fact that it also hurts farmers in other parts of the world. The U.K. buys most of its green beans from Kenya. While it’s true that the beans almost always arrive in airplanes–the form of transportation that consumes the most energy–it’s also true that a campaign to shame English consumers with small airplane stickers affixed to flown-in produce threatens the livelihood of 1.5 million sub-Saharan farmers.

Hmmm… had we thought of that when we were hunting for locally grown beans? I know rice is another example. It’s far less energy intensive to fly rice from Asia to Canada than it is to try to grow rice in California and ship it a much shorter distance because so much energy has to go into creating the environment for rice through irrigation – an environment that exists naturally halfway around the world.

Proponents of local food often don’t take economies of scale into account:

To take an extreme example, a shipper sending a truck with 2,000 apples over 2,000 miles would consume the same amount of fuel per apple as a local farmer who takes a pickup 50 miles to sell 50 apples at his stall at the green market. The critical measure here is not food miles but apples per gallon.

Then there’s the issue of meat:

Until our food system becomes more transparent, there is one thing you can do to shrink the carbon footprint of your dinner: Take the meat off your plate. No matter how you slice it, it takes more energy to bring meat, as opposed to plants, to the table. It takes 6 pounds of grain to make a pound of chicken and 10 to 16 pounds to make a pound of beef. That difference translates into big differences in inputs. It requires 2,400 liters of water to make a burger and only 13 liters to grow a tomato. A majority of the water in the American West goes toward the production of pigs, chickens and cattle.

The Canadian meat industry is pretty much the same as the American. We deal with essentially the same geography and irrigation issues with ranching and intensive farming.

So, what does he conclude?

If you want to make a statement, ride your bike to the farmer’s market. If you want to reduce greenhouse gases, become a vegetarian.

Yup. Enough said.


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