2

votes

Has anyone read "The Locavore's Dilemma"?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created June 23, 2012 at 10:22 AM

Briefly, the book argues that large-scale locavorism generally fails for economic reasons: it's cheaper and more sustainable to source from around the world, rather than "putting your eggs all in one basket" geographically. (Of course, they are not against sourcing locally when practical, or "gourmet" locavorism, where you pay more to get higher quality foods).

In practical terms, the authors would be for, say, buying meat from New Zealand when you live in North America because NZ has a favorable location for large-scale sheep raising and can thus leverage economies of scale. They are not against buying local meat instead, but feel that because the prices are higher (true as far as I can see), such operations will remain economic niches. They address many of the basic questions about global sourcing; for example, moving large quantities around by boat is generally far more fuel efficient than many such trips (eg, to the regional farm) via automobiles.

I find their arguments sensible but there is something about them that bothers me. Specifically, there seems to be no correlation between healthy food and the economics of food. Margarine is a good "economic answer" for butter (it's cheaper, stores better, etc) but a total FAIL from the Paleo point of view.

Personally, I would describe myself as a gourmet locavore. I pay higher prices for food in exchange for better eats and the hope of future health.

Your thoughts? Generally it helps to have read the book before commenting ;)

Ba913e2cc77984c1b2079adfe3fd9f93

(128)

on June 24, 2012
at 12:15 AM

So far this is the only answer that actually mentions the book instead of talking around it (ie, "why I disagree with it even when I haven't read it").

Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32556)

on June 23, 2012
at 06:36 PM

Thanks, Karen--the feeling is mutual! :-)

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on June 23, 2012
at 04:06 PM

+1 If only I could give you all the points I want to. Not all or nothing, 5%, triple bottom line, Joel Salatin. +++

Ba913e2cc77984c1b2079adfe3fd9f93

(128)

on June 23, 2012
at 03:26 PM

One of the Amazon reviews also mentions an incoherent radio show with one of the authors. However I don't think being able to present well (or not) invalidates someone's reasoning.

Ba913e2cc77984c1b2079adfe3fd9f93

(128)

on June 23, 2012
at 03:22 PM

This is actually one of the arguments that the book tackles head-on. They say that people who ate locally were most susceptible to famine as a result of local catastrophes of various sorts, or "sustained bad luck"; when people were available to trade food on a large scale, famines were more easily averted, since you could always buy from the people far away whose crops did well! However, it may still be healthier to eat seasonally, and that issue is skipped entirely.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on June 23, 2012
at 12:38 PM

You're right. Bottom line thinking that doesn't look at real costs is totally not going to appeal to me.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on June 23, 2012
at 12:36 PM

Sensible is in the eye of the beholder. Saying that people always go with the same type of bottom line as corporations use, is ignoring the effects of advertising and marketing, and lack of choices or perceived lack of choices. It's hard to choose the fresh tasty local strawberries if you've never tasted one or if the BigBoxMart has driven all the local produce stands out of business. Or if you've been told all your life that the most important issue is always the $$$.

Ba913e2cc77984c1b2079adfe3fd9f93

(128)

on June 23, 2012
at 12:17 PM

You may not get a lot out of the book, then, as its argument is precisely the bottom line. Like you, and probably a lot of other people on this board, I also buy local, generally at higher prices, and there's nothing wrong with that; the argument is that, for sensible economic reasons, many people will not do that. Saying that they should value intangibles (the "true costs" that you mentioned, supporting local businesses, etc) that they in fact do not, actually proves their point: that people generally choose the cheaper option, saving money to spend on their own values, whatever they are.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on June 23, 2012
at 11:43 AM

Or only apples from Washington state in the fall when the Shenandoah valley apples are excellent. Or lamb from New Zealand when the local lamb is great and the farmers are members of the community, their kids go to the local schools and they spend their money at local businesses. Well, yes there's a reason - an economic system that doesn't value factors other than the bottom line.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on June 23, 2012
at 11:39 AM

The thing is that nowadays, it isn't communities specializing, it's great big (often global) corporations that own huge swaths of land in a region. I'll read the book, but I have to admit that I immediately suspect their motives. While no one is going to try raising pineapples in Virginia where I live, the local fruit are fantastic. There is no (non corporate profit) reason for the local chain stores to have only hard, flavorless strawberries from California when the local strawberries are fantastic.

Ba913e2cc77984c1b2079adfe3fd9f93

(128)

on June 23, 2012
at 11:21 AM

Karen, my understanding is that their answer would be that communities specialize in things that they have an "unfair" advantage for, like raising sheep in New Zealand, or growing pineapples in Hawaii; and that shipping them in bulk via boat is actually environmentally sound compared to the alternatives. It's worth reading the book (from the library if you don't want to support them) because your arguments are exactly the ones addressed.

7d3a7b532811b6cfa2de09acdf52d145

(610)

on June 23, 2012
at 11:01 AM

Haven't read the book, but now you mentioned it, I've put in on my 'to buy'-list. :) I feel one of the things to make paleo as sustainable as possible, is to make it as local as possible. But I'm always interested to read a book that makes a point for the opposite I believe, just to balance the pro's & con's and avoid getting stuck in my believe without arguments :)

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6 Answers

5
Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32556)

on June 23, 2012
at 03:43 PM

I won't waste my time reading such a poorly-thought out argument.

And I don't think it needs to be an all or nothing proposition. I live in the high desert and even so, 95% of my food is grown within 100 miles of my home. The other 5% (fish, wine, chocolate, tea, coffee, occasional tropical fruit) comes from climates/environments best suited for their production/harvest.

Any book that doesn't take into account a triple bottom line is really stuck in an old paradigm. Joel Salatin's books are a much better investment in my time & money.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on June 23, 2012
at 04:06 PM

+1 If only I could give you all the points I want to. Not all or nothing, 5%, triple bottom line, Joel Salatin. +++

Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32556)

on June 23, 2012
at 06:36 PM

Thanks, Karen--the feeling is mutual! :-)

3
4b5be253ac1981c690689cab7e4bf06d

(3043)

on June 23, 2012
at 02:51 PM

Yes, economies of scale can help lower the apparent costs of foods (I.e. money costs), but I'm starting to be more worried about the environmental damage. Seep and cattle, and most livestock are fine, as grass fed animals they help the soil that they are on, however, large monocultures, be them fruit, grains, or feedlots, are horrible for the environmental damage they are inflicting, and are reducing the fertility of the areas they are in.

It's kinda like "Walmart is cheaper because they have an economy of scale, but they damage the local economy."

3
5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on June 23, 2012
at 11:11 AM

I doubt that global sourcing of food would be more economically sensible if the true cost of energy use and environmental damage were factored in. Not to mention the cost to communities of losing their local businesses.

Ba913e2cc77984c1b2079adfe3fd9f93

(128)

on June 23, 2012
at 11:21 AM

Karen, my understanding is that their answer would be that communities specialize in things that they have an "unfair" advantage for, like raising sheep in New Zealand, or growing pineapples in Hawaii; and that shipping them in bulk via boat is actually environmentally sound compared to the alternatives. It's worth reading the book (from the library if you don't want to support them) because your arguments are exactly the ones addressed.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on June 23, 2012
at 11:39 AM

The thing is that nowadays, it isn't communities specializing, it's great big (often global) corporations that own huge swaths of land in a region. I'll read the book, but I have to admit that I immediately suspect their motives. While no one is going to try raising pineapples in Virginia where I live, the local fruit are fantastic. There is no (non corporate profit) reason for the local chain stores to have only hard, flavorless strawberries from California when the local strawberries are fantastic.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on June 23, 2012
at 12:38 PM

You're right. Bottom line thinking that doesn't look at real costs is totally not going to appeal to me.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on June 23, 2012
at 12:36 PM

Sensible is in the eye of the beholder. Saying that people always go with the same type of bottom line as corporations use, is ignoring the effects of advertising and marketing, and lack of choices or perceived lack of choices. It's hard to choose the fresh tasty local strawberries if you've never tasted one or if the BigBoxMart has driven all the local produce stands out of business. Or if you've been told all your life that the most important issue is always the $$$.

Ba913e2cc77984c1b2079adfe3fd9f93

(128)

on June 23, 2012
at 12:17 PM

You may not get a lot out of the book, then, as its argument is precisely the bottom line. Like you, and probably a lot of other people on this board, I also buy local, generally at higher prices, and there's nothing wrong with that; the argument is that, for sensible economic reasons, many people will not do that. Saying that they should value intangibles (the "true costs" that you mentioned, supporting local businesses, etc) that they in fact do not, actually proves their point: that people generally choose the cheaper option, saving money to spend on their own values, whatever they are.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on June 23, 2012
at 11:43 AM

Or only apples from Washington state in the fall when the Shenandoah valley apples are excellent. Or lamb from New Zealand when the local lamb is great and the farmers are members of the community, their kids go to the local schools and they spend their money at local businesses. Well, yes there's a reason - an economic system that doesn't value factors other than the bottom line.

1
45ace03a0eff1219943d746cfb1c4197

(3661)

on June 23, 2012
at 02:57 PM

Part of the locavore issue as I understand it is also a move toward what is seasonal and lives or grows locally. Though it can certainly be fun to eat foods from around the world, economically feasible or not, it seems to skip a large part of the issue.

Ba913e2cc77984c1b2079adfe3fd9f93

(128)

on June 23, 2012
at 03:22 PM

This is actually one of the arguments that the book tackles head-on. They say that people who ate locally were most susceptible to famine as a result of local catastrophes of various sorts, or "sustained bad luck"; when people were available to trade food on a large scale, famines were more easily averted, since you could always buy from the people far away whose crops did well! However, it may still be healthier to eat seasonally, and that issue is skipped entirely.

1
F92e4ca55291c3f3096a3d4d3d854986

(11698)

on June 23, 2012
at 01:23 PM

The CBC (Canada's public radio station) aired a debate yesterday between the author of that book and a locavore. The author seemed a bit nutty to me, but definitely worth a listen.

http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2012/06/22/the-great-locavore-debate/

Ba913e2cc77984c1b2079adfe3fd9f93

(128)

on June 23, 2012
at 03:26 PM

One of the Amazon reviews also mentions an incoherent radio show with one of the authors. However I don't think being able to present well (or not) invalidates someone's reasoning.

Ba913e2cc77984c1b2079adfe3fd9f93

(128)

on June 24, 2012
at 12:15 AM

So far this is the only answer that actually mentions the book instead of talking around it (ie, "why I disagree with it even when I haven't read it").

0
07d8ff43993e6739451e58ae7459cfe2

on March 08, 2013
at 06:21 PM

The book seems highly hypothetical. If we lived in a world where mega-corporations, farm subsidies, unequal food/wealth distribution didn't exist, they might have a point.

It's probably true that strict locavorism might lead to more famine. It's also true that industrial agriculture, GM, preservatives, corn syrup, and enriched, gluten-bomb white bread have legitimately helped avoid a lot of famine.

But my understanding of Paleo is that we're not interested in supporting mass-produced, highly-processed and preserved global food systems because the products are unhealthy for us (and also other people and the environment).

All politics aside, fresh and less-packaged food is better. Therefore, seasonal and local is better.

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