Wednesday, August 8, 2007

News: James McWilliams "A Moveable Feast": The debate in full swing

I’ve been mulling over the Texas Observer article Moveable Feast by James McWilliams (and it's New York Times synopsis Food That Travels Well) that I first posted about earlier this week. The eat-local community has jumped on the defensive all over the blogosphere, just as McWilliams predicted. Many have dismissed his article as completely irrelevant (after all, it’s only based on one study) and therefore declared it unimportant, but I think it should be thoughtfully considered. Assume for a few moments, as I do, that McWilliam’s article is important if only because it has the large-scale distribution to influence thousands of people in the way they think about eating locally, and at the same time give “proof” to those cynics who dismiss the eat-local movement as a bunch of hypocritical do-gooders.

I have approached my year of eating locally from an investigative view and, as you no doubt have recognized by the tone of my blog, I am no eat-local crusader. You will not hear any "shoulds" or "ought to-s" here. Before I started, I really had no idea how big the movement was. I had wanted to learn about food – in a crash-course of sorts. The process of food arriving on my plate is very complicated, so what better way to undertake my food project than within the framework of the eat-local movement, which encourages face-to-face time with real farmers and growers, gives the motivation to try out new foods, and encourages the learning of food skills such as old fashioned preserving and gardening?

I started seeing the eat-local slogan everywhere. I found that there was an identical formula of reasons people around the nation have embraced the eat local mantra, some with which I agreed, but others I couldn’t care less about. I accept the “eat local because it tastes better” reason whole-heartedly. And I love the idea of eating in season. I also agree that looking my local farmer in the eyes and learning how he produces his food provides a wonderful personal connection with the process. I’ve liked the fossil fuel argument, although it’s turned out to be little complicated. But, when it comes to supporting the local economy, championing smaller farms, etc., that motivation never even occurred to me, and still does not factor into my motivations (I can hear the groan from the eat-local crowd already). Over the last month or so, when faced with the dilemma of choosing organic over local or choosing local over sustainable, I have randomly bought whichever “cause” seemed most important to me at that moment, local winning out the most often if only because of the vow I made at the beginning of this year and the accountability garnered by this blog.

That said, I don’t in anyway think the eat-local movement is irrelevant. I believe that positive change often arises from the actions of a passionate, outspoken minority, who can bring truly important issues – such as environmentally friendly food production – into the public eye where they can be addressed. The movement is merely dealing with the growing pains that come from widespread criticism. In the case of McWilliam's article, it should be considered construction criticism, and an opportunity to reassess purposes and motivations. Certainly, the die-hard eat-localers (those who follow the examples of Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, or those who stopped reading this blog when I stated that supporting local economy was not terribly important to me) will mourn the presumed watering-down of the original concepts, but the time for extremes has passed. The outspoken minority has made it - the very fact that it is being criticized means it's worthy of being noticed at all. Now is the appropriate time to develop a widespread appeal, to find the balance in the argument, to accept that some things, such as food miles, are not as clear-cut as we would like, and find a way to change the manner in which we eat anyway.

1 comment:

Diane said...

Well-thought out post - I like your transparency!