Thursday, August 9, 2007

More thoughts on McWilliams' "A Moveable Feast"

[Update: The Epicurian has posted a rebuttal to the much-mentioned New Zealand study. The response was contributed by Michael Shuman, the author of "The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition." You can find it here. They also provide a link to the original study. Oh, and they mention yours truly!]

I stated yesterday that it is time for the eat-local movement to evolve, to reach the mainstream, to cut out the extremes. But I don’t believe that the movement should simply transition to a hub-and-wheel system as McWilliams suggests. A fellow blogger responded to my original post:

"Ecology of scale would seem to demand that we concentrate production of goods in one/few places, at which point there might be some diversity/monoculture worries - when new zealand falls into the ocean, meat-eaters will have no lamb; if there's a potato blight in idaho, there'll be a run on spuds."

Well said, Cathal.

There are many positive reasons to eat locally (some of them I stated yesterday), including preserving open space from sprawl, building a community, and eating with a good conscious. So, if hub-and-wheel isn’t such a great solution, what is the future of the eat-local movement? What will it really take to evolve and still stay relevant?

I’ve come across several other possible solutions (not my original ideas) that I’d like to see people in the movement start to consider seriously.

The first, and more radical, is to support the development of a regional cuisine. It’s not necessary to grow something in a place just because you can. A farmer may be able to force a plant to germinate in a place less condusive to it, but it also may take more work and possibly much more fossil fuel usage to pull it off. What about the thousands of species that we have disregarded, sticking to our 20 or so staples? I think we should start cultivating equally nutritious and varied cuisines that thrive in our regions and therefore can grow efficiently and inexpensively.

The second is to force the local farmers to become more efficient. The New Zealand study found lamb grown in New Zealand and shipped to England used less fossil fuels than that grown and shipped within England. Okay, well what if the processes used in New Zealand simply are more efficient than those used by the English? Could it just be that a review of efficiency is all that’s required to revitalize an underproductive industry?

The third is to start dealing with all of this at the legislative level. It's cheaper for us to purchase goods from those large agri-businesses for a good reason - the government is subsidizing it. Demand of our policymakers that subsidies be distributed in a more equitable manner.

Any thoughts?

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