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Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 10

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 10: Eating Locally

What's up Jim?  What's up Peter?  Let's talk about Eating Locally - which is, of course, the tenth chapter of your book The Ethics of What We Eat.

This chapter is fascinating!  I thought y'all would be 100% behind the local food movement.  So imagine my surprise at the statement that to "'keep your dollars circulating in your own community' is not an ethical principle at all.  To adhere to a principle of 'buy locally,' irrespective of the consequences for others, is a kind of community-based selfishness."  WOW!  Them's fightin' words to a wide slice of the alternative food movement.  It's a brave thing to say, and I do agree that there's some truth to it.  Let's unpack this.

You posit that there are three main ethical arguments for eating locally, and then debate them.  In addressing the point that "you'll strengthen your local economy" by buying locally, you pose the question, "is there any merit in keeping our money within our own community?"  You follow with an example:
"If farmers near San Francisco need extra income to send their children to good colleges, and farmers in developing nations need extra income in order to be able to afford basic health care or a few years of elementary school for their children, we will, other things being equal, do better to support the farmers in developing countries."
I'm picking up what you're putting down there in theory (despite your excessive comma use).  But.  Three big points here.

1) At a grocery store or even at a farmer's market, there is no way to determine how well-off a given farmer is financially.

2) Y'all seem to be wholly ignorant of the extreme level of poverty in which most agricultural workers in the US live.  Who are these farmers that are doing so well that they've put aside college funds for their kids?  Are these the bougie, middle-to-upper-class white folks around San Fran selling the excesses of their "urban gardens" that you're referring to?  If so then I definitely agree.  People growing food for fun, or those who've left lucrative jobs in other fields to "get back to the land," do not need my money.  I also don't call those folks farmers.  I also don't live in San Fran.

3) In our food system, buying food produced in other countries is fairly unlikely to create any gains for the producers of that food and much more likely to benefit the corporate food processors getting those products onto US supermarket shelves.  Yes, the pennies that developing world farmers get can take them far, but that doesn't change the fact that they are being abused.  For the privileged few to support a food system that robs them, rather than seeking out local farmers to support, is to perpetuate a bad system - ensuring that that system will not change as a result of market pressures.  In what way is that ethical?

Eggland's Best: Not a family farm.
The next point you take on is that by buying locally, "you'll support endangered family farms."  This one you seem to agree with, stating:
When people see themselves as custodians of a heritage they have received from their parents and will pass on to their children they are more likely to cherish the land and farm it sustainably.  If those people are replaced by large, corporate-owned farms with a focus on recouping the investment and making profits for a generation at most, we will all be worse off in the long run.  So supporting endangered family farms can be an important value."
From your pen to Wendell Berry's delighted ears, friends.  (Or, possibly, from Wendell Berry's lips to your pen?)  We must recall, of course, that even mega-piggeries are local to someone.  Local does not, in any way, equal coming from a family farm.

Finally you quibble with the idea that, by eating locally, "you'll protect the environment."  In this section I learned the surprising information that a farmer using fuel heat to grow early-season tomatoes may be making more of a negative environmental impact than having them trucked in from a naturally warmer clime.  Perhaps I find this surprising because I live in that naturally warmer clime, and would be positively STUNNED to discover any farmer in my area using artificial means to ripen any produce - we're already a good two months ahead of the rest of the country, growing-season-wise.  We eat vine-ripe strawberries in March here.

You conclude this chapter by stating that "[i]f we really want to save energy, we should buy only fresh, unprocessed local food, grown outdoors, and eat it raw, or with minimal cooking" and that "'Buy locally and seasonally' is a better policy than simply 'buy locally' - but it entails giving up a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables we have come to enjoy all year round."  To be frank, we are spoiled and we need to get over it.

I think eating lots of raw fruits and vegetables is a great idea.  Unfortunately, I can't do it.  I have many digestive issues, and my body simply can't process them.  I eat as much of them as I can without making myself sick; certainly you wouldn't ask me to make myself sick?  (That declaration, then, is a bit ableist of you.)  And I love the idea of "eating locally and seasonally" - truly, the seasonality of local food is one of its major draws for me.  But then there's the reality of everyday life, where the strain of arranging my strapped weekend schedule around getting to the farmers market or Hollygrove and the grocery store is enough to almost entirely preclude it.

I blame capitalism.  And Ronald Reagan.

Signing off.  See y'all soon.


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