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Food Miles and Efficiency: Mortal Enemies or Misunderstood Friends?

Okay, folks.  After a reprieve, it’s time to revisit Mercatus Policy Primer No 8:  “Yes, We have No Bananas: A Critique of the ‘Food Miles’ Perspective.”  I had promised a look at how local food movements take into account questions of efficiency, economic or otherwise.

Today, the focus is on the extent to which local food activists work with economic efficiency and plain old efficiency in general.  First, the study authors heartily support the idea that food should be produced where it is efficient to do so.  I absolutely agree.  They also argue that food should be eaten seasonally.  Authors Desrochers and Shimizu claim that “the importance of seasonality [...] is also easily forgotten by activists and consumers.”  If such is the case (and it may well be, though I’d certainly like some stats on that), it’s not a flaw in the local food movement, but rather a problem with its interpretation at the individual level.  The Eat Local Challenge website, a blog which describes itself as a group blog written by authors who are interested in the benefits of eating food grown and produced in their local foodshed, has several articles about the importance of eating seasonally.  Both Alice Waters and Michael Pollan, key figures in the local food movement, liberally pepper their interviews and writings with references to the importance of seasonal eating, as do other leaders such as Barbara Kingsolver and Gary Paul Nabhan. In short, the planning is sound, even if the execution could use some tweaking.

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Myopia in Mercatus Study: The Real Cost of Free Trade

I promised I’d hold off on a full analysis of the policy primer, “Yes, We Have No Bananas: A Critique of the ‘Food Miles’ Perspective” until I had done all the backtracking to do it up right, but it turns out that this project is big enough that it’s best handled in several installments.  Today, I’d like to welcome you to the first.  One of the major concerns of the authors of policy primer, Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu, is how local food movements might adversely impact free trade and developing nations.  To that end, it’s worth taking a look at how free trade has itself affected developing nations.

Throughout the policy primer, the authors take more than a few swipes at local food enthusiasts.  One of the most interesting for me is the authors’ claim that locavores have a “romanticized” notion of eating local–which, by the way, they characterize as “subsistence farming.”  This is a misuse of the term.   “Subsistence farming” refers to farming in which the farmers raise just enough for their families and any federal dues with little or nothing left over. If in doubt, consult the Encyclopedia Britannica or the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, for starters. In fact, you’ll find that a secondary definition describes subsistence farming as “farming or a system of farming that produces a minimum and often inadequate return to the farmer.”  Since one of the major objectives of the Eat Local movement is to encourage local farms, keep local farms in business, and provide farmers with a living wage, painting local food production as “subsistence farming” is a gross miscategorization. The locavore movement does not advocate a return to subsistence farming; rather it advocates a re-valuation of the work farmers do and the importance of a healthy food source close to where you live.

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Dark Days Challenge Recipe: Apple and Sweet Potato Bake with Greens

Apparently last week over at Urban Hennery, some murmurings started sneaking in about how many of the Dark Days Challenge recipes people had been submitting seemed…well…complicated.  It seems some of the folks taking the challenge for the first time were taken aback by the ambitiousness of multi-course dinners and fancy sauces created by those who have been local fooding and cooking from scratch for a good long while.

I’m sure you all know my stance on that.

I dig fancy-pants meals sometimes.  I really do.  But simple is also good.  Very good.  And tasty.

I can do simple.

So, this week, I decided to keep my Dark Days meal extra-simple and use some ingredients that more folks would be able to find without, you know, having to move to the desert.  With the exception of the orange, I think I done good. Basically, I am excited that so many people did sign up at Urban Hennery for the challenge, and I hope they keep it going.  You know, sometimes you have scrambled eggs for dinner  or squash and a salad.  That counts, too!  And so does this week’s project: sweet potato apple bake with a side of wilted winter greens.

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Save The Earth: Eat Less Meat

The New York Times printed an article yesterday about the impact of the livestock sector on greenhouse gas emissions.  I’ve talked about the environmental impact of meat being produced on an industrial scale before here at Simple Spoonful.  Check out the article and see what you think.  But remember–there is a great deal more to the health of the planet than just greenhouse gas emissions: soil, water, and air quality, for starters.

Also, if you haven’t already, stop by yesterday’s post to keep the comments coming about what you’d like to see featured here.  I’ve got some great input so far, and I’m looking forward to answering your questions.

Finally, stay tuned for the first installment in my response to the Mercatus study which attempts to dismiss the local food movement as a “marketing fad” and a “distraction from [...] real and serious issues.”  You can expect to see that sometime this weekend.  Happy Friday, all.

Thanks to Marion Nestle for the tip.

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To Chew On

Marion Nestle at What to Eat posted an interesting blurb on Sunday about a report from the Mercatus Center of George Mason University entitled, “Yes, We Have No Bananas: A Critique of the ‘Food Miles’ Perspective.”  Basically, the thrust of the Mercatus publication is that concern about food miles is a distraction from real issues about food policy–trivial at best, dangerous at worst.  I read the complete paper yesterday, and I have several things to say about it.  However, I want to write a full analysis, which is going to require a significant amount of background digging on the institute and the sources they cite.  So, in the meantime, I thought I’d see what your gut reactions were to it.  Give it a read; you can find the whole “policy primer” here.  What do you think?