Saving the World, One Vegetable at a Time, by: Chelsea Wee

Society has a habit of reviving and glorifying past trends – from the resurgence of leggings as a fashion statement to the novelty of owning a classic car and the general obsession with anything vintage.  Lately, this habit has even spread to the ideals of food consumption.  The idea of the friendly farmer-next-door providing fresh produce (undoubtedly, cultivated lovingly in his picturesque farmstead) to the community has a growing fan base and is gaining plenty of media attention.

The locavore movement, also known as the local food movement, promotes sustainability through a shared effort to support locally based, self-reliant food economies.  The movement and its supporters (also known as “locavores”) promotes purchasing fresh produce from local growers within a certain radius (such as 150 miles) instead of patronizing industry giants that sell imported produce.  While I do agree with certain undeniable virtues of the movement, I feel that it is only fair to acknowledge that there may be more behind the pretty picture of white picket fences and red barn doors painted by locavores.  I feel that exclusively buying and eating only local produce has its disadvantages and may not be a practical option.

The locavore’s arsenal often includes words and phrases like “nutritious”, “delicious”, “environmentally friendly”, “freshness”, “sustainability”, “fueling the local economy” and “community”.  Indeed, a big “pull” factor of the locavore movement is the high quality of the produce.  The movement boasts that the admirable level of transparency upheld by local farmers assures the consumer of the use of responsible and organic farming methods, despite lacking official certification.  The high quality, taste and nutritional value are also attributed to the freshness of the produce, which is guaranteed by the removal of middlemen and long transportation routes.  Supporting small, local businesses boosts the local economy by providing the traditionally marginalized local farmer with greater financial security.  Local produce can be conveniently bought at farmers’ markets, where consumers can build direct relationships with the growers and mingle with other consumers, hence encouraging closer ties and neighborly affections within the community. The higher costs of buying local produce can be overcome by cost efficient options, such as community-supported agriculture (CSA) and food co-ops.  The local food movement is also a strong statement against the unscrupulously profit-motivated methods of the big, bad, corporate wolves of the food industry.  Locavores believe that decreased support for these companies would force the decision-makers to rethink their companies’ approaches – a step towards reclaiming control over food networks from agribusinesses.  However, these noble claims neglect to acknowledge the reality and practicality of the situation.

On closer inspection, the concept of the local food movement is far from flawless.  The limitations in the variety of local produce may create a nutritional gap and imbalance that could be avoided by consuming a complementary diet of imported produce.  Buying local produce can be somewhat inaccessible to those who do not have the time or financial resources to do so. Participating in a food co-op or CSA, although less financially exhausting, has a lack of flexibility as the quantity of produce delivered is fixed and consumers have no say in what the farmer decides to grow.  The local food movement, if practiced on a larger scale, could lead to the unemployment of people who depended on the previous system for survival – possibly the very people who are unable to afford to buy local produce, be it the truck driver or the farmer from a third world country.  As such, it is essential to consider how social responsibility should play into the local food movement.  Contrary to what advocates describe, increased interaction within a community could lead to segregation and isolation of certain groups.  A closer community has its setbacks, such as a decrease in privacy or the rapid propagation of gossip.  With buying and selling brought to a more personal level, one can only imagine the consequences of price competition or a shift in patronage taken personally.  Would consumers still ask uncomfortable questions at the risk of damaging the spirit of community and interpersonal relationships?  Putting power in the hands of a small group of people (the growers) to make nutritional decisions for the whole community might create an elitist sect, which would most certainly disrupt the warm, fuzzy feeling of community.  Strictly purchasing local produce undermines the diversity brought about by unrestricted global market access, creating a bubble around the community and isolation from other communities.   Economies of scale and division of labor work in favor of industrial agriculture, often creating a more efficient system than that of small-scale agriculture.  Moreover, the environmental reality dictates that it is not feasible for all communities, such as desert communities, to support a localized food system.  One also is led to wonder whether the local food movement is wrapped up in excessive naiveté and idealistic romanticism, echoing faintly of the propaganda posters of the 1949 land reform program of communist China, in which land owned by landlords were confiscated by the government and distributed to the peasants.

I feel that buying local produce is not the only solution to the problems of the current food system.  There needs to be an increased emphasis on how local produced is consumed and prepared by the consumer, not merely on the quality of the produce.  Alternatively, other considerations should be made to improve the current system, like streamlining transportation systems to meet fuel-efficient standards.  On the whole, I feel that instead of being a replacement of the current options, buying and eating local produce should be done as a complementary measure, striking a balance between both systems.

Works Cited

Kingsolver, Barbara.  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:  A Year of Food Life.  New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.

Dubner, Stephen.  “Do We Really Need a Billion Locavores?”  The New York Times. 9 June 2008: n. pag. Web.  26 April 2010.


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