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Local Food Choices – Is It Enough?

July 5, 2012

Battle lines have been drawn anew on the local food front, and sometimes in reading the verbal exchanges it makes me wonder if food choices are enough. If people are all entitled to food choices, which then allow farm choices, then why do people get so hostile when someone chooses something different from them? Isn’t that the big part of free choice?

If one person buys from us, five buy from the farmer’s market and 10 buy at WalMart – aren’t all entitled to their own choices equally? If people demand all buy local from a handful of small places then those places won’t be small for long.

Recently I saw two widely different views on the same book, The Localvore Dilemma. The first seems to be a different audience than the second. Now to be fair, I haven’t read the book, just these articles and comments.

In the first debate, it seemed several things jumped out at me, and it’s difficult to not get emotional about it. Division isn’t good. A few points in part:

“The most environmentally friendly food policy, Desrochers argues, is the one where agriculture consumes the least amount of land globally, and only agri-business can deliver this efficiency. Producing food also requires more energy than transporting it, he adds.” …”In the audience afterward, one man raises his hand and wants to know what concerned citizens can possibly do about all these urban chickens reintroducing disease into the city.

“In the end, I throw up my hands in despair,” Desrochers says. “In the end, someone will have to die.”

Why is anyone in agriculture threatened by city hens? Reintroducing what disease exactly? Now it’s true that those eggs aren’t tested, and may or may not be handled with food safety in mind, but if someone chooses to have hens, they also choose the consequences with it. If we’re allowing food CHOICES then why restrict choices?

Then comes the Grist view. In it, the same book author says “The problem I have with local food activists is that they seem to want to go beyond what’s reasonable in terms of local food. They want to force school boards, hospitals, prisons, government bureaucracies, military bases, and universities to buy more expensive, and often lower-quality, food, just because it’s local. … It should not be the university’s role to keep inefficient local food producers in business.”

Now to some degree I agree with this argument…think about this! *Schools* have been a focus – and most of those schools aren’t open in the summer. Equally in much of the country there isn’t much grown during the (fall, winter) school year. So unless it’s local preserved, it’s tough to do. Growing is only part of it, as we found in trying to supply a restaurant USDA rabbit – although they’re less than an hour away, the nearest processor for rabbit done as we’d need is in Kentucky! That takes away the “local” picture for many, although others deem it within 400 miles. However, I find it insulting that it’s assumed local, small farmers are ‘inefficient.’ Perhaps that is perspective too!

On a question about transparency there’s more insults. “Small farmers, no matter how well-intentioned they are, don’t have the knowledge and the capacity to have safety measures at every step of the way. Sure, there are a lot of recalls [of industrial agriculture] that we can track through the news. But it’s not that things are getting worse; it’s that we’re better able to track the problems with large firms.

If you know your farmer and want to help him, that’s fine, but that’s charity.

Charity?! Smaller farms are reliant on charity? <seething> It’s true that there are some exemptions in food safety – some areas can legally have small farms butcher up to 2,000 birds per year without USDA certification if selling direct to the consumer. And it’s true that the large operations and processors can afford more testing, but that’s not to discount the food safety issue entirely.

In the volley of comments, some more venomous than others, KentCDetrees got it right saying “Agribusiness is really good at providing staple crops. Local farms are really good at growing fresh fruits and vegetables.”

We need both folks. Local, large farms, small farms – all provide food choices. Eliminate any and you eliminate food choices. Bottom line. Choose whatever you want, but don’t choose for someone else. Whether you want McDonald’s or WalMart or your back yard or SlowMoneyFarm or any one of thousands of other food choices, we all have them. I no more support the elimination of larger operations as I would support the statements made by this author. But people will believe what they will, and will choose what they want. Few are willing to go so far as to buy for three of their neighbors, no matter what those choices are. With that in mind, the right to food (and farm) choices must be preserved. Even if – and perhaps especially if – they’re different from our own.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 5, 2012 7:46 AM

    Whew! Now I’m seething, too. Thanks for spreading the love. =)

    This type of hostility is especially tough for those of us doing it both ways–raising commodity (though organic) crops and commodity (non-organic) livestock and heirloom, organic beans. We dance the fence, and try our hardest to help people see the other side of the argument. Perhaps we are uniquely positioned to open a few minds. But it’s tough, somedays.

    • July 5, 2012 8:54 AM

      Thanks Lona! 😀 We all must choose what works for us and that may vary. As much as some say large operations/small operations are the only ones “efficient” the measure of efficient may change and with CHOICES it takes both. Choices don’t mean people agree all the time! Appreciate the view!


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