Locavores or Loco-vores?

September 27, 2012

Locavorism -- a philosophy that encourages people to eat only locally produced foods -- is becoming a trend in many parts of the United States. Locavores challenge the globalized food supply chain and argue that locally produced foods are healthier and don't rely on large-scale monoculturing. However, these locavores disregard hundreds of years of trial and error and the many benefits derived from a larger food supply chain, say Pierre Desrochers, an associate professor of geography at the University of Toronto, and Hiroko Shimizu, a policy analyst and a research associate at the Institut économique Molinari in France.

  • A larger food supply chain provides diverse products with better quality and lower prices.
  • Furthermore, many new and better jobs have been created outside of farming because consumers had more money to spend on other goods.
  • In addition, large-scale monocultures produce more food with less land and energy.

To understand why locavores are misguided, it is necessary to look at past examples of food production and why they failed.

  • Subsistence farming -- one of the earliest forms of food production. This was a situation where food was produced for a single family. This did not contribute to economic development because people could not specialize in tasks and become more productive.
  • Urban farming -- many types of food that didn't travel well or couldn't stay fresh were produced in large urban agglomerations. Some farmers would use about one-sixth of the city's area, and supporting technologies to grow more than 100,000 tons of produce.
  • Both these forms of food production have disappeared due to an increase in technological capacity to produce foods cheaper and keep them fresh longer, as well as increased methods for cheap transportation.

Proponents of locavorism are in favor of polycultures, where large amounts of food are produced from nothing but soil, water and sunlight. These advocates point to the story of Takao Furuno, a Japanese farmer who produced rice, duck meat, eggs, fish and vegetables to feed 100 families, all on a six acre farm. However, proponents of this method fail to realize that Furuno has access to advanced technologies and money from very wealthy customers -- a privilege not every farmer has.

A popular alternative being talked about is the creation of vertical farms. However agricultural economist Dennis Avery writes a critique of these farms, arguing that it would cost billions of dollars to create skyscrapers to replace the American farmland. Furthermore, the buildings would incur massive electricity costs on top of the taxes and labor costs associated with being in a city.

Source: Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu, "Locavores or Loco-vores?" The American, September 18, 2012.

 

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