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Gingersnap
08-20-2010, 02:25 PM
Math Lessons for Locavores

By STEPHEN BUDIANSKY
Published: August 19, 2010

IT’S 42 steps from my back door to the garden that keeps my family supplied nine months of the year with a modest cornucopia of lettuce, beets, spinach, beans, tomatoes, basil, corn, squash, brussels sprouts, the occasional celeriac and, once when I was feeling particularly energetic, a couple of small but undeniable artichokes. You’ll get no argument from me about the pleasures and advantages to the palate and the spirit of eating what’s local, fresh and in season.

But the local food movement now threatens to devolve into another one of those self-indulgent — and self-defeating — do-gooder dogmas. Arbitrary rules, without any real scientific basis, are repeated as gospel by “locavores,” celebrity chefs and mainstream environmental organizations. Words like “sustainability” and “food-miles” are thrown around without any clear understanding of the larger picture of energy and land use.

The result has been all kinds of absurdities. For instance, it is sinful in New York City to buy a tomato grown in a California field because of the energy spent to truck it across the country; it is virtuous to buy one grown in a lavishly heated greenhouse in, say, the Hudson Valley.

The statistics brandished by local-food advocates to support such doctrinaire assertions are always selective, usually misleading and often bogus. This is particularly the case with respect to the energy costs of transporting food. One popular and oft-repeated statistic is that it takes 36 (sometimes it’s 97) calories of fossil fuel energy to bring one calorie of iceberg lettuce from California to the East Coast. That’s an apples and oranges (or maybe apples and rocks) comparison to begin with, because you can’t eat petroleum or burn iceberg lettuce.

It is also an almost complete misrepresentation of reality, as those numbers reflect the entire energy cost of producing lettuce from seed to dinner table, not just transportation. Studies have shown that whether it’s grown in California or Maine, or whether it’s organic or conventional, about 5,000 calories of energy go into one pound of lettuce. Given how efficient trains and tractor-trailers are, shipping a head of lettuce across the country actually adds next to nothing to the total energy bill.

It takes about a tablespoon of diesel fuel to move one pound of freight 3,000 miles by rail; that works out to about 100 calories of energy. If it goes by truck, it’s about 300 calories, still a negligible amount in the overall picture. (For those checking the calculations at home, these are “large calories,” or kilocalories, the units used for food value.) Overall, transportation accounts for about 14 percent of the total energy consumed by the American food system.

(snip)

Eating locally grown produce is a fine thing in many ways. But it is not an end in itself, nor is it a virtue in itself. The relative pittance of our energy budget that we spend on modern farming is one of the wisest energy investments we can make, when we honestly look at what it returns to our land, our economy, our environment and our well-being.

Stephen Budiansky is the author of the blog liberalcurmudgeon.com.

Fascinating. I have spent a lot of time thinking about these issues for years. I'm a Crunchy Con so I'm all for local produce and local meat/dairy but I would never call myself a "locavore".

NYT (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/20/opinion/20budiansky.html?_r=1)

Articulate_Ape
08-20-2010, 02:28 PM
Fascinating. I have spent a lot of time thinking about these issues for years. I'm a Crunchy Con so I'm all for local produce and local meat/dairy but I would never call myself a "locavore".



Yeah, "loco" is so much more accurate. :p

Gingersnap
08-20-2010, 02:49 PM
Some things really do make sense. Buying local produce at the peak of the season is smart and cheap. Your local yellow sweet corn will be cheaper and tastier than the white corn trucked in from out of state (or any corn grown outside of summer).

Out here, we have pretty easy access to grass-fed beef. It's a little pricier than the beef the chains offer but it tastes better and it provides Colorado jobs. Ditto for my local fake dairy.

Now, as the article points out, people who are paying top dollar for mangoes grown in greenhouses are simply defeating the idea of local food. If you want to buy mangoes, buy them but buy them from places where they grow easily. Don't think you are wrapping yourself in environmental virtue by eating an unnatural local harvest.

CueSi
08-20-2010, 03:03 PM
Crunchy Con? Is that anything like a GranolaCon (What I tend to be on occasion, and what my mom IS)?

~QC

Gingersnap
08-20-2010, 03:47 PM
Crunchy Con? Is that anything like a GranolaCon (What I tend to be on occasion, and what my mom IS)?

~QC

Maybe. Crunchy Cons are Birkie-wearing, gun-toting, organic garding right-of-center types who also favor free markets, legalized weed, and the death penalty.

We're a fun group, actually. :)

JB
08-20-2010, 07:14 PM
Maybe. Crunchy Cons are Birkie-wearing, gun-toting, organic garding right-of-center types who also favor free markets, legalized weed, and the death penalty....that eat Miracle Whip. <puke smiley>

Gingersnap
08-20-2010, 09:03 PM
...that eat Miracle Whip.

Some. :D

Rockntractor
08-20-2010, 09:23 PM
Yeah, "loco" is so much more accurate. :p
Too much nuts not enough grains!

CueSi
08-20-2010, 11:39 PM
Maybe. Crunchy Cons are Birkie-wearing, gun-toting, organic garding right-of-center types who also favor free markets, legalized weed, and the death penalty.

We're a fun group, actually. :)

My mom's is everything but the legalized weed. And is there pachouli involved?

~QC

Gingersnap
08-20-2010, 11:40 PM
My mom's is everything but the legalized weed. And is there pachouli involved?

~QC

Sandalwood. Dirty hippies favor pachouli.

CueSi
08-21-2010, 12:58 PM
Sandalwood. Dirty hippies favor pachouli.


Ahh, okay. Now I get it. :p


~QC