Is the Locavore Movement Built on a Lie?

By Keith Kloor | April 24, 2013 11:14 am

In the Fall, I walked with my son’s Kindergarten class and other parents to our local farmers market in Brooklyn. The kids had their list of items they had to find and identify (fruits, vegetables, flowers), I scored some delicious apple cider donuts, and a grand time was had by all on a blustery, sunny day.

Yes, there’s something a bit quaint about urban farmers markets, but who doesn’t enjoy their bountiful offerings? Just the act of browsing the outdoor stalls filled with fresh produce and home-baked pies makes me glow with eco-vibes. You know what I mean. You walk around there with your hemp-made grocery bag, stuffing it with all those greens and goodies from small puckish farms in the country and you feel like you’re doing your part to make the world a better place.

But what if that’s just a comforting illusion? What if this world of leafy farmers markets and the feel-good spirit of localism they evoke is about as real as a Normal Rockwell painting? (“I paint life as I would like it to be,” the iconic artist once said.) What if the whole locavore movement was built on a lie? 

That’s the provocative argument that Will Boisvert makes in a recent New York Observer feature article. Lest you get the wrong idea about him and his motives, Boisvert tries to reassure the reader at the outset:

Don’t get me wrong—I’m an environmentalist, not an agribusiness executive. But I’m an environmentalist who can do math, and the numbers on locavorism, like much else in green-urbanist food ideology, don’t add up.

At this point, Grist types are likely to start scowling and reflexively dismiss everything that follows in the piece as hippy punching. That would be unfortunate, because as Boisvert writes:

For one thing, the linkage of local farming to efficiency and sustainability is dubious. The locavore obsession with reducing food-miles has been roundly debunked as a false economy that may actually worsen carbon emissions. That’s because the high-volume, long-haul food transportation perfected by industrial agriculture is fantastically more energy-efficient than the low-volume, short-haul shipments of locavore distribution systems.

Uh oh. I have a feeling that is one inconvenient truth enviros are not about to accept. But you know what? Who cares? Sometimes the small pleasures in life, like airline travel, plasma TVs, summer beach houses, the latest smart phone, and not least of all, fresh produce trucked hundreds of miles into neighborhoods every day from friendly farmers, is a small price to pay for the myth of a climate concerned, sustainable lifestyle.

[Photo/GrowNYC]

UPDATE: Via Twitter, this fascinating piece was brought to my attention. Definitely worth a read.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets.From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine.In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest.He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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