Saturday, August 11, 2007

Local Eating Kills the Planet

A recent study out of Lincoln University in New Zealand compares (kinda) the carbon footprints of NZ lamb being shipped to the UK and lamb being grown in the UK. It's a no brainer, say the kiwis, our lamb is better for the planet, food miles and all.

This study is now serving as the keystone for all manner of attacks on those no-good, elitist, vegetable growing locavores. So what's the real story?

Here are links to the key pieces of the tale:

Movable Feast: Eating Local Isn't Always the Greenest Option by James McWilliams - the mid-Texas author who takes the study and applies it to the bigger picture of local eating.

The actual study out of NZ is here. (PDF)

Here is the shorter and more concise New York Times piece, and just a handful of the blog posts that it's generated.

And Michael Shuman, author of Small-Mart Revolution, debunks the numbers behind the study (and stands up for local buying).

Which brings us to the missed point here. As McWilliams says:

There are many good reasons for eating local—freshness, purity, taste, community cohesion, and preserving open space—but, perhaps because of overwhelming media attention to global warming, none of these benefits compares to the much-touted claim that eating local reduces fossil fuel consumption. Herein lies the current power of the Eat Local slogan.

Is that true? For many of us eating local is an interesting experiment and a way to understand our relationship to our community. Committing to a local diet is equal to committing to a seasonal diet and an inconvenient diet (the egg cooler at the neighbors doesn't keep regular hours). Like Bay Bucks, our local currency in Northwest Lower Michigan, eating local helps us find the edges of our food economy (grains) and creates a 180 degree shift in how we view our relationship with the world economy - from the inside (home, neighborhood, community) out, rather than starting at WalMart and working down from there.

I haven't actually met anyone who came into the local food movement because of "food miles" or concern over carbon. For folks in Northwestern Lower Michigan the movement tends to revolve around supporting small farmers, knowing the circumstances of the food production (ala the Joel Salatin chapter of Omnivore's Dillema) and feeling connected to our community. Because of our local food network we've learned to milk goats and make cheese from the milk. We've seen the chicken slaughter operation that produced the first chicken we've eaten in close to 15 years (first meal - roasted with local corn, coleslaw and potatoes; second meal - grilled and put into fajitas with local veggies and homemade tortillas). We've sat and talked green building with our CSA farmers and helped cook the local pork at the Wagbo Maple Syrup Festival. How else would you want to spend your time?

McWilliams mentions the English desire for "food miles" to be printed on the packaging of food in their supermarket. The whole point of the movement here is to stop relying on labels on packages - hell, to stop relying on packaging and labels all together.

Thanks to the Ethicurian for many of these links!

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