Dinky little local produce markets have been springing up on mall parking lots everywhere. And my grocery stores have been steadily climbing further onto the "green" bandwagon - pushing fabric shopping bags, flogging ever more organic produce (mostly at significantly higher prices) and offering fewer choices and lower quality.
For example, my favourite grocer used to carry a wide variety of potatoes including local, Island, and B.C. grown as well as from Idaho and P.E.I. Then the high quality Idaho and P.E.I. spuds started getting crowded out by lower quality (soggy, starchy) B.C. and ‘Island’ grown - and to add insult to injury the local ones were often priced higher than spuds shipped all the way from Idaho and P.E.I. Go figure! Recently all the grocery stocked were BC and ‘Island grown’ varieties. Now, to get good Idaho or P.E.I. spuds I’m forced to chase across town (saving the planet?) to find a grocer that carries them.
All I want out of my food supply system is convenience, choice and quality at a reasonable price. But the locavore / 100-mile-diet idiots are doing their level best to make sure that doesn’t happen. And I have had serious doubts that buying local would save much, if any, energy.
I’ve been meaning to complain to the grocery management about this but without hard data the only answer I expected from them was a spiel on "it’s-what-the-customer-wants" and their stock saving-the-planet lecture - though I have to admit, thanks to the green bullshit machine, there’s little doubt that "it’s-what-the-customer-wants".
Now, thanks to Peter Foster's column "Just plain bananas" and an accompanying article "Buy global" by researchers Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu we now have good evidence debunking the ‘buy local’, food mile mythology. A sampling from Peter Foster’s summary:
OK. Now I’m ready to complain to my grocery store managers - and my provincial government. Do I think it will have any effect? Not a snowball’s chance in Hades - they’re all part of the racket. But I’ll feel righteous.
... Food mile thinking is crude and ignores productivity differences between different growing locations.
... This simplistic approach completely ignores the rationale for the evolution of a dispersed and globalized commercial agriculture...
... Food mile lunacy has been taken farthest in the U.K. .... [But a British study showed] The biggest carbon offender was automobile trips to the supermarket! ... [The study also showed] Spanish tomatoes are responsible for one quarter of the CO2 emissions of greenhouse-grown tomatoes in the U.K. Importing fruit from the antipodes is cheaper (and less environmentally costly) than storing domestic fruit for use in the off-season.
... The [Desrochers & Shimizu] study notes the hypocrisy of many campaigners, who are simply domestic protectionists trying to guard their expensive "organic" products. It also points out that fads such as the "100-mile diet" reduce choice, increase costs and take up lots of precious time to pursue.
... the economic and environmental costs of food miles are almost irrelevant when compared with the horrendous costs of farm subsidies and food-trade barriers. ... This corrupted system is at the root of many current trade frictions.
... "The evidence presented suggests that food miles are, at best, a marketing fad... ."
... Food-mile mysticism involves lower incomes for Third World farmers and higher prices for First World consumers.
... Indeed, one can’t help concluding that only the wealthy, who live in underappreciated capitalist societies, could have the time and resources to engage in calculations of such moralistic, self-indulgent stupidity. What is most depressing is the willingness of corporations to waste billions of dollars dancing to their tune.
[The full paper by Desrochers & Shimizu.]