The Locavore’s Dilemma – review

The Locavore’s Dilemma:In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet
by Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu
published by Public Affairs Books

Mark Twain once quipped “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

What this book sets out to do is clear up some of the distortions about the Local Food Movement.  It does so by providing facts in abundance and then backing them up with historical evidence.  If anything, that may be it’s ultimate shortcoming.

The title is intended to draw the obvious parallel to Michael Pollan’s treatise, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,”  but there are a multitude of differences.

Let’s start out with some observations about, and comparisons of, the authors.  Pierre Desrochers is an associate professor in geography at the University of Toronto with a rich background in agriculture and economics.  His wife and Locavore Dilemma co-author, Hiroko Shimizu is an international public policy specialist.  Omnivore’s Dilemma author Michael Pollan is a journalism professor at UC Berkeley.

Pollan’s narrative is a very well-written piece of prose.  Desrochers and Shimizu’s offering, while thoroughly researched and carefully crafted, reads a bit like a college textbook expanded from a policy paper (which it was.)

I don’t say that to be critical, because the policy wonk/historian side of me thoroughly enjoyed Locavore and enthusiatically gobbled it up in short order.  The former literature student side preferred the Pollan read, as inaccurate, pompously personal and preachy as it was.  I suppose that’s where the meat of these observations lie.  If you’re not careful, the Pollan book sells you a romantic, bucolic bill of goods, while Locavore cites science, economics and history that completely blows that notion out of the water.

The first thing that really leaps from this book is that the current movement is a reworking of previous efforts to proselytize adherents to a local land of milk and honey.  They all failed, some failed miserably.  And, this is not an American phenomenon – there have been similar efforts – for various reasons – all over the world.

Locavore sets the stage by establishing the concept of SOLE food (Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethical) then systematically knocks down this house of cards by debunking the movement’s myths about social capital, economics, environmentalism, food security and health benefits.  Take notes and keep them on your smart phone or tablet so you can quickly make reference when engaging in conversation.  The book’s discussion and complete dismissal of the concept of food miles is well documented and convincing.

The forward was written by Missouri Farm Bureau president Blake Hurst (The Omnivore’s Delusion) and is an engaging, albeit mildly curmudgeonly, discourse that is not to be overlooked.

Now, here’s the thing as I see it.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with shopping farmers markets and growing your own food.  Where the problem comes in is when a personal preference is pushed as a panacea to the ills of the world and it’s supporters are so zealous as to promote it at any cost and try to see it instituted as public policy.  If food production methods were so much better a century ago, why was change so readily embraced?  Locavore offers some thoughtful and thought-provoking suggestions about how that question might be answered.

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About raybowman

church of Christ elder, farmer, grandad, agriculture writer and broadcaster

Posted on July 7, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I am not a “pure” locavore, but I do support the local food movement here in Appalachia. Down here local is not some trend, it is the way we have done things for generations out of need.

    In this article http://grist.org/locavore/local-haterade-authors-say-locavores-do-more-harm-than-good/ the book’s author said

    “Don’t pretend that local food can help feed the world or help people of lesser means; it will remain a niche market targeted at the upper crust of society.”

    I take offense to that comment, I don’t know when farmers who grow their own food because they cannot afford grocery prices or the gas to get to the grocery store turned into “an upper crust society.” I don’t know how local farmers who donate their surplus produce to charities is not making a difference for people of “lesser means.”

    A second quote “If you know your farmer and want to help him, that’s fine, but that’s charity.” Sent me threw the roof. REALLY? I thought that was promoting the local economy. I thought that was loving thy neighbor. I thought that if I, a farmer, worked and produced a good I should be compensated for it. Charity…BAH!

    The author seems to point to the notion that “locavores” take it too far and many do. But, I think the pendulum swings both ways. When, oh when, can we meet in the middle?

    • The middle ground is where I’d like to see everyone, but without a few honest looks at ourselves it’s probably not going to happen. This book merely provides facts to refute some widely-held conceptions. As I’ve said, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with local sourcing and there are a lot of good things about it. It just doesn’t need to be elevated to the higher moral plane that some espouse and it certainly cannot be looked upon as the only option, also a viewpoint held by some self-styled food elitists who reject any manner of compromise.

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