EAT LOCAL OR GLOBAL?
By Carol Crenna
First we fretted over what was more important: to eat local or to eat organic, in regard to food’s nutritional value and environmental cost.
Though it’s still debated, it was generally resolved that organically-grown local food was best. Whether or not we felt healthier or more conscientious eating it, we definitely felt smug buying it.
Now controversy brews over what’s better, local or global, after new books including Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, by James McWilliams, argues points made in earlier pro-local books like The 100-Mile Diet and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
Though we may have once been scolded for playing with our food, we’re now preoccupied with dissecting everything on our dinner plate.
That’s not a bad thing. Investigative journalists have opened our eyes to the dark side of why it’s possible to buy cherries in January, why once-rare treats like macadamia nuts and fresh figs are now fairly commonplace, and why chicken has become so curiously inexpensive.
As writer Marian Scott states, these books have raised disturbing questions about the seamy underbelly of our global food system, and inspired a quest for nutritional redemption that has sent consumers scurrying to farmers’ markets. (The Vancouver Sun, January 2, 2010)
Now with every mouthful, we consider: carbon footprint – fossil fuel used and pollution created to produce/transport it; food miles – the distance and time it took to get to our plate; nutritional value – whether there’s much left in it after depleted soil, days on a truck and destructive processing denature it, and what’s in it that we don’t want – preservative and addictive chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics and GMOs.
MAYBE GLOBAL IS BETTER
Just when we thought local was better than international, Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong says, not necessarily. The author argues that field-grown indigenous crops imported from warmer climates are less energy intensive than hothouse produce grown locally, and the energy we use to prepare food at home equals twice as much as its transportation footprint.
He says agonizing over food’s origins has made us lose sight of global poverty. The problem of adequately feeding billions using sustainable production methods should be a major consideration.
He asks, which is worse, using technology and GMOs to increase yields on land that’s available to grow food, or destroying more tropical rainforests and building environmentally disastrous water pipelines to feed locals?
POVERTY VS. PLOWING UP RAINFOREST
Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia face extreme food shortages. Soaring prices in 2008 sparked riots in 30 countries, with food inflation pushing an additional 100 million people into deep poverty, on top of a billion already starving.
Two-thirds of India’s 1.1 billion people depend on farming for their income, but cultivatable land has dropped by one fifth in the past year due to dwindling water supplies, deforestation, and a changing rainy season.
China faces great shortages — Beijing bought huge tracts of arable land in Africa to grow crops for consumption back home. (AFP News, September 08, 2009) Where does that leave Africans?
If we don’t stop getting cheap produce from China, what other options are left them?
THE BEST OPTION
Eat local and focus improvement efforts on global.