By Talia Berman
Critics argue that members of the locavore “movement” would run into far less controversy if they called it a practice, or a hobby, or even a way of life. It’s just that when they call themselves a “movement,” it seems like a call to action or some kind of organized effort, and that is when naysayers get their panties in a twist.
One of the largest figurative knots can be found in the figurative panties of David Tamarkin, a senior food and wine writer at Time Out Chicago and recent author of a fiery piece lambasting locavorism that sparked much debate over the topic. I spoke with him on the phone last week, where he was very helpful in explaining the anti-locavore movement. Herewith, I explain it to you.
“It is not that I mind eating locally – I eat locally all the time,” Tamarkin was quick to clarify. “It is just the extremes that bother me,” he said.
What Tamarkin refers to are the locavores who deprive themselves of things like chocolate and coffee, whose ingredients don’t grow anywhere in this country, for one. What Tamarkin doesn’t understand is ‘why not.’ When he asks people he gets a few basic answers: I am watching my carbon footprint, local tastes better, and local farmers need my business. According to Tamarkin, all are flawed and here is why:
Argument 1: I am watching my carbon footprint
Most objections to locavorism unite around evidence that suggests that one’s carbon footprint simply is not reduced by eating locally grown foods. Essentially, the argument is one of proportion. The energy it takes for 12 farmers to drive 12 trucks (the argument holds true even if they carpool) with a combined two tons of produce from upstate New York to the Union Square greenmarket on a Saturday is far more than the energy chiquita would use to transport two tons of bananas from Bogota to the same Union square. Why? Because Chiquita has a plane and Chiquita isn’t transporting two tons. They are transporting 200 tons. Put simply, Chiquita is getting more bang for their carbonic buck.
There are been a few academic studies that bring this point home. Here are links to one.
Argument 2: Local tastes better.
“It seems silly to me to build a movement based around what tastes good – that is just called ‘eating,’ isn’t it? No one would say that building a movement around your taste buds isn’t selfish.”
When rallying around a political “cause” and championing your social “movement,” Tamarkin thinks that if your chief argument is personal taste, you need to go back to the drawing board. Tamarkin pointed out that the “locavore” movement, as was termed and developed in San Francisco at the 2005 World Environmental Day, was not really about taste but about local politics and personal ideology, two arenas that make room for issues that go beyond the sensations in your mouth and belly.
Argument 3: Local farmers need my business
Tamarkin’s main concern here is not that local farmers need your business, but that coffee bean pickers on the Cote d’Ivoire need it too, and maybe need it more.
“We live in a wealthy country,” Tamarkin said, “I don’t understand why some farmer is somehow needier because he is 100 miles away from me,” he said. Tamarkin further pointed out that it would be more helpful to point your dollars at fairly traded products than on locally-traded ones. “There are problems with how tomato farmers are treated here and there are human rights violations on the Ivory Coast. Spend your money responsibly,” he said.
In the end, Tamarkin returns to his extremism argument, as many of us would in this position. “Any way you slice it, local tomatoes are going to be the better choice, but needlessly cutting out other food choices that can be ethical doesn’t make any sense. Be someone who eats locally, but don’t make it an absolute.”