Locavore a New Definition

I read the “100 Mile Diet” a few years ago and marvelled at the writers tenacity in sticking with it throughout all the challenges of eating only food produced within 100 miles of their home.

At the time, I was living as a vegetarian in the middle of cattle country in rural Alberta. I was surrounded by cattle-corn, grazing land, sheep, goats and dairy producers with very little herbivorous food grown for human consumption. I came to the conclusion that the 100 mile Diet would have resulted in a diet too restrictive to be nutritionally sound or satisfying for myself and my family.

That said, my focus has always been on supporting local producers and eating local whenever possible.

Recently I attended a lecture at Acadia University given by Dr. Pierre DesRochers who is a co-author of “The Locavore’s Dilemma.

He made some important points such as:

  • Global food distribution has the economic benefit of economies of scale and subsidies.
  • Biodiversity can be sustained globally by growing products in the environmental region best equipped to grow it. For instance it costs a lot more to produce pineapples in Scotland than in Hawaii, even factoring in the shipping of the ripe pineapples from Hawaii to Scotland.
  • Returning to the subsistence farming model is not desired nor realistic and we do have to be careful about romanticizing a time that in reality consisted of 10+ hour days of back-breaking labor.

I believe that sustainability and biodiversity are essential and can be achieved with a combination of local and global food sources.

I still have concerns about the enforcement of our food safety laws on food imported into our country.That is a topic for another day.

Monocultures are also a big concern as a loss of biodiversity exposes people and the market to risks associated with the loss of a single crop. The Irish Potato Famine was as a result of the same variety of potato being cultivated across Ireland.  The often impoverished farmers had little access to other foods. When this variety of potato was wiped out by potato blight, it left thousands starving.

Today’s bananas are not the same variety as your Grandmother would remember. The bananas Dwarf Cavendish and Grand Nain (Chiquita Banana) gained popularity in the 1950s after the previous mass-produced cultivar, Gros Michel, became commercially unviable due to Panama disease, caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum which attacks the roots of the banana plant. This fungus decimated the commercial banana crops and almost drove the variety to extinction.

Even in a global food economy there needs to be biodiversity or these events will risk being repeated.

I also think we need to be careful to not make assumptions about the sustainability of the current market conditions, which allow food to be shipped globally very cheaply. For instance Peak Oil is a possibility in our lifetime. See “The Long Emergency” by James Howard Kunstler.

We would be wise to learn from the experiences of Cuba when the Soviet Union dissolved. This caused an artificial ‘peak oil’ scenario. Cuba responded by localizing their food supply using Organic principles, since petroleum-Based fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides were no longer available to them. See “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.”  It is a powerful documentary.

Perhaps we need to look at biodiversity on a scale larger than a single garden or farm.

Cooperatives within a region can be a possible solution to this problem. Each local gardener/farm specializes in a few items that are best suited to the local growing conditions & skills, which can then be bartered with neighbouring gardeners/farms or sold to local consumers at farmers markets.

By working as a community we can enjoy a rich diversity of nutrient rich foods and hedge our bets against the risks of monocultures and putting all your eggs in one local basket, by extending our definition of local just a little.