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story titled “Food Miles Don’t Go the Distance” that food mile advocates “may seem to have common sense on their side, [but] the science which could be used to underpin their arguments is at best confusing, and at worst absent!’ The Scotsman reported that “consumers who try to cut down on the number of ‘food miles’ in their weekly shop by choosing local produce could be doing more harm than good.” The Economist warned that “the apparently straightforward approach of minimizing the ‘food miles’ associated with your weekly groceries does not, in fact, always result in the smallest possible environmental impact.” Life cycle assessments have yet to be undertaken systematically in the United States. When they are, the assumption that local consumption is automatically energy efficient will be seriously muddied. I’ll admit thatas someone who has written books about our ancestors’ intimate ties to the soilmy gut reaction is to dismiss life cycle assessments as a threat to the localism that Kingsolver, McKibben, Smith, and grid and, sadly for them, irrelevant to the noble project that Kingsolver and her family accomplish with elegance, wit, and satiation. Kingsolver’s geography, in essence, becomes the privileged geography of the Eat Local movement. McKibben is a bit guilty of a similes ainnesa, undoubtedly well infornaed about relative. fopd Pro efficiencies among different: regions, he assume ‘.that his tti ~ ation in the Lake Champlain Valleya plaCe that can, .10* some beltLtightening, provide sustainable food fovimk’ the yearis somehow typical. Like Michael Pollan,ite*ax0: eloquently and brilliantly on the scale, scope, and well-honed efficiencies of local farming. McKibben argues convincingly that much of the East Coast could, with a few adjustments, easily supply all its own food. It’s great stuff. However, he overlooks the demographic reality that a growing majority is imported, soil is artificially enhanced, and the trucks that For those of us poor saps stuck in locations where sustainability is a cruel joke, we can only enjoy the experience vicariously, or plan to subsist on beef jerky and well water. MacKinnon value so deeply. But stepping back and putting my assumptions aside, I also see in life cycle analyses genuine opportunities for changes that will lead to environmentally efficient food production. Rather than reject what might seem to be inconvenient findings, Eat Local advocates would be wise to consider them, because, properly analyzed and acted upon, they are anything but threatening to the prospect of an environmentally responsible diet. In fact, they could help solve several problems inherent in the Eat Local movement problems that are often on vivid display in these books. One such problem involves the way the Eat Local movement downplays geographical reality. Kingsolver, McKibben, Smith, and MacKinnonall passionate food milersdownplay the impact geography has on their culinary options. It was, after all, Arizona’s horrific geographical conditionsones that favor cactus fruits and tubersthat inspired Kingsolver and her family to take “the trip of our lives” to southern Virginia, where they would “begin the adventure of realigning our lives with our food chain.” Choosing to move to a fertile region supportive of a healthy year-round subsistence, Kingsolver not only solved her food mile problem, buta point not meaningfully appreciatedshe solved her food cycle problem as well. It is hard to take issue with this environmentally responsible decision. But we should take issue with the fact that within weeks, Kingsolver’s new geographical circumstance, one of rare sustainability, becomes in her mind something of a standard experience. While Kingsolver was rhapsodizing over asparagus, I was left wondering about the 1 million Tucson residents she left behind, stuck in that life cycle disaster called a desert. What does her experience say to them? As it turns out, they quickly disappear into Kingsolver’s geographical amnesia, phantom members of a society mired in a nonsustainable pick the food up and send it off are the crudest of guzzlers. All of which is to say that McKibben’s deeply researched and humanistic accounts of Eat Local victories sparkle for regions endowed with the life cycle systems to pull the victories off. For those of us poor saps stuck in locations where sustainability is a cruel joke, we can only enjoy the experience vicariously, or plan to subsist on beef jerky and well water. Like Kingsolver, McKibben has a hard time mentioning the dirty secret called The Arid West. Then there’s the experience of Smith and MacKinnon, who try to eat local in a semi-sustainable environment. Choosing to undertake their “100 mile diet” in Vancouver, where geographical conditions support an erratic local food supply at best, the authors are reduced to what at times read like panicked, animalistic foraging for wayward ingredients. In the name of food miles, the authors, who it must be noted became incredibly creative cooks, twist and turn and stretch a grossly limited food supply into “meals” that they somehow manage to stoically enjoy, even if they are anxiously having discussions about weight loss, scurvy, and protein deficiency while nibbling on stored turnips and worrying about lowered sex drives. If you’re wondering what it is like to eat local in the wrong place: It sucks. Iwatched these authors negotiate their self-imposed decisions, made primarily in the name of reducing food miles, with great interest. While I appreciated their personal experiences, as well as the passion and poignancy of their writing, one thing soon became depressingly clear: No way on earth would any of these solutions, or anything remotely like these solutions, work for me. The reason: geography. I live in Central Texaswhere it would take ample AUGUST 10, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7