financial resources and a willingness to accept a severely limited diet to eat local year-round. More importantly, we live to economic opportunity rather than geographical fertility. Herein lies the elephant in the room: For environmentally concerned Americans wedded to food mile measurements, the only viable answers for reducing our dietary carbon footto live off root crops, game, and preserved food \(Smith and Favoring food miles over life cycle assessments, the authors have established a simple premise for readable books, but they have also obscured an alternative scenario, one that would serve their basic environmental goals while offering mainstream environmentalists more pragmatic solutions than moving to Appalachia, hunting elk, or flirting with scurvy. Here are what I see as unshakable realities framing the food wars, realities the authors do not face: What I’m thus envisioning, based on these realities and the most recent research, is a pragmatic scenario built on a geographical model that, as the Lincoln study proposes, thinks primarily in terms of comparative life cycles. Given the severe geographical and cultural limitations inherent in the Eat Local philosophy, wouldn’t it make more sense to stop obsessing over food miles, stay put, work to strengthen comparative geographical advantages, and make transportation more fuel-efficient? Shouldn’t we encourage \(through subsidies, legislation, able produce for the less sustainable parts of the nation \(and and-spoke system of food production and distribution, with the hubs located in a food system’s naturally fertile hot spots and the spokes, which travel through arid zones, connecting them with vehicles using hybrid engines and ethanol fuel? Granted, the idea is a skeleton without flesh, and it is being discussed without the least regard to what are sure to be daunting political obstacles. Still, I think these are lines along which Eat Local advocates would be wise to start thinking. With a dash of imagination, one can see how, properly developed, a life cycle, hub-and-spoke system could meet Eat Local’s environmental goal of fossil fuel reduction, and at the same time diminish many of Eat Local’s less obvious, but often alienating, hang-ups. An emphasis on life cycle analyses could help free the Eat Local movement from an unfair burden it currently bearsa strong whiff of hypocrisy. Buying locally is the easiest way to buy into what some skeptics call the “light green movement.” Like any movement, Eat Local is prone to insincerity and self-righteousness, with “environmental chic” sometimes outweighing concern about global warming. One gets a glimpse of this tendency when MacKinnon repeatedly visits the local chicken farm to ensure that the birds are happy before he buys one to kill, or when Smith experiences existential angst over whether “we would eat vegetables grown in manure from local cows that ate non-local feed?” Small potatoes, no? Depoliticizing the local-imported distinction might allow people with genuine concerns about global warming to focus less on the external inputs into cow manure, and more on raising fuel-economy standards, taking on corporate waste, and eliminating coal-fired power plants. Browsing a farmer’s market with a hemp bag that reads “this bag is not plastic” is standards or shut down coal plants that carries none of the “light green” sexiness of food politics strikes closer to the heart From the moment Americans began farming, landowners worked to achieve nearly everything the Eat Local groupies lament. of global warming. Optimistically, one could reason that an intense awareness of food miles would, like a gateway drug, lead to more potent environmental tactics. It is equally likely, however, that the “light green” food shopper who owns a second home in the Poconos and flies there three times a year is going to salve her conscience with local heirloom tomatoes rather than using them to throw at Monsanto executives. A second issue that the hub-and-spoke vision addresses is that of nostalgia. Too many authors who stump for the Eat Local movement have an overly precious, deeply mythologized view of agricultural history. To an extent, the authors under review all indulge in a declension narrative whereby an elusive golden age of farmingmarked by ecological harmony, self-subsistence, and homemade piessuccumbs to the filth, grit, and greed of industrialization. “When we walked as a nation away from the land,” writes Kingsolver, “our knowledge of food production fell away from us like dirt in a laundry-soap commercial.” The nation’s “drift away 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 10, 2007
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