To Steven Budiansky, in response to his piece “Math Lessons for Locavores” published in the NYT August 19, 2010:
I just read your article “Math Lessons for Locavores” in the NYT. I hope you can take the time to read and respond to my email.
I am not sophisticated in the ethical food movement and I live in semi-rural Pacific Northwest where we have local, amazing farms (we are currently eating from Helsing Junction Farms, an organic CSA). So my thoughts on the locavore movement are thus informed.
Thank you for your article – especially your observances on the energy consumption of driving and household operations and the perspective such observances afford. I liked the points you make in your article and the fact you seem to be dispelling the “do-gooder” nature of the locavore movement. Do-gooder does no good in my opinion as it tends to ignore those who are not privileged to make such holy choices. The hothouse-tomato math was also a good point.
However there were some points you seemed to omit entirely and I was wondering why you’d make such omissions. For instance, most locavores I personally know advocate eating seasonally, which means they wouldn’t be (in theory) consuming tomatoes when tomatoes aren’t in season (or they’d be eating preserved ones). The famed authors of The 100 Mile Diet were not eating hothouse foods if I remember, but rather seasonally with visits to farms and employing preservation methods.
Do you not think this is a rather powerful tool for knowing what one’s area grows while supporting small, local, ethical and family-run practices over heavily subsidized agribusiness? To read your article you seem to find agribusiness a glowing institution of virtue. Have you watched many documentaries on the practices therein, taken a cursory study of the Farm Bill and its effects, or explored many of health effects of our processed food diet including the saturation of HFCS? I am not accusing you of ignorance on these issues. But if you have explored them I’m wondering how those considerations might be incorporated into your worldview.
A little personal anecdote. We’ve been instrumental in bringing the abovementioned CSA here to our town. My husband brought the movie Food, Inc. to our area with no small effort on his part (the next-closest place you could find it was in Seattle which is what passes for the Big City here in Washington). Through our efforts and our friends’ and family support the organic farm fifty miles away now has enough customers in Hoquiam we warrant our own drop-station. Local residents are participating in this locally- and organically-produced food, supporting a family business and ethical practices (including the farm’s workers), eating well, finding connection with their food, and supporting the charity efforts of the farm. You can actually take your children to the place their food is grown and you can help harvest (and we have done). If see immense value in all of this, and more I could list besides.
If we locals had just eaten peppers wherever “someone else” decides peppers should come from we would miss all of these opportunities.
I am not an ethical food fanatic as you might understand such. Those in this movement often shame, disparage, and offer little assistance to those in less privileged socioeconomic spheres (I also get tired of all the obesity concern-trolling too). However the ethical food movement’s tenets have already transformed the world around us and have the power to do even more good. “Math lessons” seemed to come off a bit condescending, even if I completely appreciate those (like yourself) who take to task adherents who are spending more time crowing their superiority than thinking critically about their choices and our institutions (the number of which I think you may exaggerate – most I know who have food ethics issues are genuinely trying to do the right thing for themselves and their world).
I truly hope you take the time to write back. It is not my intent to proselytize (and I’d like to believe it wasn’t yours either). I would like to reach a greater understanding, especially since you’ve written a high-publicity refutation of a movement I find a lot of value in.