Friday, August 20, 2010

Righteous imports: why it's OK for California food to travel to Illinois

"More evidence links pesticides to hyperactivity," says a headline from yesterday's Los Angeles Times, with similar articles in newspapers all over the world. Yet another good reason to be careful what we eat - and yet I've got to say it, righteous eating can be crazy making.

Going to the farmers' market isn't good enough : we have to ask every farmer where the food is grown, what fertilizers were used, whether it was sprayed with pesticides.

Just shopping at Whole Foods isn't good enough either (though it's generally more righteous than, say, Jewel)  : not all of their products are organic, locally grown, wild-caught, or whatever else we're told we have to look for. And we even have to be cautious at Trader Joe's, my favorite grocery store in the world. Thank goodness they are starting to stock a lot more organic foods.

Which is why I appreciated Steven Budiansky's op-ed piece in this morning's New York Times : "Math Lessons for Locavores." Budiansky, bless him, holds that
eating locally grown produce is a fine thing in many ways. But it is not an end in itself, nor is it a virtue in itself. The relative pittance of our energy budget that we spend on modern farming is one of the wisest energy investments we can make, when we honestly look at what it returns to our land, our economy, our environment and our well-being. 
He gives the numbers to back up his assertion, too.

Budiansky is not in bed with Big Ag. He's a historian, journalist, and mathematician who blogs at Liberal Curmudgeon: Who Says You Have to Be a Conservative to Be Pissed Off? I like the way he thinks.

After reading his article, I feel much better about buying (organic) California strawberries and (wild caught) Alaska salmon, though slightly guiltier about driving to the grocery story four times already this week to get them ("A single 10-mile round trip by car to the grocery store or the farmers’ market will easily eat up about 14,000 calories of fossil fuel energy," says Budiansky).

Guilt is OK, in small doses : it's the manure of the soul. I'm just glad I don't have to spread it on my (organic) New Zealand apples.

1 comment:

Care Morency said...

Thank you for this bit of sanity. Ask an older person (70+) and they will say all this local eating stuff is crazy, because there was a time when it was difficult to get fresh vegetables, let alone ones grown within seven hours of your home. Or, as a resident of the inner city if they are concerned about the provenance of their apples. I bet he or she would just LIKE an apple.

Then again, I have been arguing for years that eating Big Macs is eating "local" because McDonald's corporate headquarters is just down the road from where I live.