Thursday, August 11, 2011

A little perspective on the whole Locavore thing

Our recent locavore challenge got me thinking about the topic in much more depth than I have in the past. I'll put this out there right now, I'm not a hard core locavore, and will never be one. Like all good diets, locavorism has some tenets that make a lot of sense and I try to model my life around them. Like all good diets, it can easily become fanatical, turning kind-hearted, well-meaning people into judgmental, dogmatic guilt-mongers.

The reason I can't be a hard core locavore - I like too many kinds of food. There's a long list of them that cannot be produced locally. Some of my favorites include citrus fruits, bananas, olives, coffee, tea, cocoa, cashews, just about every kind of spice, maple syrup, sugar. It's a lot, and if I were hard core, I wouldn't be able to eat any of it. Really, there's no sin in eating and enjoying these things. The literal consumption of the food is the same here or anywhere. As they say though, the devil is in the details, and the circumstances in which we consume them are not so good. Mostly, it has to do with transportation.

Thinking back on what I know about food and history, it's not a new thing that food gets transported hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles before being consumed. Some great examples are the movement of spices and tea from India and East Asia westward, the comparatively local salt trades which still managed to span hundreds of miles, the transport of wine and olive oil from the Roman empire to neighboring barbarian states, American frontiers-people turning grains into whiskey and pig feed - jugs and pigs being much easier to transport than bushels of wheat or corn, which subsequently were sold or traded.

The difference between then and now is how everything is transported. People used wind and animal power to move around back then. Those were renewable resources. They did not contribute to global warming (if you subscribe to that idea). Fossils fuels are cheap and easy to harness, but they also come with some baggage.

Maybe, it wouldn't be so bad if we didn't use so much oil and coal. If we (as in all of human-kind) only used a moderate amount of fossil fuels, maybe we wouldn't be worrying so much about it's impact on our world. Unfortunately, usage of them in our society is almost universal, and you won't get people to stop using them without some sort of good alternative.

If I catalog all of the food I can get from a far away place, it isn't just limited to specialty foods, I can get literally everything. I think that's the big difference between the past and the present. Back then, people were probably mostly locavores, but today, people are probably mostly the opposite. What is the opposite of a locavore, by the way? A foravore? I am happy being a mostly locavore. I probably get more foreign foods than my ancient predecessors, but it's something I'm working on. The goal being to source as much food as possible locally. Slowly, but steadily, we're getting there.

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