There is a new book by a husband and wife team of academics from Toronto, titled The Locavore’s Dilemma, In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet. I read about it in MacLean’s magazine.
Besides praise for corporate-driven agriculture, the book makes fantastic claims. Instead of making our communities healthier and more self-sufficient, the authors claim the local food movement will destroy our economies, ruin our environment and probably lead to more wars, famine and incidences of food poisoning. I find these claims to be glaringly negligent in their lack of presenting the facts.
Author Pierre Desrochers explains why organic farms produce an unhealthy product: ‘You see young organic farms grow their stuff in manure and bring it to the barn where all the doors are open and wash everything with a hose, all the various vegetables together.’ Concurring with the authors is Galen Weston, executive chairman of Loblaw’s, who has said that while farmers’ markets are beautiful places, ‘they eventually will kill people.’ I suspect that farmers markets may be affecting sales of produce at large grocery stores because people love markets where they can buy freshly picked food and meet the farmer.
The book congratulates large corporations involved with food distribution, like Walmart, that have made food cheaper, and apparently safer, through advancements in technology that created more sophisticated farm equipment and new pesticides. How can any pesticide be safe to eat? The chemicals used in industrial food production can never be washed away —toxins go beyond the surface of food, deep inside.
It was no surprise to learn that the book also praises GMO food crops because, as the myth goes, they produce higher yields than conventional food crops. Ignored are the many studies that disprove that claim.
The authors must also be ignoring the extensive evidence exposing the dangers of GMO foods to our health and safety. In Jeffrey Smith’s powerful new 84 minute documentary, Genetic Roulette, The Gamble of your Life, we see interview after interview with scientists and doctors who tell us that the same serious problems found in lab animals, livestock and pets that eat GMO foods, are on the rise in the North American population. And that when people and animals stop eating GMOs, their health improves.
As for creating a resilient food supply, let us remember that since agriculture began, seeds have traditionally been the next year’s food security. However, a farmer using GMO seed must purchase new seed every year—they are not allowed to save seed. This disregard for the time honoured practice of seed-saving does not make our food supply more resilient, but the opposite: dependent on a ruthless corporation.
I was curious to learn more about this book, so I went online and found an interview with one of the authors. Desrochers believes that buying local food destroys more jobs than it creates. ‘Let’s say the same quality tomato is grown for $1 in Florida and $1.50 in Ontario. If you push the local one, you create tomato-growing jobs in Ontario. But consumers have 50 cents less to spend on other local services or goods, which destroys jobs. There’s a lot more consumers than producers. To create a few jobs you’re penalizing millions and the overall economic effect is detrimental.’
If I was a local farmer, it would be hard not to feel insulted. Hasn’t the author overlooked, that now the local farmer has 50 cents more to spend on local goods and services, and better equipment? Does he not realize that the farmer and employees are also consumers?
Continuing their delusional line of thinking, the authors make the very large assumption that as much fuel as is needed will always be available to keep agri-business providing so much food. They argue that if a country has a food shortage or even a famine, that food can always be readily shipped anywhere. No thought is given to fossil fuel depletion, known as Peak Oil. Many experts agree that we have reached the end of cheap oil; that we went after the cheapest, easiest-to-get resources first, and now we are at the point of going after the harder-to-get, nastier stuff that requires much more energy to make it useable. Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute has studied this topic for over a decade, and has written several books on the subject, starting with The Party’s Over. He says, ‘It’s a pointless exercise to expend so many resources in oil production than what we get when we use the energy.’
Therefore, to extol the virtues of industrial agriculture, which uses seven calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of food we produce, is to ignore the reality of our global situation. As energy costs rise, so will the price of food rise from energy-guzzling industrial agriculture, which needs fossil fuels for nitrogen fertilizer, motorized farm machinery, crop drying, animal operations plus all transportation needs. No one believes that alternative fuel sources would be capable of doing what fossil fuels can do. It takes expensive, energy intensive technology to mine resources. Even as coal and natural gas are being discovered, recovering them is a great challenge, and nuclear energy requires yet another of the difficult-to-extract, non-renewable resource, uranium. It is arrogant to expect to continue our climax civilization lifestyle. The famous quote by a former American vice-president explains this attitude best: ‘The American way of life is not negotiable.’
We are not that different in Canada. We in the wealthier countries are like little children who want what we want—at all times! We expect the continued availability of cheap food from across the globe. Projections of food required to feed future populations are based on producing the same amount of food we produce now (including all food that is wasted, plus junk food that replaces nutrition), but such projections are not based on an observation of finite energy resources. It is very possible that circumstances may require more of us to eat less food than we currently consume… an effective way to deal with the prospect of less food being produced.
Until that time, we are exhorted to believe the business-as-usual promise that ‘growth’ and ‘technology’ will continue to increase food production. The authors of the book would actually like consumers to spend less of their incomes on food. Have they seen how much work it takes to grow food? Can they imagine a farmer having to deal with unstable weather, now connected to climate change, wreaking havoc on plants in the field, through sudden frosts, floods and hailstorms that destroy valuable infrastructure, or from a prolonged drought? Do they realize many farmers are going bankrupt because prices are not high enough to keep the farm going?
Surely it is time to stop taking our food supply for granted, and reconnect with what is of true value. Instead of wanting our food to cost less so there is more money for other (more important?) things, we need to see food as the nurturing substance it is and be grateful we have some to eat. A good way to do this is to support our local farmers. Another way is to give thanks for every meal.
A quick look at book titles will reveal current trends: The End of Growth, Adapting to our New Economic Reality (by Heinberg), Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, and The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience (by Transition Town founder Rob Hopkins). We will all need to be using less energy than we are used to. And there is no doubt that local, sustainable agriculture will be the way to feed people. While it will need more of us doing the labour, it will require far fewer energy inputs to produce food.
Being alive at a time of competing world views means we must choose. Do we continue our almost religious praise of the 10,000 mile diet? Or do we understand that planetary resources are finite, and that embracing a lifestyle of reduced energy consumption is the most compelling statement each of us can make? The old systems cannot sustain themselves for much longer, and are beginning to collapse around us. There will be a lot to learn and we will look inside and turn to each other and teachers for answers.
The Dalai Lama has said kindness is his religion. Let us learn kindness to all sentient beings and to our mother planet. Let us grow our food with kindness. Ultimately, as we evolve through these transformative times, the locavore philosophy will prevail. n
Tsiporah Grignon is a Gabriolan of 38 years, and considers herself “an old foodie”. She is a keen observer of our times, through looking at geo-politics, and through her study of Evolutionary Astrology, which offers in-depth insights into our potential as compassionate human beings.