Sunday, April 22, 2012

Some local food is really good

Last year I wrote a post that defended the buy-local movement on purely aesthetic grounds, saying if someone enjoys knowing precisely where their food comes from, it's great they can pursue that as a hobby.

A few days ago I wrote about Tyler Cowen's new book on food. In an NPR interview about the book, Cowen was asked how his criticism of the "virtue" of local food jives with his love of eating regional food when traveling. He responded:
A lot of local food is very tasty. I'm very happy to eat it. I just don't think it's the same thing as saving the world.
I want to make sure my position on this is crystal clear. There's a lot of dishes served in local restaurants that are made in small batches of a high quality. There are cheeses, jams and breads made by hand that come out better than some of the mass-produced versions.

My qualm with this is that it's an extremely expensive way to eat. Some of the local food is only marginally better - and some is no better at all. There's a spectrum here.

I was at a recent gardening event and they had a tasting booth to compare local and supermarket foods. It was billed as a way to prove to people that local produce tastes better, but the game was rigged. Everyone knew which was which before they tasted it. They compared local apple cider to apple juice, which is unfair. I grabbed a pair of carrot sticks and switched them around on myself and couldn't tell the difference.
Some local food certainly is a high quality product. However, it's rather silly to suggest that the way to save the environment and improve the economy is to ask everyone, including poor people, to buy high-end furniture, clothing and automobiles. The same logic holds true for food.

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