My friend Ron Doering (left, exactly as shown) and I have exchanged barbs over the years but we can agree on the headline for his latest column: Buy local but ignore the locavores nonsense.
Doering, the first president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the only one whose name I can remember now that the post is awarded to revolving civil servants – one of the last presidents did something with stamps or coins before food safety – practices food law in Ottawa (that’s in Canada) and shares his thoughts in a monthly column for Food in Canada.
Doering was gracious enough to share his regulator insights with my food safety risk analysis class when I was teaching in Guelph (also in Canada) and he touched on all the nuances that food safety critics or outsiders like me seem to miss.
Then we had beers.
Doering writes that buying local makes a good deal of sense when the natural conditions support the seasonal production of good, fresh local food. Who wouldn’t buy our local asparagus in June and fresh sweet corn and tomatoes in August? Canadians have always supported roadside stands of blueberries and local fruits and vegetables; we have always loved our local fish and local summer and autumn farmers’ markets.
What is new is the pretentious elevation of this simple idea by the chattering culinary class to the status of a comprehensive creed, which, they assert, can make a major contribution to a more sustainable food system. Locavores focus on the concept of the food mile to condemn the current system of globalized trade. They dream of a return to an earlier time when the food supply wasn’t controlled by big bad agribusiness.
It’s like hanging out with the mommies at the local park, the ones who would never talk to me except that I have a cute kid, a hipster bicycle trailer and a wedding band so I’m apparently not a threat, and they start telling me all their food pornography and preferences for junior. Am I really a bad parent because I refuse to buy organic?
Doering also writes that with their simplistic focus on food miles, locavores ignore other factors of sustainability. I was in a very chic restaurant in Tucson, Ariz. where the smug chef righteously proclaimed that all his ingredients were locally grown. He was quite offended when I asked him about the environmental and other costs of importing all that fresh water to grow that food in the Arizona desert. And how is it more sustainable to deny developing countries the opportunity to export their tropical fruits and vegetables?
Enjoy that coffee this morning from your backyard coffee tree.