The Trouble with Locavorism

A husband and wife team from the University of Toronto have recently published a book called The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet. They argue that the locavore movement is misguided and will have disastrous effects if it is widely adopted. They write that,”locavorism can only result in higher costs and increased poverty, greater food insecurity, less food safety and much more significant environmental damage than is presently the case.” 

This book is not the only critique against the locavore movement. James McWilliams first expressed his views against locavorism five years ago in the NYTimes. Stephen Budiansky’s  article prompted many debates, as recently as two years ago. These authors do not say that locally sourced food is detrimental per se, they just say that is it an incorrect barometer of foods’ sustainability.

The authors of this most recent book argue that many people support the local food movement because fresh, seasonal produce tastes better. Still others buy local to support the local farming community. However, this model may not have sufficient merit to advocate widely.

They also argue that it is actually less carbon intensive to import food from warmer countries than set up heated greenhouses in colder countries to grow warm-weather crops like tomatoes and melons. Depending entirely on local food also makes communities more vulnerable to crop failures. In this day and age of efficient transportation as well as the growing urge for people to experiment with exotic ingredients and different kinds of cuisine – it is nearly impossible to revert back to an all-local diet.

To be fair, our diet has not been ‘all-local’ since before the spice trade. Flavors from abroad have not only enhanced our palate and our pantry but have also exposed us to cultures from around the world. Using local ingredients whenever and wherever possible definitely has some environmental benefits, but creating a whole system of eating solely through local produce might leave one’s diet sorely lacking and perhaps even nutritionally imbalanced, not to mention having some negative environmental repercussions. For example, while it’s great that supermarkets have been increasing their support of small farmers by stocking their produce, if transportation is inefficient, a 1,000 mile tomato could be more carbon intensive than a 5,000 mile tomato.

While Locavorism is an interesting concept, like all strict food movements it should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also

3 responses

  1. It’s possible this “husband and wife team” are being a bit “strawman’ny” in their arguments to make their case. Only the most extreme locavore would say that all food has to be sourced entirely locally at all times. To get sustainable one only has to source most food reasonably locally, most of the time. A locavore would try to avoid tomatoes grown out of season so the argument above about distance doesn’t wash anyway.

  2. I haven’t read the book, but the interview in Grist recently makes the whole thing seem a little silly. Clearly there are benefits to locally grown food (and not just for the upper class, as he proposes), not the least of which is the generations of jobs and a local economy.  

    Obviously, I’m not drinking much locally grown coffee or tea.  Certain things make sense to be global commodities.   

  3. This book apears to be a hyperbole.  Do the authors really think there is a movement to ban Salt because its not local? I have not ever met a locavore that espouses such strict rigedness.  This book does not seem helpful because it seems purposely antagonistic.  We have enough conflict in the world.  If you have a concern be respectful and realistic, from what I’ve read of it this book doesn’t seem respectful. 

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