Eat This, Ministry of Controversy

Lighten Up, Francis.

Seriously, that’s all I’m saying.  We don’t need any more "My Year
of Eating Locally" memoirs.  We don’t need any more camera crews
following celebrity chefs around the farmers market as they coo over
the spring peas.  I just want to talk about something else again. Your hen laid
the eggs and your kid grew the parsley at daycare.  I get it. That’s
great.  But I want to go back to gossip and dirty jokes at the dinner
table, for chrissakes.

I also make the point, in a very mild and understated way, that if we really want to save the planet,
we’d be much better off obsessing over something like public
transportation or daily commutes. Just check out the EPA’s stats on greenhouse gas emissions
(flip ahead to page 7) and you’ll see that while transportation
accounts for about a third of greenhouse gas, a full 60% of
those emissions are from personal vehicles, not trucks laden with imported apples.  That’s you and me driving
back and forth to work (or, for that matter, back and forth to the
farmers market), baby.  Throw in another 21% of emissions from
residential uses, and really, there’s an awful lot that you and I could
be doing to save the planet.  It’s just that selling the house and
moving into a little apartment within walking distance of work doesn’t
taste as good as that farmstand apple. Nor does it make for a very interesting memoir.

When it comes to this locavore discussion, we lose all sense of proportion and all rationality. We have no basis for comparing the environmental impact of our eating habits to whatever it is that we do, make, use, buy, or sell for the other twenty-three hours of the day.  Just look at what happens when someone even suggests that we should run the numbers on the greenhouse gas emissions of locally-grown vs. imported food.  An interesting debate on "fair miles vs. food miles"
is taking place in Europe; we couldn’t approach that topic
here. It would be blasphemy.

Again.  For those of you who haven’t listened to the commentary (and in the time it’s taken me to write this, my in-box has filled up with "I haven’t heard your commentary, but…" emails), my position is:

Locally-grown food:  Wonderful.

Talking endlessly about how wonderful we are for eating locally-grown food:  Boring.

Enough already.  That’s all I’m saying.

Posted by on December 31, 2007 at 3:44 pm, in the category Eat This, Ministry of Controversy.
Comments are off for this post

34 Responses to “Lighten Up, Francis.”

  1. susan harris says:

    Shut up and Eat? Does that mean we should just Shut up and Dig? Gawd, I hope not coz it’s really fun occasionally to try to up-end conventional wisdom.
    I first heard about your rant on ATC when a friend emailed me to complain that you were being “cranky and inappropriate” and my reaction was OH, goody! And you didn’t disappoint.

  2. Angela says:

    I’m with Amy. “Locavore” this and “carbon footprint” that is becoming one big mindless chant. Yes, it’s good to eat local foods (not that anyone can even define local), and yes, we need to spew less pollution… but Amy’s right to be tired of the hand-wringing and media-driven repetition of catchphrases.

    Dude, lighten up and enjoy your imported wine. Lose the guilt and quit the lecturing. If even one of you brags about the local mushrooms you picked up from the farmers’ market in your giant polar bear-killing SUV, then you are soooooooo off my Christmas card list next year.

    Here’s to interesting times ahead…

  3. El says:

    Well, yes, indeed, perhaps in some circles the local eating thing is an oft-beat drum. But dear Amy, it takes a lot to make a dent in the consciousness of the other whatever (large) percent of this country to understand the issue. The Today Show watchers of your last rant, for instance. And I wonder about the percentage of people who heard you yesterday who didn’t even know what a Locavore was: I bet it was a large percentage.

    I don’t live on a coast, or near a large city even. Locavoreism is an absolute foreign concept to my neighbors.

    But for many people, eating local is something they feel they CAN do. And I wouldn’t take that away from them.

  4. firefly says:

    I agree with Amy too. I think it is necessary to look at the carbon footprint of local-versus-imported, especially because increasing arable land is directly responsible for loss of biodiversity. If you’re going to grow your own, will you also devote part of your garden to native plants to compensate?

    And for all the backyard vegetable growers who proudly claim they never had a soil test, well, do you know what’s in your veggies?

    The soil test at my house showed lead levels so high I’d have to get a hazardous waste permit from the DEP to ‘remediate’ it by removing/replacing.

    There is no way in hell I’m growing veg in that soil. In my opinion, a carrot full of lead is not ‘organic’ no matter how I tend it.

    I think the ‘go local’ movement is a natural response to the losses of ‘globalization’ and it’s a good thing. But to keep it going, it has to be done right, not fueled with marketing hyperspeak as a fad that burns out in 5 years.

  5. Kim says:

    Amy, you stubbed your pinky toe on the golden cow – because if Americans are anything, they are CONSUMERS first.

    SPENDING money to be eco-friendly, well, that’s such good news. Americans love the idea of BUYING locally; media knows this and plays right to it. It sells advertising. Americans are used to the complexity of MAKING A PURCHASING DECISION as a lifestyle. How perfect is that?

    Americans have been ducking the need to go further into thinking systemically, changing habits, re-focusing aesthetics, making difficult choices, or sharing transport. It’s not as easy or fun.

    Maybe this hornet’s nest as an opportunity to get more buzz going for a larger concern? Ride it, if you can, Amy!

  6. brett y says:

    People are talking about eating locally because it is important, not because it is “wonderful.” Your commentary was trivial and mean and the worst waste of time I’ve heard on NPR in a pretty dismal year.

  7. Pcrucifer says:

    I disagree. I think that we should stop talking about eating locally when many more people are eating locally. Granted to advocate eating local on a blog like this is really preaching to the choir. But we do not discard a good sermon simply because the choir gets sick of hearing the sermon again. When my mother-in-law starts buying local, then I’ll know we can change topics. I also disagree that we need to talk instead about total carbon footprint and shortening the commute. That’s advanced earthkeeping and as you said – boring. The media has found a good way to advocate getting folks thinking sustainably, and the message sells- let’s not rain on their parade.

  8. eliz says:

    We’re just starting to talk about it in Buffalo, but so far only occasional blips in the local print and online media. When the ground is frozen half the year, there’s only so much locavoring you can do. And the economics here give people other things to worry about.

    I try to support the area farmers, and would rather do that than grow stuff myself.

  9. Valerie says:

    I thought it was hilarious!

    Writing from the home of Crocs, Celestial Seasonings, Wild Oats, Horizon Dairy, White Wave Tofu, Boulder Potato Chips, Gaiam, Chocolove and countless SUVs.

  10. I started out writing a pithy comment. But it wouldn’t fit in this little box. So if you want to read about Colin Tudge’s ‘foods of the first kind’ etc., stop by Ellis Hollow for a visit: http://www.remarc.com/craig/?p=313

  11. Frank Jones says:

    Amy,

    Your particular blend of boredom and meanness might be less galling if you didn’t try to top things off with a false dichotomy and the pretense of more thoughtful greenness of your own.

    You imply that folks who consider themselves “locavores” are hopelessly obsessed with food and don’t bother to be mindful about issues like green house gas emmisions related to transportation. Does that seem likely to you? I mean really, could you be a little snottier?

    You seem to want your world-weariness to count for more than the simple steps that others take to enjoy life and care for the environment.

    Enough already? Shame on you for trying to shush everyone but yourself.

  12. Janel says:

    I side with the “nasty” folks who have slammed your ATC commentary. Just because YOU “get it” — as most folks visiting Gardenrant probably do — doesn’t BEGIN to mean that American society does. So you’re tired of hearing about it. So what. Find new friends who don’t need to talk about it then. Invite different people to your dinner parties. Whatever. The state of Media in our country means that most people need to hear it LOTS MORE before it might sink in (if we’re lucky). I think you (and NPR) do the “eat local” cause a HUGE disservice by whining about it in the way that you did. It was trite and silly and a huge waste of every listener’s time. And frankly, it struck me as a shameless media stunt to promote your new book.

    That said, I appreciate your willingness to voice your opinion. Next time, consider an indepth and objective review of that opinion before sending it across the airwaves. You’ll sell more books that way.

  13. mj says:

    Remember when “Recycling” was the big topic in the early 90′s? Now it’s a widely accepted practice,or at least on most peoples radar. So what if it is annoying or boring? I find endless mention of cocktails and dinner parties on garden rant boring and useless. If all this blather in the media on “local” and “organic” foods can start to swing the pendulum in another direction, why not? Has it not been swinging the wrong way for a long time?

  14. Let the blasphemy begin! The “fair miles v. food miles” article clearly shows the impact in Africa of the UK not continuing to support imported food consumption and how the livelihoods of the African people would be severely affected. In this BBC News article “African Trade Fears Carbon Footprint Backlash” the issues are addressed from a Kenyan farmer’s point of view. The farmer doesn’t even know what global warming or carbon footprints are. He uses a simple gravitational water irrigation system that flows through his smallholding, has never himself been in a plane, rarely travels by bus and uses nothing but his hands to grow, fertilize and harvest his top quality green beans, which then appear on supermarket shelves in Europe. His sole livelihood and existence depends on what he produces and UK consumers bring £100 Million into his developing country annually. These people need the money they raise as farmers to adapt to the consequences of climate change which they are already experiencing and are not directly responsible for. We Americans and Europeans can be thanked for that mess. Everyone needs to know the far reaching implications of their actions to be able to make informed decisions. There are huge problems to be addressed which may not be solved just by shopping at the local farmer’s market. Sure people like the nice feeling of contributing their little bit, but doing too little and focusing on our own little world is something that has gone on much too long here in the US. Global warming wasn’t even on the minds of most Americans before last February’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report. It’s time to take the discussion to the next stage as quickly as possible for the next generation of farmers and shoppers everywhere.

    BBC News article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6383687.stm

  15. Frank Jones says:

    Fair Trade arrangements seem reasonable in a lot of circumstances, but I’m a little puzzled about the article failing to mention anything about the agribusiness dimension of the situation in Kenya. Yes, money is flowing to Kenya, but what goes to the farmer. There seems to be a lot of room for “middlemen” between this humble farmer and Tesco.

    If the Kenyan farmer is totally dependent on air freight to survive, does that seem sustainable in the long run? Will his market suffer the costs for fuel price increases? What kind of margins are there now? Is collapse inevitable? Will political unrest disrupt shipping? This might turn out to be just a technologically based form of colonization. There must be more sustainable approaches to improving Kenya’s trade situation.

  16. Oread says:

    I don’t know, I understand you were being flip and supposedly cool about the topic, but I still know of areas where urban kids get to take field trips out to a damn farm because they’ve never seen where milk comes from or that eggs *gasp* come from chickens or that the stuff their bread (or bread-like substance) is made from actually is a plant! I kid you not one iota here!!! So I thouroughly disagree that we should all “stop talking about eating locally”. I think it’s massively important – along with talking about what’s in the air we breathe and the water we drink – what are the four basic necessities again…oh, right: O2, H20, food and shelter. Hm. Seems important to discuss to death. Absolutely.

    My family farms for themselves, I grew up mainly around farmers and hippie back-to-the land types, so I am well aqcuainted with eating locally, but mostly because you know what’s in it and the simple fact that it tastes a hell of a lot better. I also grew up with old farming families that have been working on their farmsteads since before my state *was* a state, and are now having to give up selling to their neighbors, so there’s always that issue, too.

  17. OK so YOU Amy are tired of hearing about eating local and supporting organic and small scale farmers?

    Well I’m tired of hearing about dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, pesticides affecting the brains of young kids (http://magazine.panna.org/summer2006/inDepthYaqui.html),
    E coli outbreaks, sterility in ag workers (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/11/05/business/main3454902.shtml),
    contamination of organic crops here in Maine by aerial spray (http://www.mofga.org/mofga/other/news20030612.html), and genetic engineering, global warming and ON and ON and ON!

    Why don’t these whiners just get with the program, quit bothering us, and how did you put it, “get over themselves!”

    What right do they have to commandeer the conversation at your dinner parties and to bug you SO much that you need to go to all the trouble to do an NPR commentary about it?

    Thanks for being the voice for all of us who are fed up with all this complaining, like you said, it’s just groceries anyway.

  18. Tibs says:

    Eating locally is getting to be as hot button topic as abortion. Lighten up on Amy. I get tired of the localier than thou folks too, who have no clue how most folks live and eat. Amy didn’t say it wasn’t important, just that she was tired of it socially.

  19. Happy New Year Amy and everyone. Looks like the discussion is going to carry on through 2008!

  20. Amy, you are always fun to listen to–but I fear that your point of view on this subject is rather rarified.

    Two generations of cultural insanity are enshrined in every American supermarket. There is no way that the idea of eating real food has even begun to penetrate the consciousness of most Americans in a mere two years of media saturation.

    I think there is a lot at stake in the locavore movement–and not just on the environmental front, though that’s highly significant as well. Everywhere I go, I see fat children, poor things. Their health has been compromised, perhaps forever, simply because Americans don’t know how to eat.

  21. Kay Crain says:

    I didn’t even know this was the talk of the town…at least not here in my world..I just followed a link to your art blog!
    You are funny , though!
    We always eat locally. Gotta go now. We’re off to the local Taco Bell!

  22. Bill R says:

    I have long considered myself an environmentalist and first really understood all of the benefits of eating locally this year. It may be because you write about food and gardening that the dialogue is getting old, but placing this front and center on NPR is over-the-top cynical. It’s a real disservice to many people who are striving to bring awareness to the many problems with our food system.

    Many are disappointed with how quickly the word and concept of “organic” was co-opted by large corporations and are trying to redefine what it means to understand where our food comes from.

    You too lightly discount how thinking about what you eat and communicating about it can make a big difference in climate change. You trivialized it.

    Only 2% of our population are involved in food production and most Americans are very dislocated from food and its importance. The idea of eating local is an important and very grounding idea.

    You should save your cynicism for something else.

    Bill

  23. bryan says:

    I have yet to be convinced that eating local stuff is better for the carbon footprint.
    Take tomatoes. I can eat tomatoes grown in a warm climate and trucked north, or I can eat tomatoes grown in a greenhouse. Which uses more carbon – trucking tomatoes north or heating a greenhouse for the length of a crop? The ‘eat locally/ thing is just too facile once one starts thinking about the real impact.

  24. Flowers from France says:

    I would much rather listen and watch people pick the right egg or olive oil then have to listen to your silly commentary. You sound very annoying.
    Who do you know that let you on the airwaves ?
    Their fault, not yours.

  25. Well, we did need somebody from France to weigh in here. Not that you are annoying, Amy–but food is a fascinating topic for conversation, and the French know it.

  26. Commonweeder says:

    I heard your rant on NPR, and while I have done my share of writing about local food, and the importance of supporting new small farmers and farms in our rural area, I can tell you that when the Heath Gourmet Club meets for its monthly dinner, the talk may be about food, on the table, and recently enjoyed in other venues, but we don’t spend too much time pressing the ‘local’ point. Ideology at the table does get pretty boring. After mmm-mmm good! I want to talk about all the other wonderful things that are going on.

  27. Ha! You don’t have to worry Amy dear, President Hillary will ban the term Locavore in 18 months; she’s in bed with every BigFood/BigAg company.

    Still your statement/rant is pretty inane. As others above say, not even 1% of the US public knows the term. And what, 2% have heard of the Eat Local concept?

    Anyway, sorry for you being sooooo inconvenienced. Perhaps you should get yourself traded to Fox News for a player to be named later?

  28. Steve Jones says:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17840850

    Distributing Locally Grown Food Proves Challenging

    by Peter Payette

    Morning Edition, January 4, 2008· Many consumers want to eat locally grown produce. Many small farmers want to oblige but have difficulty getting the food shipped to a local market. The business is dominated by big distributors. In northern Michigan, one entrepreneur, is trying to solve the problem.

    Sorry Amy, looks like Morning Edition didn’t get your memo on shutting up about local food.

  29. Laurie says:

    If we want to try to change the social habit of obsessing over food, let’s concentrate on phenomena that encourage this obsession: companies that sell highly processed food made of long lists of un-pronounceable chemicals; fast-food restaurants; high-fructose corn syrup; industrial agriculture; and, perhaps most importantly, fad diets and the warped body image crisis of this country.

    Let’s not discourage a healthy and important social and environmental movement.

  30. Angelina says:

    Do you ever get tired of talking about gardening?

    You sound like one of those people who always get “bored” with things when other people catch on.

    Next thing your going to say is “I’m so bored of Global Warming, just take the trash out already.”

    So what is it you aren’t bored of talking about?

  31. Well, I DID listen to your piece on NPR, Amy—twice, since it was so beautifully written and delivered.

    Even though it was humorous, gentle, and harmless, it swings so wide of the strict and rigid scope of the typical open-minded NPR listener, I’m surprised they aired it. You will never be asked back.

    Be ready, you’ll receive far more vitriolic e-mails and letters in private than those naysayers above who, in the spirit of public discussion, only mildly seethe.

    Terrific bit. Extra kudos for choosing to flog such a relatively newborn horse.

  32. Josefa says:

    Wow. Guess I don’t ever have to read your blog again. Sorry that others read you, though. It’s a sad place, the internet.

  33. The Internet is a place reflecting exactly our world and the human experience. Our world, and the human experience, are works of wonder, of ease and challenge, pleasure and pain, grandeur and grief. Each day we can choose to be light-hearted or stern, grateful or ungrateful, understanding or belligerent, kind or unkind, loving or hateful.

    And yes, we can read or ignore that which we choose!

  34. Alejandra says:

    I loved it! I found this googling the phrase “locavores are annoying,” which I think they are. I’ve been working on my own little post about why I am so tired of hearing people talk about how many miles away their apples were grown and decided to see if anyone else felt the same. I’m so happy to see that you do! :)

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