Many people have emailed me about a New York Times Op-Ed from August 19, 2010: Math Lessons for Locavores, by Stephen Budiansky. I've started to feel a little silly continually cutting-and-pasting my response, so I decided to blog it!
Budiansky's blog is called liberalcurmudgeon.com, a name which may reflect his wish to be seen as controversial or contrary—and what better liberal sacred cow to assail than local food? Budiansky's main point in his piece is that food miles don't matter, because food transportation is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to food-related energy usage. This is a similar argument to the one that James McWilliams made in his book Just Food; in fact I suspect that Budiansky has read McWilliams book recently.
Budiansky's argument is rich in facts and figures but devoid of footnotes and references. While this may be the nature of an Op-Ed, it does make it hard for a critical reader to explore the facts. Regardless, even if we take all of his facts and figures to be accurate and contextually appropriate, his piece is flawed in may of the same ways as McWilliams' book (ways which I explored here).
Both he and McWilliams neglect or discount the value of a strong local economy.
Buying local helps to build the local economy, and helps to support small businesses.
Why is that important?
Supporting small businesses rather than large corporations is likely to result in a more uniform distribution of wealth—money to the middle-class rather than to the kingpins.
Also, if we keep money in the hands of the middle-class in our local economy, then the place where we live will perhaps be a nicer place to live.
Also, more local food production leaves us better in the face of some sort of infrastructure breakdown that might make food transportation more difficult.
What do I mean by infrastructure breakdown? Fuel shortage…natural disaster…human-made disaster…war…political crisis…strike…
So while transportation fuel is interesting (or maybe not), it is only one piece of the puzzle. That, at least, we can all agree on.
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