Thursday, December 1, 2011

Inefficiency of Local Food

Nice post over on the Freakonomics blog (by a guy in the program I graduated from!) about the true costs of the locavore movement. (That post is a short version of this 4-page description of a study he did.) While no one is opposed to people growing vegetables in their home gardens, Steve Sexton argues that a large scale shift to local food would be disastrous for several reasons. Here's why.

Right now, most crops are grown where conditions fit the crop the best. For example, conditions in Idaho suit potato production, so they have specialized in growing potatoes. If people were to shift to producing them locally, they wouldn't be as productive, because the conditions aren't as well suited. So if we want to eat anything near the same amount of potatoes that we eat now, we could, but it would be more expensive from many perspectives.

1) It would require more chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides, to get the potatoes to grow in places that aren't so suitable.

2) It would require more land, since almost all land outside of Idaho produces a smaller amount of potatoes per acre than in other places. (Potatoes are just an example: the 4-page version of the study talks about corn, soy, oats, and milk.) More land used for farming means:

3) Cutting into wilderness

4) More spread out housing, which means

5) More gas burned as people have to drive more.

6) Finally, getting rid of "big ag" means higher prices on food.

While higher prices of corn will discourage us from producing tons of high fructose corn syrup, which may have positive effects on health in this country, higher prices on corn are potentially a nightmare for people in poor countries.

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