The Freakonomics blog dissects the environmental and economic effects of “locavorism,” the kind of eating explored by The 100-Mile Diet. Good for the environment? Not necessarily:
This is a pretty strong argument against the perceived environmental and economic benefits of locavore behavior — mostly because Weber and Matthews identify the fact that is nearly always overlooked in such arguments: specialization (which Michael Pollan mostly dislikes, and which has been around for a long, long time) is ruthlessly efficient. Which means less transportation, lower prices — and, in most cases, far more variety, which in my book means more deliciousness and more nutrition.
Ezra Klein considered much the same question the other day, and dug up some figures suggesting that you can make a lot more difference for the planet by changing what you eat — specifically by cutting back on meat — than by getting obsessive about where your food comes from:
As Brad Plumer writes, the striking takeaway is that “on average, replacing just 21 percent of the red meat in the ‘typical’ diet with fish or chicken does as much, emissions-wise, as buying everything in that same diet locally.” That’s not, of course, an argument against eating locally. Taste, farming practices, sustainability, and much else point towards local consumption. But buying locally raised meats doesn’t get you off the environmental hook.
There’s much to be said for knowing where your food comes from and trying to understand the tradeoffs you’re making when you choose it and appreciating the unique connections between a grocery item and the land it comes from. But “local” is not a synonym for “virtuous.”