The Locavore’s Dilemma

Monday, June 25, 2012

Economic geographer Pierre Desrochers discusses the locavore movement, arguing that locavorism may be just a well-meaning marketing fad, or possibly a dangerous distraction from solving serious global food issues.  In The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet, he and his co-author, policy analyst Hiroko Shimizu, explain the history, science, and economics of food supply.


Pierre Desrochers

Comments [41]

Mitch W. from Pennsylvania

I don't know why it is assumed in this program that you cannot grow heirloom tomatoes on a large scale. I'm sure it will be more difficult than growing the standard fare but, they too, would benefit from economies of scale over growing small patches of heirloom tomatoes. With proper packaging and refrigeration, i believe they could be shipped large distances too. After all, the relatively small heirloom grower has to package those tomatoes sufficiently well to get them from the farm to market in sufficient quantities to make it worthwhile.

Jul. 26 2012 10:39 PM
Mitch W. from Pennsylvania

"The idea that we could not survive on local food throughout the year is simply ridiculous. Plenty of highly nutritious foods can be stored through the winter through root cellaring, fermentation, canning, drying, and freezing."

No one said you coudn't survive. But it will be much harder for most to do so. Besides, i tried root cellaring once, but my neighbors in the apartment below would have none of it !

Jul. 26 2012 10:28 PM
Mitch W. from Pennsylvania

"eating food locally is how humans have operated for thousands of years...."

Yes, all our best ideas came from thousands of years ago. I particularly gravitate to the theory that illness is caused by demons and they have to be beat them out of you !

Jul. 26 2012 10:24 PM
MarK from city

BRAVO Mr. Desrochers. People the energy and resources needed to grow food is not free. Like everything else you have to do an energy comparison.

Jun. 26 2012 06:38 PM

The economy of scale is not necessarily the best thing for our food. There are environmental and health considerations which, in the long run, really matter more to our well-being, and lower prices are indeed NOT necessarily proportional to a smaller environmental footprint. Our health and environmental sustainability are much more important considerations, and by the way it seems that smaller producers often take much greater care in these regards. It seems to me that Mr. Desrochers has a large chip on his shoulder because of a perceived personal slight, and that is causing him to approach the subject with a predetermined mindset.

Jun. 26 2012 03:28 AM

William, Japan is quite a big country, you know ... and it is quite misleading when you say the countryside was transformed into a nuclear production area. The truth is, we were overconfident in our "integrity" to manage nuclear energy. Rich rice fields are right next doors to our nuclear plants and we thought to ourselves we were doing a great job until accidents, coverups and 3-11 exposed our arrogance.

Food policy in Japan is a disturbing subject. It is a shame that my country throws away so much. According to a research perhaps 10 years or so ago, the planet's starvation problem could be solved by all the food that is thrown out in the United States and Japan combined.

As the guest explained, I think the wasted food problem is the first and foremost issue that need to be addressed here in the US. Americans have no idea of how wasteful they are when it comes to throwing away edible food. Ask anybody from any other part of the world. You'll see.

Overall, the perspective the guest gave was a vital important one, fair and balanced. I will get the book for sure.

Jun. 25 2012 03:28 PM
William from Manhattan

To expand on my comment about Japanese documentaries about terrible policy decisions leading to Fukushima, and its relevance to this book. Post WWII, authorities in Tokyo decided to convert the Japanese countryside from agricultural production to production of nuclear power, to fuel profligate power consumption of the urban elite. Surely your author is aware of this history. If not, he can view "friends after 3.11," "Mujin chitai (No Man’s Zone)," and "Nuclear Nation."

Jun. 25 2012 02:11 PM
jaime Delio from Ellenville, NY

Its not one or the other. You can have local production throughout an economy that is linked like a spider web. Creating a large farm that is protected against shortages and blights while still meeting production goals. Eventually this network could become world wide, producing what we need , when we need it and getting it to who needs it. It might cost a little more at first but the protection it would provide our food chain is not something to be left to the dangers presented to our survival. Remember allowing market conditions to dictate means many times food rots on docks because of price pressures while people in the world starve

Jun. 25 2012 02:04 PM

The road to hell is paved with economists who believe everything can be boiled down to dollars and that human nature as well as all other nature can be mastered by a new technology.

Jun. 25 2012 02:03 PM
John A.

Oh, and on food security. If spoiling the USA customer mandates empire-scale controls around the world, this cost, of increased "defense" spending is probably being overlooked in the total savings.

Jun. 25 2012 01:58 PM
Linda Griggs from LES

I'm so glad to hear this other side of the story.
I'm sick of people telling me we can grow our own food on our rooftops. The numbers just don't back that up.
And I'm dead tired of hearing about farmer's markets -- boutique food for the elite.

Oh and BTW, I got sold hot house tomatoes at a farmer's market in NJ.

I've tried to grow my own food too and thank god I don't have to keep myself alive on that. I'm the world's worst gardner although the possums seemed to enjoy it.

Jun. 25 2012 01:57 PM
kp from nj

just 25 strawberry plants in your yard produce enough berries in NJ for a family of 5...why has there been no talk about the 'victory garden' in the local food movement? We raise over 50% of the fruit and vegetables we eat at our NJ home (it is not a farm). I do still have to buy avocados...

Jun. 25 2012 01:55 PM
Amy from Manhattan

If fewer people ate meat, much more food could be raised & many more people fed on the same amount of land.

Jun. 25 2012 01:55 PM

Let's discuss the genetic blight that is a result of industrial farming.

A single episode of contagion could very realistically eliminate any of our industrial food species.

Jun. 25 2012 01:54 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Mr. Desrochers's characterization of how much of the year it's feasible to eat locally is exaggerated. I've been involved in a CSA that supports an organic farm near Albany, & the food deliveries run from May into November (granted, not long into November). Some of the produce is grown in greenhouses to make it available beyond when it would be otherwise.

I think he's also trying to cast all locavores into the mold of the few who set a strict limit on the radius of the area they'll get there food from.

Finally, a lot of the reason small farmers are leaving is that large agribusiness & the advantages, both financial & governmental (Farm Bill, anyone?) make it very hard to keep family/small farms operating.

Jun. 25 2012 01:53 PM
lide from brooklyn

Can the guest address the issue of lack of humane raising of the animals in large agribusiness?

Jun. 25 2012 01:53 PM
William from Manhattan

What a gimmicky concept - beginning with the title. The author has an emotional reaction to an imagined slight to his wife, and therefore has insight into food policy? And spurious. Japan is no model for sustainable policy re food, energy, etc? Has he viewed no Japanese documentaries about the terrible policy decisions leading to Fukushima? I think this is a sensationalist book, designed to make money.

Jun. 25 2012 01:52 PM
Michael Feldman from Manhattan

What does your guest feel about food overproduction and waste? Over 40% of food is wasted in this country. Perhaps focus on less food but better quality food grown locally will make people appreciate their food and waste less. Not to mention we are dealing with epidemics of diet related diseases due to over consumption of bad quality food laced with anti-biotics, pesticides, herbicides and bacterial/viral diseases from mass produced low quality food.

Jun. 25 2012 01:51 PM

Uhmm, is it just me or, is this guy just a pedantic blowhard?

If he has a point, he's so enamored of what he perceives to be his "superior" intelligence that he is completely incapable of making his point.



Jun. 25 2012 01:49 PM

It's good to question assumptions, but this just seems like an attempt to make money (provocation sells). Everyone knows of the carbon footprint left by shipping produce halfway around the world. In the end, that is not good for the health of the planet or humans. Moreover, food tastes better when grown and eaten locally. I've spent a lot of time in Turkey, where all the produce is local, shipped within the country, and nothing in the States (except farm-fresh produce) compares to the flavor. Studies have shown it's healthier, too. For instance, watermelon that is not stored for a long while in a refrigerated space has more antioxidants. (google it.) Also, check out perma-culture.

Jun. 25 2012 01:48 PM

Part of the reason so much fossil fuel is used in the farming of crops, is because of the intensive monoculture that this book promotes.

Jun. 25 2012 01:48 PM

Guessing the guest never heard about the dust bowl and has never flown over the middle of the U.S. to see how inappropriate it is for raising grain, given how dry it is.

Jun. 25 2012 01:48 PM

isn't the reality that until we as individuals start voluntarily making real sacrifices in terms of the luxuries so many of us enjoy (EVEN in a horrible economy), the guest is making some extremely important points?

Jun. 25 2012 01:46 PM

The idea that we could not survive on local food throughout the year is simply ridiculous. Plenty of highly nutritious foods can be stored through the winter through root cellaring, fermentation, canning, drying, and freezing. Greens can be grown 12 months out of the year, even in cold climates. I live in New England and eat quite healthfully on local grown fruits and vegetables, 12 months out of the year.

Jun. 25 2012 01:45 PM

To Judi

Question: How are the prices in Japan for fresh fruits versus those in the US? For a high enough price, you can anything on this planet delivered fresh to your door.

Jun. 25 2012 01:45 PM

Any "moral" benefits of locally sourced food are severely undermined by the cost rising to an unaffordable level for many working people, not to mention that without industrial farming methods (not that these couldn't be improved!) many people worldwide would starve. Traditional methods simply will not produce enough food to feed our planet's huge population. Thanks for having this guest on the show!

Jun. 25 2012 01:45 PM

I personally know at least half the farmers whose food I eat.

Jun. 25 2012 01:44 PM
Fabian Kean from Toronto

The silly comment about the Japanese suggesting that importing your food is parasitic makes very little sense.

Canada has most of North America's fresh water and if America faces a drought I don't think Canadians would lecture American's saying why did you live in Texas or California desert.

We would probably ship you some water.

Jun. 25 2012 01:43 PM
John from Brooklyn

Mr. Desrocher's argument seems to perpetuate capitalism's greatest failings. Does the present economic crisis not sufficiently expose the dangers of concentrating too much in the hands of very few? How does this sound like anything other than an awful idea when it's the global food supply? We eat that, you know?

Jun. 25 2012 01:42 PM
Liza from Brooklyn, NY

Is there not an ecological argument for eating locally? One that is different from where a car is assembled?

Jun. 25 2012 01:41 PM

What about the environmental cost of transporting these foods thousands of miles, sometimes a round-trip for processing alone?

Jun. 25 2012 01:39 PM

I recently was visiting friends in Tokyo and found the fruits and vegetables to be PERFECTION. Ripe, ready to eat when purchased, and absolutely delicious. How do they do it if everything is imported from afar?

Jun. 25 2012 01:38 PM
John A.

Some of the effects of "Lost efficiency" (comment 1).
More Jobs. More attention to environmental damage. More attention to detail. Net gain to the national/state economy. Loss of a Monoculture and its nonadaptive vulnerability. Smaller corporations equal a less effective (antisocial) propaganda.

Jun. 25 2012 01:37 PM
Amanda from Brooklyn, NY

Although he has a Japanese colleague, your guest is ignorant of Japanese food culture and of the different types of rice grown in different locations in Asia and elsewhere. The rice grown in Thailand and in general in mainland Asia is Indica rice, long-grained and highly fragrant when cooked. Japanese rice is short-grained, more glutinous in quality and is Japonica rice. It has an entirely different flavor and texture the Indica rice. Japonica rice is also grown in California, and is highly valued by Japanese travelers to the US, who buy large quantities of California short-grained rice to take home to Japan.
Much of Japanese culture derives from agricultural practices, particularly from rice culture. The protectionist prohibitions on imported rice in Japan have been put in place in probably futile attempts to protect its farming culture--specifically, the cultivation of rice.
Their preference for Japanese rice is based on both cultural ideas but just as much on a preference for more glutinous, short-grained rice.

Jun. 25 2012 01:37 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

There is a strong & constantly recurring tendency in our culture to instantly adopt the latest trendy cause, but to resist thinking beyond the "bumper sticker" slogan.

I find this to be true about almost any contemporary issue and the susceptibility to do so true of both (all?) sides of the political divide.

The guest and his ideas are a refreshing exception and example of this. He has chosen to "dig deeper" and that is rare.

Jun. 25 2012 01:36 PM

If we are to have confidence in foods grown in other countries, there need to be international standards, which are consistently opposed as "protectionism".

Jun. 25 2012 01:36 PM

What's wrong with eating fruit only in season? Who needs to eat strawberries in the winter. In fact, who would want to since they taste like cardboard.

Jun. 25 2012 01:35 PM

eating food locally is how humans have operated for thousands of years. common sense would say you shouldn't be able to eat strawberries 10 months out of the year unless you live WHERE they grow for 10 months out of the year.

Jun. 25 2012 01:33 PM
johnleemedia from UWS

very interesting perspectives on locavorism in "Aerotropolis" by Kasarda & Lindsay. For example they quote in-depth study that showed how perishables exported to UK from Kenya had smaller carbon footprint then same items exported from Netherlands to UK...

Jun. 25 2012 01:31 PM

Monoculture, old as it is, has never been as massive as today, and totally destructive of the environment.

The market will never solve the food problem because in every country on earth the government is heavily involved in it ag industry.

Jun. 25 2012 01:31 PM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

Pierre Desrocher seems to be one of those exceptionally rare systems thinkers who has somehow broken through our culture's preference anything else it seems. Americans mostly seem to prefer making complex decisions based on the emotional appeal of symbolic arguments. That's a kind of "systems thinking" itself, if the emotions reflect an immersion in all sides of the issues.

I think the locavore movement has certainly overlooked how suspicious it is to advocate reverting to local economies from general free market economies. Doing that you lose the efficiency advantages of specialization, economies of scale, and low prices of goods. That means the delivery of goods is less efficient, and delivering the product in fact imposes higher impacts on the earth.

There's a very simple reason why end consumption products generally have physical impacts on the earth roughly proportional to their price. Actually 100% of the money you pay gets passed along to other people, in a long chain of human services. So every dollar then goes to pay for average personal consumption, because of the diversity of people who contributed to bringing you the product. It means all end consumption spending will tend to have close to "average" impacts per $.

That's real "systems science", made to provide a very simple tool, a reliable way to measure the real scale of environmental impacts of things. You may not have heard of it, not even thinking of where your money goes perhaps, but also because it tends to spoil the "urban myths" and emotional reasoning people often prefer. So, when local food is more expensive you're paying for more consumption behind the scenes.

A published and recognized paper on the subject is at

Jun. 25 2012 11:22 AM

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