Freakonomics Radio: You Eat What You Are

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dates and times for this program: Wednesdays: 8pm on 93.9FM; Saturdays: 6am on 93.9FM and NJPR, 2pm on AM820 and 4pm on 93.9FM; Sundays: 8pm on AM820 and NJPR

Americans are in the midst of a food paradox: we have access to more and better and cheaper food than ever before but at the same time, we are surrounded by junk food and a rise in obesity and heart disease.  In this hour-long episode of Freakonomics Radio, Stephen Dubner talks about our massive, but balky food network with economist Tyler Cowen, who argues that agribusiness and commercialization are not nearly the villains that your foodie friends might have you think. We also hear from food philosopher Michael Pollan, who weighs in on a number of our problems, and chef Alice Waters, who talks about a renewed appreciation for the American farmer.  

In the second half of this program, we explore whether eating local can solve most of our food problems. We check in on Santa Barbara County, Calif., one of the top agriculture-producing counties in the U.S., which imports nearly all of the produce it eats, and we run the numbers on how many carbon emissions are actually created by shipping food around the country (or the world).  Finally, we ask whether there is a moral upside to eating food grown far away, and we offer some unconventional advice for people trying to do less damage to the earth every time they eat.

Comments [5]

The truest thinkers in this field are not dogmatic in their advocacy for local food. They view it as one of several approaches that, on the whole, are healthier for the earth, our bodies, and social justice than the food system currently in place.
There are real concerns with the current food system that are raised throughout this podcast, such as how local produce can make it to customers in the face of a natural disaster. We'll likely be seeing more "natural" disasters, thanks in large part to climate change (which can, in turn, thank a food system that pollutes so recklessly). These concerns are never fully resolved in this podcast. Instead, we get a glorification of "eating grapes that are keeping up the standard of living in Chile." Is Glaeser sure that his grapes are keeping up this standard, and that the Chilean workers are not being treated poorly? He may be; he may have done his research. However, I sincerely doubt that everyone who picks up Chilean grapes has done so. Nor should they have to; we should all be able to buy food without worrying about the labor conditions of the growers. That's why farmer's markets are so refreshing: a consumer can actually speak to a person involved with the farm and get genuine answers to questions about the food she is purchasing.
Economics is too narrow a lens through which to examine food ethics. This is an interdisciplinary matter, calling on sociology, history, psychology, philosophy, medicine, and authentically inherited cultural wisdom - and, yes, economics as well. How to seek out and consume the most ethical, affordable, and nutrient-dense food is one of the greatest challenges we face as a society, and will not be solved easily - and certainly not by outright dismissing local food.

Dec. 04 2012 11:10 PM
Mallory from NYC

I have to say that what bugs me about freakanomics is it's coy ironic counter intuitive bs. I was just listening to the show which had some pretty intelligent people talking about food and it's production in this country and then I was supposed to give equal weight to Levitt "an economist" talk about his nostalgia for farming and about how his failed attempt to get his kids interested via a failed attempt at hydroponic cherry tomato planting was supposed to be persuasive. I could give a crap about the economics of whether your kids found hydroponics boring or your neighbors complaining about the ultra violet lights. Growing food with air is a pretty lame way to replicate farming. And if you are only nostalgic for farming you are not going to do much good. Then he has the balls to say that the reason people now a days grow food or bake bread is that we have it soo good that we need to bring "hardship" on ourselves to find meaning. I make my own bread because its relaxing and it tastes better than anything I can buy in the store. AND because I know WTF is in it. Which makes me happy. And I know a lot of people who know how to grow food and do it because its more affordable. I'm a little sick of clever economists getting all psychological and telling me why I do things. Why do you get to monetize stuff you don't care about or understand?

Nov. 25 2012 09:02 PM

I agree with your guest about his antipathy to buying local food simply because it's locally grown. The farmer's market in my neightborhood of jackson heights ,queens new york -is filled with fruit ,vegetables and other goods at least 3 times the price of fruit and vegetables i can buy in my supermarket. There is no way i will pay 3 times the price for a tomato because it is locally grown. i won't do that with any food item.I trust agribusiness farms more then i do local organic farms for quality control and safety.If i buy foods in season-berries in summer, apples and citrus in winter say- i have access to good quality fruits and vegetables and reasonable pricesfrom supermarkets or fruit stnds.That they be fresh and in season and affordable matters to me more then where they are grown.

Nov. 25 2012 08:26 PM
JF from BKLN


Nov. 21 2012 09:36 PM
jf from BROOKLYN


Nov. 21 2012 09:31 PM

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