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No, Walmart, that is not what "local" means


Clambering aboard the "buy local" trend undoubtedly helps Walmart's marketing, but, as Missouri-based National Public Radio journalist Abbie Fentress Swanson reported in February, "there's little evidence of small farmers benefiting, at least in the Midwest." Walmart, which defines "local" as grown in the same state, has increased its sales of local produce mainly by relying on large industrial growers.

So, Marin County grapes are "local" in San Diego? Aroostock county potatoes "local" in Portland? Long Island oysters "local" in Buffalo? Do tell! (I guess if you've got a global supply chain this could actually make sense: Local with respect to Planet Earth!

And besides fucking over the local farms in favor of big growers, there's another aspect...

And dammit, I can't find any linky goodness! I recall the argument being made that local food -- food from one's own foodshed -- was better for your immune system, because it was more likely to contain the local allergens and the other -- to use the scientific nomenclature -- "stuff" that your immune system needs to build up immunity too. But teh Google yields complete #FAIL. Did I dream this? Readers?

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Submitted by Lex on

How do you want to define "local"? Taken to its extreme, we'll be ideologically bound to only eat what we can grow ourselves. Not that i'm siding with WalMart here, because i'm not. But "local" like "organic" has become a word devoid of any real meaning ... it's just marketing slop fed to the liberal intelligentsia that's far more concerned with clearing its conscience and broadcasting its superiority than anything else.

WalMart ain't the only one screwing over small farmers in favor of big growers. All the organic shoppers are too. They force small farmers into technical and financial difficulties because they demand the right label for their ideology, something that the big growers can provide with ease. And since the vast majority don't understand horticulture or what the word "organic" means, they're easily fooled. Go read the OMRI list, it's a joke if you actually understand it and how it can be used while maintaining "organic" status.

Pesticides i can understand, though lambert himself has complained about even organic pesticides in "occupy the garden" because people who don't depend on bringing crops to harvest can afford to be picky and demanding of others. It changes when you're standing in a field watching mortgage payments being eaten by bugs. Over use of chemical fertilizers is damaging on multiple levels, but conflating fertilizers with poison no matter how they're used only exposes the complainer as someone who has zero understanding of how plants and soil work. When a few tablespoons of Urea per hill on certain crops could drastically increase a small growers yield with little to no negative impact on the soil or the environment but he can't do it because his consumer is so ideologically bound to ignorance that he'll lose his market, there's a problem. (And a damned shame that most of those consumers will hold their small, local grower to a different standard because they're soothed by a nice farm story and liberal use of the word "organic" on Big-Org packaging at the store. See, not understanding OMRI.)

The demanding local/organic consumer is as big a threat to reforming the food system as Monsanto or WalMart.

Submitted by lambert on

.... that's for sure!

The real answer is that I don't know, but I do know that jurisdictional or artificial mileage numbers aren't the right method. "Local" might be with respect to constraints to which the body adapted: Some degree of variation in watersheds or airsheds and the organic (living) nature of food. That's why I wish I had more information on micro stuff like pollen for example. Something like X degrees of separation except for what we eat. For example, distance is a proxy for freshness but it's not the distance per se that's the issue (carbon and food chains aside).

On another note, I've got total sympathy with using urea to make the mortgage. However, when the food chain collapses* ("When something cannot go on forever, it will stop" -- Herbert Stein) more better urea is not going to be the next big thing. Getting good yield out of your local patch is going to be.

NOTE * What if those empty shelves at Walmart were a leading indicator. Eh?