September 06, 2012 Features & Images » Feature Story

Food for thought 

Choosing local food over imports may not be as wise as you think

click to flip through (9) An aerial view of a crop duster spraying (usually fertilizers, pesticides, and/or fungicides), while flying low over a large agricultural farm’s fields.
  • An aerial view of a crop duster spraying (usually fertilizers, pesticides, and/or fungicides), while flying low over a large agricultural farm’s fields.

As the summer farmer's markets draw to a close and many get ready to start ordering their organic-veggie delivery boxes, perhaps it is time to consider where we get our food and how it is produced. Though the 100-Mile Diet and the idea of eating locally has exploded in the last few years, many argue the model is not the answer on a global scale. There is no denying that mass production of food is both the villain — GMOs and pesticides are responsible for colony collapse syndrome in bees and a decline in butterfly numbers (read the pollinators of the world) — and the hero, as it allows the mass feeding of people, for the most part in an affordable manner.

Local consultant and former Whistler municipal councillor Ralph Forsyth takes a look at some of the issues of the local food movement, exploring why he believes buying local isn't the long-term answer.

Taste over truth?

Biting into a freshly picked strawberry, the sweet juices and the fruit flavour flowering in your mouth, you are overwhelmed by the taste and sentimentality of the carefree days as a child when you would pick berries with your mom on those long summer days — it felt pretty close to food heaven. Recalling the sensations later that day you might mention it to your friends and remark on the succulent berry flavour: "How can they even be the same fruit as the giant, white inside, cardboard-flavoured crap we get at the grocery store?" you ponder.

There is no question that freshly picked, in-season, local food does have a distinct flavour and deliciousness that can't be matched. Local food also supports local farmers and buying at farmers' markets helps support the local food industry; it's a win–win and everyone is happy because we're eating healthier, buying local and saving the planet at the same time.

And just think of all the greenhouse gas emissions we've saved by not transporting the food here. For most of us this is where the story ends. We're satisfied that we've taken a principled stand, enjoyed a unique experience — whether it's picking berries, enjoying the slow food cycle or shopping at a farmers' market — and we can rest easy knowing we've done a good thing.

But the story doesn't end there, however. As appetizing as the local food movement looks, digesting the facts about it might give you heartburn.

According to some experts it is good intentions, romantic ideals about farming, the idea that big agri-business is inherently bad and an ideological backlash against globalization that is actually driving the Locavore Movement. The arguments for locavorism are challenging and persuasive and some are not without merit, but they tend to be button-pressing and emotionally laden. Food is personal. It is our most basic of needs; the idea of something being wrong with our food hits us right in the gut and everyone certainly has a right to worry about whether or not our food is fresh and good.

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