The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet

Alex Tiller - Wednesday, July 25, 2012

There’s a new book out by academic economists Pierre Desrochers and Hiroku Shimizu called “The Locavore’s Dilemma”, arguing an interesting premise: they say that the benefits of eating locally-grown food have been oversold by food activists, and that in fact we should be pursuing a “10,000 mile diet” – food grown industrially where it’s efficient to grow it, and then shipped to markets.

I haven’t gotten my copy yet, and when I do I’ll have to give it a carefully analytic read, but for now I’m going off what I’ve seen in the (fairly extensive) reviews and reactions to the book. I have to say I have my suspicions about the premise. Desrochers and Shimizu argue that local self-sufficiency is bad for the environment because (since people will demand certain foods whether they are well-suited for local agriculture or not) the crops will be grown in the wrong places, with bad consequences for the ecological balance. They do point out some historical examples of this, like the Colonial-era growing of wheat in the Shenandoah Valley, which did cause terrible erosion problems. And to that degree, I think their point is valid: there are some crops that just shouldn’t be grown in some places. But for the most part, we DON’T grow crops in those places.

Again, I’ll have to give the whole book a read because from what I’ve seen, the authors do make some good points about going overboard in the pursuit of local food, and I’d like to see those points firsthand. In the meantime, it looks like a very interesting read, and perhaps one with some useful challenges to conventional thinking, for anyone interested in the local-food movement. It’s always a good idea to give the other guys’ ideas a hearing – it helps us to understand our own concepts better, and to make them more defensible in the marketplace of ideas.