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🍏 "Bursting the ‘Eat Local’ Bubble"


Photo by Anne Preble / Unsplash

Hosts: Tamar Haspel & Mike Grunwald
Category: 🍏 Sustainable Food | Eat Local

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Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:18] TH: “I think one of the reasons that local food has gotten such currency and one of the reasons there's a widely held belief that buying local is better for the climate is just transportation.”

[2:57] MG: “When you look at food emissions, transportation produces less than 10% of them. […] You've got fertilizer, which is made of fossil fuels and creates all kinds of nitrous oxide. You've gotten manure, which also creates nitrous oxide as well as methane. You've got all those ruminant animals that are burping and that creates methane. Then you've got land use, you've got all these farms that now take up almost half the world. And we get out of cut down trees to make room for them and that deforestation creates emissions. So all of that ends up overwhelming the importance of transportation and logging our food from one place to another.”

[5:13] TH: “2006 […] was the year that Michael Pollan published The Omnivore's Dilemma […]. That was the book that really for the first time described to people what some of the excesses of our food system are. And it's the excesses of an industrialized food system, because that's the food system we have. And Michael Pollan made basically a generation of people start caring about where their food comes from. […] Pollan was, in the main, correct about the problems with our food system. He wrote about some of the problems with mono crops, he wrote about industrial animal agriculture. And a lot of that stuff was eye opening and absolutely correct.”

[10:13] MG: “Climate is a math problem. […] It turns out that a lot of climate has to do with efficiency. It's about how much food can we make and how much land with how many resources. And the more you can make with the fewest amount of resources, the better it's going to be for the climate. And it does turn out that some of these industrial practices that we hate so much, where they're using fertilizer, which does have all kinds of climate problems, but also helps stuff grow. And using pesticides, which are made in factories that do use fossil fuels, but also stop pests. It turns out, this is much more important to the climate calculus than how far food is moving, and whether it's being tended with love.”

[11:51] TH: “The crux of why local food isn't better for the climate, [is] because for the most part, small local farms are not growing vegetables as efficiently as they can on big mechanized farms in ideal climates, like California.”

[12:29] TH: “Vegetables are an incredibly small part of our agriculture and of our diet. So in the US, for example, we have 400 million crop acres. […] Vegetables are 1% of our crop acreage. And it's unlikely that they're ever going to be more, because there's not this huge demand for more American grown vegetables. American vegetable consumption has been flatlined since the 70s. So if we're talking about the impact of food on climate, vegetables are a blip. They're a rounding error. And so I think when we're talking about where you buy your vegetables, climate wise, in the big picture, it's just not going to matter very much.”

[14:41] TH: “Most people who look at [local food] rigorously come to the same conclusion, […] which is that it's not better for the climate. […] And by the way, it's not better for your health either. But there are things that it is better for. […] I think it keeps the money in local economies, which is a good thing. And also, […] I think it's a non-trivial thing, that the farmers market becomes a community touchstone that people look forward to going to. […] And no, we can't really quantify that, but it still matters.”

[22:45] TH: “If your food is transported by air, it turns all of that climate math on its head. If it flies, its carbon footprint goes up to the point where local asparagus would absolutely be the better choice. And the difficulty, though, is that it's really hard to know if your food flies.”

[27:29] MG: “Part of my objection to the kind of cult of local […] is that there's this illusion of transparency. […] That they know not just where it came from, but how it was made and really what its impact is on the planet and on ourselves. And I just think that's kind of bogus. Farming is a very complicated enterprise, where a lot of it has to do with: what kind of land is used? What was on that land before it became a farm? How much food does that farm produce? How many acres will be needed to produce the same amount of food that maybe a more efficient farm can produce? And these are not the kind of things that you can see.”

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🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 32 min | 🗓️ 06/21/2022
✅ Time saved: 30 min

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