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Locavore cuisine

11/22/06 | by Adam | Categories: Potpourri

Link: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,72148-0.html?tw=wn_index_14

Wired is on a bit of a roll with reporting the somewhat bizarre eating fads. First, it was Calorie Reduced Diets (BoingBoing has a good link to that bit of insanity) and now it's "Locavore" wherein one tries to eat only foods created in their entirety from within 100 miles. That means that not only does the end product have to come from within that 100 mile radius but also anything that went into creating, processing and distributing it. That includes nitrates and phosphates for agriculture, antibiotics for livestock, and fuel for heating and transport.

The premise is to demonstrate how much food we take for granted is from distant realms and how much energy is consumed to get it to us. It's an environmental message wrapped up in a typically obscure middle-class package.

Think about this for a moment. This Google Map is approximately the 100 miles surrounding Calgary. None of the fruit or crop producing regions in BC are within the radius, so vitamin C will come solely from Alberta produce. We can grow apples and berries here but I've no idea what else. Saskatchewan is out of range so again you'll be dependent on Alberta crops for wheat, potatoes, carrots, corn and so forth. I'm not sure where Big Rock gets its hops and barley from, but hopefully it's within that radius. Say goodbye to sugar, although corn or beet-based sucrose should be available. Southern Alberta has plenty of livestock farms so people should be set for pork, chicken and beef, although I've no idea where their feed is grown. Herbs should be available but most spices won't be. As most of Alberta is still agricultural, we could probably make this work, but I'm not sure I'd want to try. As for energy, most of our gas and oil fields are in the north of the province so it might be interesting trying to meet that requirement.

I'm certainly not in favour of wasteful behaviour. However, I don't see how most people can even try to follow the locavore ideal, especially when living in a big city in a generally urban area. I'm sympathetic to the underlying message of supporting local producers -- seriously, only US grown onions, carrots and potatoes in Canadian grocery stores? When lettuce and apples from California are the preferred stock for Calgary supermarkets, there's something seriously screwy. I'm also aware of some economically stupid cases of exporting one product and then importing an identical one in Europe; I have little doubt that Canada does something similar.

Surely the correct route is to try to optimize access to what's available. If local produce is available, it's what should be on the shelves rather than bringing in an equivalent from far away. When we do import -- I like bananas and Alberta just doesn't grow them -- it makes sense to try to make the process as efficient as possible. Take this throwaway comment in the Big Rock Brewery history:

Big Rock saw an opportunity to expand its market place into the United States. Produce trucks hauling goods from California to Calgary were returning to California empty. Freight was inexpensive and the market in California for specialty beers had already been developed by beers like Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada. It was an opportunity to see how Big Rock's products competed directly against similar quality micro brewed beers.

That inefficient trucks rather than freight trains are being used to move produce over that kind of a distance is a another environmental issue.

Anyway, I have no particular answers to the issues that the article raises, just questions that I'm trying to work through. It's an interesting one.


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