Monday, April 04, 2011

Locavorism in the Paleosphere

By Diana Hsieh

David Csonka of Naturally Engineered recently released the results of the Paleo Community Survey. The results were pretty interesting to peruse, although I didn't see any shockers.

I was a bit surprised by the number of paleo-eaters who place importance on eating locally-sourced foods. I regard locavorism as focusing on an inessential -- and potentially a waste of one's limited resources. (It's also dangerous, in that locally-based food economies incur far greater risks of famine.) The proper focus, I think, should be on finding the best-quality foods within the constraints of one's available resources -- meaning time, energy, and money. That may mean buying at a local farmer's market -- or at a large grocery store.

In other words, the fact that some food is produced locally doesn't add any extra value in and of itself. Sure, local foods may be fresher, tastier, and/or cheaper. In that case, they're worth choosing for those reasons, not simply because they're local. In many cases, the best values in food will be sourced from afar, because that region is best-suited for growing that kind of food. In such cases, to choose the locally-produced food instead would be a waste of one's own limited resources.

So am I missing something about the value of local foods? If you try to buy local, I'd love to hear in the comments why you think that's important. Is it a value in and of itself -- or merely a proxy for better-quality food?

Of course, in a truly free market, the economics of local foods might be quite different than they are now. Sure, large producers enjoy natural economies of scale, and that would often provide a competitive edge in a free market. However, in our current mixed economy, those large producers have an additional advantage in the form of economies of scale with respect to burdens imposed by government. Small producers simply aren't able to manage and mitigate the reams of byzantine regulations and onerous taxes as deftly and cheaply as large producers. (See this analysis by Joel Salatin.) Still, even in a fully free market, I can't see any benefit to local foods per se.

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