Professor decries local-food movement and praises the ‘10,000-mile diet’

Local food is mostly a fad that won’t last because it’s inferior to the “10,000-mile diet.”

That was the message University of Toronto geography professor,a Pierre Desrochers delivered at the recent Alberta Beef Industry Conference in Banff.

“It really has become a way to protest against ‘the man,’” Desrochers said. “Backwards is the new forward.”

Locavores — those who promote local food production — have been making periodic appearances since the earliest days of modern transportation, but local food movements never last, he said.

National, and later global, food chains arose in the first place because they offer a wider assortment of food at a lower cost, and fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the year. The new twist this time is around the concept of ‘food miles.’

“We live in an age that is obsessed with carbon emissions,” said Desrochers.

But the argument that reducing food miles lowers emissions doesn’t hold water, he said. It’s more energy efficient to grow monoculture crops in climatically favourable regions and use fuel-efficient shipping, especially by container ships, to transport them than have small-scale market gardens, using pickups as transport, or to keep local food fresh the whole year in cold storage.

“Our modern logistics industry is fairly efficient,” he said.

Desrochers also disputed whether local food is more trustworthy. He noted there was a horsemeat scandal in 19th-century Britain, when local food was still the rule, and there are reasons to suspect what’s on sale at local farmers’ markets. He said a California journalist recently traced food sold at a market in that state back to a Costco.

Nor does local food production improve food security, he said.

“This is, by far, the stupidest and most dangerous argument,” said Desrochers, noting a drought or bad growing year would devastate a local area if food from outside the area wasn’t readily available.

Locavores and proponents of the 100-mile diet are really just romanticizing the past, he argued. There’s a place for local food, but it depends on offering consumers either better quality or a better deal, he said.

“Your conscience might care where your food comes from, but your body really doesn’t,” said Desrochers.

Until the mid-1800s, most Europeans were undernourished and we should celebrate the fact that food can now travel 10,000 miles.

“The problem is not that our system is too globalized, but rather that it’s not globalized enough,” he said.

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