Locavoracious: The Case Against James McWilliams

Close to the end of the day yesterday we threw up a two-sentence excerpt from a polemic against locavorism that ran in the New York Times’ Freakonomics blog. It was written by James McWilliams, a historian at Texas State, and it purported to outline some of the obstacles to a truly sustainable national (or global!) locavore culture. McWilliams arbitrarily sets locavore boundaries along state lines, and points out — correctly, if not necessarily relevantly — that while with some modifications New Yorkers could eat healthfully, Arizonans are right out screwed.

We wondered what the blogospheric reaction would be, and boy howdy! From Michael Morowitz of The Local Beet:

The first comment at the bottom of [McWilliams’s] blog post hits the nail on the head when he points out that Mr. McWilliams is “setting up a straw locavore”. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a locavore or even anyone at a farmer’s market who is pushing for diverse, independent regional food systems. We understand that coffee doesn’t grow in Iowa and there’s not too much wheat growing in Arizona. Most locavores I’ve spoken to advocate a more simplified diet that focuses on the best of what their region has to offer. Either we make some sacrifices to avoid foods that aren’t local, or we make concessions for the things we enjoy or need.

Mr. McWilliams spent a lot of energy attacking a position that really just doesn’t exist. [His argument illustrates] what’s behind a bit of my frustration with the word “locavore”. They both seem to believe that it’s an unyielding point of view, like veganism. They’re taking this misconception and attacking a belief that doesn’t really exist, meanwhile taking aim at practical local eaters at the same time. Motivations behind eating local are not singular nor are they unyielding.

Here in our own comments, Mike Gebert of Sky Full of Bacon puts it a little more succinctly:

I think his response is fairly insane, since it assumes, basically, that there’s no intermediate step between “eat rock-hard Chilean produce that still smells like jet fuel” and “live entirely off what grows within 50 miles of Phoenix.”

Surely the aspiration to eat local will accomplish certain positive things (producing a better economy for local farmers, creating better-tasting meals) at a point well short of total adoption by the residents of the USA. I’m really just not worried about what would happen if we got to that point, since I can’t imagine it happening.

Oooh, we love a good strawman takedown. Go team rational!

Will The Anti-Locavorism Never End? [Freakonomics Blog]
Double Rebuttal [The Local Beet]
Another Quote Of The Day [previously]

[Photo: “gene thiel’s organic heirloom carrots,” via cafemama’s Flickr]

Locavoracious: The Case Against James McWilliams