J500 Media and the Environment

Danger of Localism by sachikom
March 25, 2008, 4:29 pm
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , , , ,

Eating and consuming locally has significant impact on reducing consumption of fossil fuel and pollution. I love local organic food. They are fresh and healthy!

Now, I became a little skeptical about localism, such as buying local products and avoiding flight or driving. Here’s Bill McKibben’s comment, which I consider fanatic. His solution to the climate crisis:

Either we build real community, of the kind that lets us embrace mass transit and local food and co-housing and you name it, or we will go down clinging to the wreckage of our privatized society. Which leaves us with the one piece of undeniably good news: we were built for community. Everything we know about human beings, from the state of our immune systems to the state of our psyches, testifies to our desire for real connection of just the kind that an advanced consumer society makes so difficult.”

Actually, his comment is nothing so new. Advocating pure localism will eventually reach to his idea of the “real community.” My concern is what if the whole community, country or even world turn into a totally self-sufficient life? Basically, you would only consume what your community produces. In that case, I’d move to the West coast. I like seafood, but I’d have to ask my Kansas friend to smuggle beef. I’m not sure if I can ever stay awake without coffee.

One Week’s Worth of Food Around Our Planet” says:

“Here’s something that I came across which I thought was very poignant. One week’s worth of food from around the world. The pictures say it all.”

What did you interpret from the pictures? First, I didn’t feel either “poignant” nor guilty. Instead, I appreciated what I have. Second, the pictures reflect their own culture and make me feel like trying all those different food. (I like exotic food.) Third, I was wondering which one is the most idealistic diet for the environment.

I realize how fortunate I am. It might be my Japanese arrogance, but people in Chad are missing out a lot of good food. Trade makes us possible to access those food. How can I help the country develop strong economy, produce goods, export and be successful in the global market? Although shipping is bad for the environment, they should try the world’s different ingredients and food, which enriches our lives.


Photo Credit: Grunabi

Sacrifice is not my kind of environmentalism. We have to find a balance between our consumers’ life and the environment. Consuming locally is an important idea, but it also comes down to the balance.


The New York Times discusses pros and cons of local food in terms of environmentalism. Eating locally can reducing consumption of fossil fuel. But we cannot measure carbon footprint only by food miles alone, considering:

“factor inputs and externalities” – like water use, harvesting techniques, fertilizer outlays, renewable energy applications, means of transportation (and the kind of fuel used), the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed during photosynthesis, disposal of packaging, storage procedures and dozens of other cultivation inputs.

Sachiko Miyakawa


6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Sachiko – great post. I do agree that taking localism to the most extreme radical lengths could be severely limiting in terms of choice. I’m a big grains and corn guy so I’d probably stay in the Midwest, ha. I’ve read most of Bill McKibben’s book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. I’m pretty sure the quote in your post is from that book. I’m not sure McKibben is advocating total localism, however. While McKibben is certainly an advocate of local food (a large part of the book explains his winter eating local food) he’s also a huge advocate of socially connected communities. He’s also been very critical of gluttonous consumerism which he feels is not conducive to social interaction. The book also mentions how people are much more likely, for example, to engage in conversation at a local farmer’s market than they are at a chain grocery store. I think McKibben’s main point is that seeking out and buying local food is an excuse for people to engage with one another. In a way, the food is of secondary importance to the conversations. I would say McKibben, while slightly radical and maybe vaguely utopian, is really pretty sensible and one of the more thoughtful voices in the environmental movement.

I’m also friends with him on facebook.


Comment by vincemeserko

With our infrastructure (supply chain) as it is now, I think it’s very important to consider keeping it local whenever possible. I’d like to think that we eventually work through the issues of agriculture (pesticides, fertilizers, erosion, livestock greenhouse gas emissions, etc.), fossil fuel transportation and bad packaging to truly renewable 0 emission, 0 waste alternatives.

It may seem a long way off, but I remain hopeful it’s sooner than we think. Perhaps an ice shelf the size of Connecticut about to break off the Antarctic will inspire everyone to move more quickly to tackle these issues. I hope so.

In the meantime, I’ll buy local as much as I can.

Regarding the social aspect of localization, I think people will find real ways to connect face-to-face that don’t necessarily involve communal living. We’re humans. Connecting is what we do.

– David

Comment by dshawla

Great analysis. This kind of information is obscured when we reduce everything to tips like Go Local! We definitely need to put that practice in a larger context, as you suggest.
I really like what one of my food heroes Judy Wicks suggests — supporting food grown within local contexts:
“A global food system based on a network of local food communities provides local self-reliance in basic needs, while trading through fair trade relationships for products that are unique to a particular region. In this system, economic control resides locally and ownership is spread broadly.”

Comment by j500


i agree—i couldn’t survive without california or florida oranges, but i wouldn’t trade my beef either. maybe we should focus on eating “local” by means of nations? i loved seeing all the cultural aspects of the food, as well—and it was funny how the american cultural foods were pizza, soda and potato chips. a melting pot of packaging! 🙂


Comment by kimwallace

Vince- Wow. How did you become friends? Does he have a lot of cool pictures on facebook?
I took the quote from AlterNet, but I should read his book, too. Maybe I didn’t get enough of his idea from the portion.
Yes, social interaction is definitely a benefit. Whenever I go to the farmers’ market, I buy more than I need and it’s because of those friendly and sweet vendors!

David-I buy local food as possible as I can. But my concern is some people give too much credit for local food and become close-minded. “Connecting” is important, but I’m afraid too much local food would break people’s connection with foreign countries.

Simran- I like what you said of Judy Wicks’ idea. But I think it’s not an easy thing. How do we decide what’re the products “that are unique to a particular region.” For example, the weather of California or Washington more fits to producing wine. But Lawrence has a winery, Kugler’s Vineyard, too. Being able to produce the products does not necessary mean efficient.

Also, do we enough farmers to sustain a community? We have to give them a financial incentive to stay in farms. That would raise the price of food. Or should we invest in machines and technology so that we don’t need to hire many human resources? but that would conflict the idea of social interaction or connection between producers and consumers.

Kim- Yes, I agree. Local should include nations. That’s actually one of Japan’s concerns. Japan relays food from abroad much. This not only bad for the environment, but also the export is sometimes vulnerable to political unsuitability of other countries and the price of oil.

Comment by sachikom

By Sachiko Miyakawa

Comment by sachikom

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