Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Locavore's Nonexistent Dilemma

Out of Charlottesville, the Hipster Capital of Virginia, comes an essay by Andrew Potter: "Lefties Take Aim: How Locavores Are the New Gun Nuts."

The article looks at the trend of rising hunting rates as related to the locavore movement; apparently lots of local foodies have taken to hunting their own food as the ultimate in local foodism.

It's pretty interesting, but what really caught my eye is Potter's appeal to a timeless, yet still bizarre, fallacy about so-called locavores:

[W]hat is so strange about the locavore movement is how much it aims to reverse the single most important factor in the development of civilization, namely, the specialization of skills and the division of labor. The new mantra is to do everything yourself, regardless of time, talent, skill, or inclination...

There's nothing wrong with the DIY ethos when it is pursued casually or recreationally, and in many ways, doing something for yourself that could be done cheaper and better through outsourcing or automation is the very definition of a hobby.

But locavores don't see themselves in those terms. Rather, the movement presents itself as a morally progressive and ecologically sustainable way of life that, properly implemented, will reform capitalism, agriculture, and the environment.

If anything, the locavore culture ties into an utterly reactionary world view, seeking to drag society back to the 19th century...

Well. I won't argue with his nod to the division of labor---I guess we've both read Smith---but it's hardly applicable here. I don't know how much time the author has spent with actual local foodies, but nearly all of us, myself included, have no desire to abolish the apportionment of skills and professions and resort to a radical DIY lifestyle. I cannot, and I have no desire to, farm cows or pigs or sheep in my backyard; that's why I contract my farmers to do it for me.

I am, however, able to raise chickens, as well as a substantial amount of vegetables, on a relatively small plot of land. Doing so, or doing so correctly, will be healthier for me and better for the planet. One can easily make "time, talent, skill and inclination" for these practices; for the love of God, tending chickens and growing tomatoes is not rocket science. Backyard agriculture is easy as hell; division of labor has nothing to do with it. Would I sub-contract my breathing to the lowest bidder who could do it for me?

As well, the notion that locavores want to "drag society back to the 19th century" is just nonsense. Who's dragging, and to what century? I want healthy and good food to eat, and I don't want it to be ecologically devastating to produce. I also want electricity and cars and paved roads. I think, in the end, that industrial food production is more of a relic of the past than is locavorism; industrial food is a brutish, simpleton way of feeding ourselves, one that possesses no knowledge about the fundamental relationships between man and the environment.

I guess some folks---and I don't know if the author of the article is one---simply believe that monoculture, CAFOs and long-distance shipping are signs of the future, or perhaps "progress." I find them to be neither, and I think the case can be convincingly argued that they are rather relics of the past, and of regression. Call me crazy (or a locavore, if you like).

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