Review: The Locavore’s Dilemma

The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet, by Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu. New York: Public Affairs, 2012. 256 pp. $26.99 (hardcover).


Observe the enormous bounty of food at your local grocery store. Note the fresh fruit and vegetables from around the world—bananas and coconuts are imported from Caribbean islands; strawberries, melons, and peppers travel from California or Florida to stores across the land; blueberries and mangos come from Central and South America; and so on.

Likewise, meat, fish, eggs, and dairy originating from distant agricultural producers are available in abundance throughout the year. Chilean, South African, and Australian producers supply food for consumers during the winter months of northern U.S. states and Canada, where the growing season is short. Whether coffee from Sumatra, rice from India, or lamb from New Zealand, a great variety of food is always available and affordable, thanks to the producers, shippers, and distributors who make it so.

What if, instead of being imported from all over the world on trains, planes, boats, and trucks, all of our food had to be produced locally? Would our food be fresher, more nutritious, and safer if it were not produced and distributed by industrial operations? Professor of geography Pierre Desrochers and his wife, Hiroko Shimizu, address these questions and more in their book The Locavore’s Dilemma.

“Locavores” are people who believe that “an ever-growing portion of our food supply should be produced in close physical proximity to the consumers who will eat it” (p. 4). Desrochers and Shimizu describe locavorism as part of a larger cultural movement that is concerned with “the nature of foodstuffs being supplied” according to the SOLE components: Sustainable, Organic, Local, and Ethical (p. 4). The authors observe that “locavores belong to an environmentalist sect that makes a moral issue out of where your food is grown” (p. 8).

Although Desrochers and Shimizu concede to the appeal of growing an urban garden for summertime fresh vegetables and patronizing farmers markets for the social experience, they point out that historical efforts to establish local food initiatives failed. They write, “Locavores might wax poetic about wartime gardening and other past initiatives, but the fact remains that none of them lasted once most people had other options available to them” (p. 39).

The truth, according to Desrochers and Shimizu, is that industrial agriculture and global trade has consistently and dramatically increased the quantity and quality of food that is available today. “In the last two centuries . . . consumers went from shopping in ‘dry good’ stores to the ‘permanent summertime’ produce sections of progressively larger supermarkets whose ever expanding range of offerings have become only safer, healthier, and considerably more affordable” (p. 29).

Via copious research and with ample evidence, Desrochers and Shimizu argue that “locavorism can only result in higher costs and increased poverty, greater food insecurity, less food safety, and much more significant environmental damage” (p. 14). . . .

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