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The Mac Weekly - April 25, 2008
Eat Local? No, Eat Global
By Andrew Johnson
Every few months Café Mac does something that requires me to skip the meal in protest of the one sided logic used behind the presentation. This week it was another attempt to try to establish a dichotomy between globalization and the environment, specifically in regards to eating local.
I understand that this charge is largely supported by the campus and that there are some compelling arguments on the side of eating local, but I do believe there are several compelling arguments on the side of eating global. These reasons are the motivation for writing this opinion piece, while enjoying my protest Jimmy John's sandwich, which I truly hope has as many imported things as possible.
I am going to focus on the environmental reasons to eat global, because I feel that they will be the most compelling for the average Macalester student, but when you are evaluating the whole issue do not forget the importance of issues like comparative advantage and division of labor.
Another concern is the loss of utility, take for instance me not getting my daily banana and being very distraught. I find these points extremely compelling, but they will be left for another article or a discussion some afternoon.
The key issue is that calculations of the impact of food based solely on the distance that the food travels is woefully inadequate as a measure of the complete carbon impact of food. Landcare Research-Manaaki Whenua, a prominent New Zealand-based environmental research group found that factoring in other externalities of production, such as, "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,"1 leads to surprising outcomes.
Surprisingly, they found that, "lamb raised on New Zealand's clover-choked pastures and shipped 11,000 miles by boat to Britain produced 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton while British lamb produced 6,280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton, in part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed."
Along with the possibility of better production styles it is also important to note that food is transported incredibly efficiently to minimize costs. My banana is not flying in its own seat, it is crammed onto a cargo ship full of other bananas. This leads to a cost of a few cents a meal in environmental damages.
Furthermore, around two thirds of the damages that food is associated with causing to the environment are related to congestion and accidents. This is a very worthy consideration the next time someone wants to travel to the St. Paul farmer's market. Even if you bike there, the process of biking there burns calories, which need to be replenished with food that causes environmental harm.
Finally, in terms of the evils of the corporation and big factories it is important to note that, "the average household in the United States generates one third less trash each year than does the average household in Mexico, partly because packaging reduces breakage and food waste.
Turning a live chicken into a meal creates food waste. When chickens are processed commercially, the waste goes into marketable products (such as pet food), instead of into a landfill. Commercial processing of 1,000 chickens requires about 17 pounds of packaging, but it also recycles at least 2,000 pounds of by-products."
By this logic, it is best to eat as global as possible, so as to justify an increase in factory size, which will decrease waste, due to lack of breaking, recycling, and possible economies of scale.
I am not saying that everyone drop what they are doing and join my team, but I do ask that the entire picture be viewed, as best as possible, before we have huge campaigns that run counter to the goals that they claim to have. I understand that there is a general distaste for capitalism, globalization, and free trade, but if they are serving the environment better than a system of eating local, maybe they are not such a terrible thing after all.
If you want to eat that local apple, because it tastes good, then by all means enjoy, but don't try to tell me you are saving the environment while you do it. I would also appreciate getting bananas back, since I think the amount of resources that would go into growing them here would likely use enough resources to destroy the planet, importing them should be acceptable.