Hi animal-friendly! I agree with your post. Some additions, though probably nothing we haven't discussed before. Sorry, it's off the subject of hunting, which is what this thread is more about.
“`Locavore`makes much more sense than `vegetarian`or `vegan` in the wider view”
For me, it is not that 'vegetarian' or 'vegan' per se that is the "myth" (in re Lierre Keith's article in Mother Earth News), but current industrial vegetarianism/industrial veganism, whereby most plant food sources come from industrial ‘conventional’ and industrial organic crop production methods that are monocropped plant-food sources grown on an industrial scale and pesticide- and fossil fuel-dependent. It is not vegetarian/vegan themselves, but the idea (or myth) that consuming veg*n food as they are currently predominantly produced is more sustainable and provide the solution to issues like food security and safety, soil quality, biodiversity, equitable distribution of resources, connecting to nature, climate change, animal kindness, feeding the hungry, etc., than an omni diet based on its current industrial animal-based food system.
Vegan and plant-vegetarian foods, as they are currently being produced and distributed, are highly destructive to animals, habitat and the planet generally, and, thereby, to humanity. Just as current meat-based omni food systems. The current dominant industrial meatism (were most meat comes from 'factory farms') and industrial vegetarianism/veganism are just different sides of the same coin. Contemporary animal factory farming is dependent on crop factory farming as much as vegan and vegetarian (plant and factory eggs/dairy) food ag is mostly from industrial production. Both come with huge human-social and animal-eco/enviro costs. Thus, veg*n, as it is advocated now as simply stopping animal flesh and eating more plant foods (mainly produced by conventional industrial tech) is not any more moral, or eco-/environmentally or socially better than meat-dominant omnivorism. So, just as there is the Vegetarian Myth, there is also the (industrial) Meat-omni Myth as well, imo.
I agree very much with Keith that our current national and global agricultural arrangement is "an interlocking web of hierarchical arrangements – vast systems of power that haved to be confronted and dismantled." Agriculture has, among other things, been a major part in creating things like over-exploitation of resources, slavery, imperialism, militarism, class and community divisions, hunger and disease for many. Modern western and global industrial ag continues to be a very inequitable arrangement of exploiting cheap labour, centralised food systems with control of diversity-lacking foods to a few corporations, disempowering farmers and making them in debt and dependent on big corps, our wilful relinquishment of providing for ourselves and family (Keith is right: most of us wouldn’t know how to survive if the industrial food infrastructure collapsed tomorrow) with passive [over]eating and disconnect from the land, destroying environments and rural communities, and, in my subjective opinion, the level and intensity of industrial animal ag makes it immune to genuine humane animal-welfare practices and comes at too great a cost to animals in terms of pain and suffering and even numerical deaths. Admittedly, agriculture has given us extraordinary benefits of nutrition, plentiful and safer foods, higher standard of living, etc., just at a great cost in some social and enviro sectors.
‘Locavore’ as a more mainstream food system it is assumed would be better (if it doesn’t go like industrial organic) in solving social inequalities, animal productivity and welfare issues, land and resource distribution, and other eco-enviro ethics associated with what we eat and how it is produced, and the social power arrangements that go with it. It assumes that the industrial model of agricutlure is not really wholly bad (while it has brought misery, it has also brought many benefits), but that it is now unsustainable because it is designed for continuous and limitless growth, which is now taxing ecosystems and ruining entire communities and cultures. Its not the industrial processes or reliance on market forces nor even self-interest and competition. The problem is that it is organised by a belief system that did not and does not recognise the need for limits – limits on resource use, limits on economic competition and limits on sometimes inevitable social inequalities. It just encourages limitless production-consumption (and waste) cycle. That was fine when human population was smaller, the world still unexplored, resources largely plentiful, and science and technology not advanced enough to understand and predict the social, environmental and ecological costs. The human and domestic animal population of the world is now very large, and not enough of the right kind of technology to keep pace with repairing a now too damaged environment and to providie substitues to permit ongoing unlimited growth. There may be enough resources on our planet to meet everyone’s essential needs, even many emotional and intellectual needs. But there may never be enough to meet everyone’s wishes beyond that, which are really just ‘false needs and greeds’ or self-indulgences (like over-eating, buying superfluous stuff and accumulation of possessions, e.g.) vs human-enhancing needs (essential and emotional/intellectual). We need more sufficiency, i.e., learnng to be satisfied with enough.
We are trying to resolve the social and enviromental problems of modern industrial ag within the current and very paradigm that produced them in the first place – accelerating economic growth, which means more and over use of limited resources and renewables which can’t be replenished in time. On a biophysical finite planet, all growth needs to take place within sustainable environmental limits. We have to organise our social structures and our production-consumption-waste processes, even with technological breakthroughs that increase yield per unit, substitute, make cleaner and more efficient, etc., and have them function within the strict biophysical parameters of the environment that supports them.
"but still, even eating only locally grown food does not necessitate the eating of meat, depending on location of course."
Animals are integral with plants in most eco-communities. There are very few ecosystems that exist in which plants and animals are not intimately co-dependent. In the really freezing cold parts of Greenland, Alaska and Canada, e.g., plant crops cannot be grown or too inaccessible for humans and only animal products (even though those animals do consume oceans’ and land’s plant life, so animal and plant are still integral) can meet people's nutritional and other survival needs. People in these extreme environs live as 'locavores' anyway.
I find it unsettling our constant cycle of creating and killing domestic animals. At the same time, where animals and plant are integral, and where domestic crops shall be had for our food, then no-/minimal-grain feed mixed farming of local-produced domestic animals and plants would be more optimal than domestic veganic-only farming, per some of the reasons Keith in her article gives. That doesn't mean veganic farming and growing has no place, but I think it should be among mixed farming practices where a reasonable number of animals are critical to efficient and sustainable soil and plant health and recycling nonedible (to humans) plant matter. Also, the harvesting/consumption of local wild plants as well as wild animals - if we insist on doing away with other top animal predators, partitioning land and building our urban centers, etc. – would be more favourable. Again that doesn't mean veganism has no place and that it would be more reasonable and healthy (ecologically and environmentally and socially) that far less meat be produced and consumed.
“It seems the economic system is largely dependent on oil and that the trading of food from one country to another benefits the oil companies more than anyone else.”
True, virtually every stage of our modern industrial food production system – in soil cultivation, crop planting, irrigation, the manufacture and application of fertilisers and pesticides and agropharmacueticals, harvesting, processing, packaging and distribution, as well as running of plant and animal farming equipment, maintaining animals on the farm, transporting and slaughtering them, operating processing and storage facilities, building roads and operating shipment vehicles, etc. – is heavily dependent on oil. Then we drive our gas-guzzling motors to the store and back home to refrigerate and use the stove for our meals.
But, I’m not sure we should be demonising oil just because we don’t have a good energy policy that invests in the research, development and application and incorporates in all forms of energy (including oil, just less) and building infrastructure for such, rather than one or main source that is currently predominantly oil.
"For instance, it seems incredibly illogical that the US (for example) imports 1.4 million tons of food while exporting 1.1 million tons."
I'm sure there are lots of complicated reasons why we import foods and consumers buy them. The US depends on agriculture as a sector of its economy to produce trade surpluses, especially when there is nonagricultural deficit. If the economy was better, e.g., a budget deficit that is low or if we were in the black and exports exceeded imports, we'd be less critical - but the food system would be the same as it's been.
Whatever the reasons for rising agricultural food imports/lower exports, it remains we are seeing more and more imported food in American supermarkets. Consumers want food products that either can't normally be grown in the US or in the local region due to climate, etc., or food products that can be grown in the US but are not being produced in sufficient volume or cannot be produced year round locally. E.g., when navel oranges are out of season in the US, the US imports them from S. Africa to sell under its brand so consumers can have them year round and US citrus growers can stay in the market as they fill in the seasonal gaps (crop importation tend to increase in the winter and goes down in the summer).
Also, manufacturing costs for some food products may be cheaper overseas (sometimes at a social and environment costs -and benefits- for those overseas workers just so we can have cheaper food) than in the US, which means more imports.
In addition, a growing immigrant population and multi-cultural makeup of the US would create demand for import of those ethnic foods from the home country, as well as expose 'western' Americans (and myself) to new food cultures and dishes/taste experience and so increased demand for imported ethnic food ingredients.
Another major reason may be because of free-trade agreements which means while it lowers barrier to US farm produce exports they also make imports easier and making the US market more open for new products and/or cheaper products. There may be barriers to import US farm goods into other countries (e.g., Europe raised barriers to import GM ingredients in US foods, or the ban of US beef when we had our first case of "mad cow"), which can result in more imports because exports are necessarily lower than expected.
So, too, when more new farm powers are emerging around the world in places where land is cheaper and govts investing into infrastructure to make their countries more self sufficient, or aggressively transforming themselves from a customer of the US to an exporting rival.
The value of the Dollar and stability of other currencies, global competition, how different country's govts invest and subsidize farming inputs and products, climate and production levels, demographics with people's earning/buying power, people's tastes, etc., etc., all contribute to food export and import and consumption ratios.
Technological innovations in storage, packing and shipping methods enables fruits and veggies to be transported globally in a timely manner at affordable cost to the business and consumer (but at a cost to the workers and the environment).
Even emphasis on eating more fresh produce have increased demand for fruits and vegetables that businesses want to supply (compared to the 1980s, today's average consumer eats approx 13 more pounds of fresh fruit and 50 more pounds of veggies).
"It would make more sense to eat what we grow and allow other countries to keep their indigenous plant species and crops and eat what they grow."
Though I don’t know the complexities of different countries, or my own, I do intuitively agree with building resilient local food systems (global locavorism with extended trade where possible), with emphasis on sustainability - of healthy soil, energy use, etc. – and emphasis in growing plants (and animals) to feed people first and reaching out to other markets later. It would enable local food security and support the local economy and enable regions to extend trade wherever feasible. I think that maybe the US govt is too busy subsidizing 'Big Farm' instead of investing in real farmers (and I don't mean contract family farmers). Our govt is also too busy subsidizing grains such as corn and soya beans for cheap feed and human-edible food concoctions instead of promoting real farming (multiple independent farmers) to enhance seed varieties for greater diversity of fruits & veggies that can be grown in the US. It’s more complex than that. We need a very different way of thinking about food production and consumption and economic growth. …
" Food transport has become a bizarre and profitable equation within our current economic system. … … The business of importing foods across great distances benefits the oil companies and is no boon for farmers."
We have to be careful on how important food transport ("food miles" or the distance food travels) is in terms of fuel use/dependence and environmental impact. Food transportation is but one factor in the food production-consumption chain, and though still important (especially method of food transportation; train is better than air or truck), food distance travelled can be a minor one when compared to other factors.
Indeed, Rich Pirog, who is recognized as founding the notion of food-miles, has shown that even though food in general is transported long distances, food transportation is the lowest of all the factors evaluated, taking up 11% of fossil fuel. The greatest amount of fossil fuel associated with food comes in the production phase. Production and processing account for 45.6% of fossil fuel usage, restaurant prep takes up another 15.8%, and home preparation of food takes up 25% of the overall energy used to produce and consume food make in the US.
How the food is produced, stored, prepped and discarded can sometimes take more fuel than how far it is transported from field to store or farmer's market to fork. E.g., Rather than how far the fish had to travel to get to the supermarket fish counter, more important may be what method of fish production was used. E.g., overall fuel consumption could be reduced by use of a seine rather than a beam trawl.
Studies have shown that it is four times more energy-efficient for London, UK, consumers to purchase grass-fed lamb imported by ship from New Zealand than to buy grain-fed lamb raised locally.
Also, winter tomatoes from Spain traveling to England do cover more miles than English tomatoes grown locally. But, that so many Brit tomatoes are hothouse grown, they can take up to 10 times more energy.
Studies also have shown German apple juice imported from Brazil may cover 10,000 miles, but they are less energy-consumptive than apples grown and processed locally.
Sub-Saharan African farming practices may be at times more sustainable than western practices and so justify import of their veggies, the money which helps these poorer farmers and their economy.
Also, in addition to the number of miles we need to know the number of items travelled. As rural sociologist, Matt Mariola, has clarified: If we imagine that a trailer carrying 2000 tomatoes, traveling 2000 miles from California to Iowa, and using say 2000 gallons of fuel means that while each tomato has travelled 2000 miles, a single tomato only accounted for the equivalent of 1 gallon of fuel. Now consider a local farmer who trucks in 500 tomatoes from just 20 miles away; each tomato travels only 20 miles, but may use more gallons of fuel than if it traveled further with more units of tomatoes. But, that depends also on how fuel-efficient the transport vehicle is, and there may be other trade-offs like supporting local farmers and local economy.
Mariola also mentions the idea that food shoppers may travel more frequently to get food from farmers directly or farmer markets than where they to shop in one large supermarket (of long-distance travelled food), which increases the amount of fuel use. That is, if farmer markets and stands are further away from consumers than general grocery store. One assumes that locavorism includes an infrastructure that would make delivery and consumer access to food more efficient cost-wise and eco-/environmentally sustainable.
My source is largely from: Just Food: Where locavores get it wrong and how we can truly eat responsibly” by James E. McWilliams. (Interesting book, but I don’t subscribe to a lot it says).
Anyhoo, point being that while distance travelled is important, other factors of equal or more import will depend on what the fuel use and emissions are generated at all other stages of the product's life cycle. Though, you probably aren't just talking about the distance food is transported, but oil and energy use in the entire food production-consumption chain.
"Eating an avacado in Alaska is as bizarre as wearing a seal-lined vest in L.A."
I also find the taste of these long distance foods to be very deficient. I lived overseas and we had pineapple plants, avocado and mango trees in our garden. On the coast were coconuts free for the harvesting. I also like dates and figs and more. The few times I've eaten these (imported) foods from the local grocery store they were quite tasteless (just like the overripe, pale uniform veggies grow in the US but travel 1500 miles to my supermarket), but my US family and friends rave about them. I imagine it's like a Floridian coming to Vermont to eat a honeywell orange. I wouldn't have thought that people who knew what a fresh pineapple from Hawaii or E. Africa tastes like would want an imported one. But, they do.
While there are examples where currently long-distance food is actually more sustainable and more efficient than local, I am still for "global locavorism" and building the necessary infrastructure (investment in local farming and farmers, more mobile/standing slaughterhouses, promotion of city and urban food plots, pedestrian/cycling/public transit access to local food) for such for the reasons you give. In the face of an increasingly complicated and unstable world economy, local community self-sufficiency = better food security and so possibly less dependency on global market conditions and the price of fuel for shipping long-distance.
Imo, we depend too much on food monoculture, just as we depend on fuel monoculture where oil is the dominant. Local food systems would be more diverse than current industrial monocultures (though local farming can create more variety of single crop types, locavorism cannot include certain exotic varieties that consumers get largely from imported foods) and so could better withstand sudden events such as rises in energy prices and thereby transportation costs, natural disasters affecting food crops, economic crisis, etc. Industrial monocultures and long-distance food for some off-season foods can be an okay thing; we perhaps should just not make it such a dominant system. In the same way, I would include oil, but not as the resource we ultimately come to depend on (or maybe still the dominant resource, but considerably less than it is now). We can invest and develop multiple forms of energy sources to power food production processes, storage and distribution systems (perhaps "friendlier miles" rather than "fewer miles" that include greater-capacity vehicles, engine and fuel specifications, better route planning, etc.) as well as home kitchen and cooking habits and better disposal/recycling measures (average US household wastes more than 1.28 pounds of food a day, 27% of which is vegetables, which amounts to approx 14% of overall food purchases trashed, a lot of it into landfills = more energy use).