“There was never the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage…”

2 10 2009

Apparently, Texas State University historian James McWilliams hates locavores. I already knew there was an argument about whether eating local food really saves that much in greenhouse gas emissions, but in the first of what promises to be a series of posts at Freakonomics about the glorious wonders of industrial food production Williams has decided to attack a straw man:

I’m told that I’m missing the ultimate point of being a locavore. Local food is not only about reducing our carbon footprint. It’s about strengthening community.

Actually, I prefer local food because it’s always fresher and therefore usually tastes better, but then again, I don’t know James McWilliams. Perhaps his locavore friends actually make that argument.

But when he justifies industrial food production through this line of reasoning, you know there’s an underlying agenda here:

When merchant-led expansion fostered systematic trade with distant markets, the nature of local trade changed. Mediators entered the scene. The supply chain lengthened. The personal nature of exchange yielded to standardized norms required by middle men who had only a tenuous connection to the products for sale. Impersonal mediators and distant institutions (such as banks and insurance companies) ultimately diffused face-to-face interactions by placing a buffer between buyers and sellers. Markets became larger and less personal. Neighbors became customers. Legal battles continued apace, but they were not personal. Just business.

By coincidence, I just happened to be teaching Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle today. here’s everyone’s favorite part (courtesy of Google Books):

That’s what happened when “The personal nature of exchange yielded to standardized norms required by middle men who had only a tenuous connection to the products for sale.” That’s what still happens when food production is “just business.” It’s the ramifications of the impersonal supply chain, not the impersonality of the food chain itself, that all the locavores I know are trying to prevent.

Yet somehow I get the impression that Williams doesn’t care what locavores really think.



One response

12 11 2009
Let’s torture pigs so that we’ll have more left to kill. « More or Less Bunk

[…] Unfortunately, it seems like Levitt and Dubner have decided to give a permanent platform to this guy. Today he offers a heartfelt, compassionate defense of pig torture: Horrible as it all sounds, many […]

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