Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Localvore ... is it a Good Thing?

(another late post ... but, there are only two more days of VBS!) I have to admit that I am a talk radio junky. Even as a high school student I would have talk radio on in the car as I drove around town, then when my friends would get in I would have to quick change it over to FM. Pretty much my radio flips between 1040 WHO and 1460 KXNO. I listen to Jim Rome, The Big Show (farm), Rush Limbaugh, Van and Bonnie (local), and Steve Deace (local) all depending on my mood at the moment. But, I like most talk radio ... except for Dr. Laura! I can't stand her voice for some reason...

Anyways that is a long introduction all to say that I heard Rush Limbaugh talking about "localvores" (or "locavores") on his show yesterday. This is not the first time I have heard him bad mouthing the movement, but this time I decided to write about it. If you have listend to Mr. Limbaugh for any amount of time you know what he is about (and I do agree with him quite often), but this time I think he is missing the boat on the "localvore" movement.

Basically he hates the idea because of it's ultra-liberal/enviromental wacko basis. While I do agree that much of the movement is founded on the idea of lowering food miles, cutting back on fuel use, curtailing the use of GMO's and pestacides, and so on I think there is a very strong open market/capitalist angle that should be talked about.

I must admit that the reason that I am such a big fan of the local foods idea isn't because of gas, oil, pestacides, factory farming, food problems, or anything like that. The reason I think it is such a good idea is because it just makes the most sense. I understand that you can't grow everything everywhere, but why not diversify your area the best you can and make the most of that. Here in Iowa would could provide a HUGE amount of our own food from the local communities and it would in turn open up more business opportunities for the people of the state. It just makes sense...

That is the line of reasoning I take when I have conversations with people about local foods, grass-fed beef, or anything else along those lines. Many of the people start talking about feed prices, gas prices, and other ecological reasons. But, I always turn it back to the idea that local, grass-fed, and small scale is the way the world was created. Cows have four stomachs for a reason ... a seven year crop rotation works great for a reason ... pigs have built in plows for a reason ... this stuff was created in a certain way for a reason!

I think being a "localvore" is a good thing. Sure there are plenty of energy reasons that it is, but just from an economic/capitalist/creation standpoint I think it makes the most sense for the animals, the consumers, and the farmers.

Your thoughts?


Chris said...

From a theoretical economics point-of-view, this question is really simple, and the free-market (absent any stupid government interference) would take care of it. If some producer was so efficient that they could produce corn, ship it across the country, and still sell it cheaper than someone local, then they would do it, and the local folks would specialize in something else.

There are a few things to consider that the free-market doesn't:

1) Environmental impact - this is factored into the price to some extent, but all of the environmental externalities aren't accounted for. The carbon emissions, water pollution, etc. are generally not reflected in the price of goods.

2) Local vs. Remote Benefits - if the corn is cheaper coming from thousands of miles away, the dollars are then going far away, and can't be "recycled" into the local community - i.e. the local producer would be spending his money locally on seed, equipment, repairs, trucks, clothes for his children, youth ministers, etc.

3) Family/community impact - efficient producers are more likely to be employing lots of people in a factory-farm type setting, which is not as friendly to the family or community involvement.

Steven said...

As I read and think more about this type of thing I find myself being annoyed by some of Rush's comments about things that can be seen as environmentalist wacko issues. I have actually be reluctant to change my thinking on some issues because I didn't want to be "leftist" but the fact remains that some things just make sense. I thought it was a little funny the first time that I read about stress free cattle handling on the way to the butcher... it's gonna die anyways! But if it makes better meat to have the steer be stress free then all the sudden it makes sense. When it comes to local food and looking at what makes food from far away cheaper... subsidies seem to have LOTS to do with it. As Chris said, the free market would take care of alot of debate if we didn't have such a goofy farm bill.

By the way, I'm sitting in my computer chair in Cape Girardeau Missouri, the "Home of Rush Limbaugh".

Yeoman said...

Another thing about criticisms of the Limbaugh type is that they're based on frighteningly shallow analysis, even when looked at soley from the economic standpoint.

I'm pretty far from any sort of left winger on this, but those who dismiss localisms as purely leftist, ought to consider that anything that's shipped is shipped subsidized.

Consider this, if it's shipped, it's hauled. If it's hauled, it's probably been hauled by truck. If it's hauled from overseas, it's hauled by ships, then trucked.

The trucking transportation system in the US is subsidized by the taxpayer. In order to have the nifty highways we do, the public is taxed to pay form them. By and large, highways, which are being broken down constantly, are paid for by taxes which are proportionally higher for conventional motorist than by truckers. Trucking, therefore, gets quite a break on this.

Like it or not, therefore, our modern long haul lifestyle is only possible because of the massive public effort to build, maintain, and police the roads. The effort to build and maintain the roads is partially Federal. We all pay to contribute to the Federal highway dollars paid to the States.

Now, mind you, I think there have to be public roads. But if over the road trucks bore their actual costs of using them, things hauled in that fashion would be pretty pricey.

So, those who criticize local efforts based on the theory that they are left wing, are themselves basically in favor of socialized transportation.

There you have it. Rush Limbaugh. Left Wing Socialist Road Wingnut.

Chris said...

Yeoman and Steven are right on... the farm bill and our highway funding systems are exactly the kind of distortions that keep the free market from working very well on this issue. The Allen Brothers steaks that Rush buys are subsidized by the payments we make to corn farmers... that's one more example.

If all of the externalities were factored in, I definitely feel that more than just the socially/environmentally conscious would be jumping on the bandwagon for local food. Maybe we could even get ol' Rush to try some grass-fed beef. Steven - doesn't his family still live in Cape Girardeau? Maybe that's the link to get him on board with the real/whole/local/organic/family-friendly/environmentalist NON-hippie movement.

Rich said...

Unless I'm mistaken, it was suggested by some local food advocates that the most recent "Farm" Bill should include increased subsidies to encourage the local food movement. I don't think it would solve anything to subsidize local vegetable/meat production instead of subsidizing corn producers in the Midwest. (besides they would continue to subside corn and just add local food subsidies to the bill)

If a superior product is produced locally then the consumer would be more likely to pay a higher price for it. Personally, I wouldn't be inclined to pay a premium for a locally grown tomato that still had the bland plastic taste that the typical California grown tomato has, but I would pay a premium for a locally grown tomato with a genuine vine-ripened tomato taste. Additionally, I wouldn't be inclined to purchase a locally-grown tomato (that wasn't significantly different from any other tomato) simply because it was locally grown.

Grow a superior product that justifies a premium price and a capitalist market will result.

Demanding subsidies or enacting laws requiring locally grown products (that results in food that is no different than what is typically already available) and a capitalist market disappears.

Ethan Book said...

Rich - I'm not sure about people wanting "local food" subsidies, but I'm sure there are plenty of people that want them. But, those people also want local food for different reasons than the ones I mentioned.

Also, people just probably feel like it should be subsidized because everything else is :(

One more thing ... is the Farm Bill really a FARM Bill? I believe (even though it has plenty of money allocated for farming) that most of the bill deals with government health/food programs ...

Yeoman said...

"One more thing ... is the Farm Bill really a FARM Bill? I believe (even though it has plenty of money allocated for farming) that most of the bill deals with government health/food programs ..."

In large part, in my view (and as I previously noted in another post), I think the "farm" bill is actually an income redistribution bill.

If we want to take from some, to give to others, so be it. But we ought to call it that.

A real farm bill would be a much smaller bill addressing many topics the "farm" bill doesn't address. And it wouldn't address such things as food stamps and the like, as that's a welfare bill.

Again, welfare may be fine. But it isn't farming.

Mellifera said...

The "Farm to School" program in the farm bill (which covers school lunches too) could be a local ag subsidy depending on how you look at it.

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