The New Oxford American Dictionary selects one word that was added to its pages each year as the “word of the year,” and this year the word is “locavore.”
A locavore is a person who consumes locally produced food. This all comes back to the idea that the less miles your food has to travel to get to your plate, the less of an impact it has on the environment and the better off everyone will be.
Honestly, I think this is a great idea. I love it when I can get locally grown and produced food. Not only is it always fresher and better-tasting, it feels good to know that you’re supporting the people who live near you. The environmental aspects are just icing.
Following this idea through to its logical conclusion, shouldn’t we try to accomplish the same thing with everything we consume? That is, why are we purchasing clothing made in China from fabric made in India from cotton grown in Georgia? Your clothes might have literally traveled all the way around the world to get on your back. Even if it might save you a few bucks to buy that made-in-China shirt over one made locally, surely the costs in resources and labor to transport that shirt offset those few dollars!
Bellingham, Washington has tried to expand the idea of a local economy across the town (props to Marketplace for a great report). The idea is that there are so many resources in and around Bellingham that the town could be effectively self-sustaining: a return to the 18th and 19th century models of towns where everyone pulled together to provide for what’s needed.
Doesn’t that sound cool? Everything you need is right there next door. No more container ships, freight trains, and semis. It all comes from up the road apiece. Why did we ever look further afield?
Well, there are two good reasons. First, they have stuff we want that we don’t have, and we have stuff they want that they don’t have. Free market, do your stuff. Second, if something bad happens to us– depression, drought, flood– we can still get what we need to survive from those others. Marketplace once again did a great job of presenting the opposing view, but unfortunately Mr. Frum played down the benefits of the local economy. It’s more than just about things tasting good. It really can be better for us and for the Earth. But that doesn’t mean we abandon the global economy. We just need to use it sparingly. Get everything local that you can, and only search further afield if you have to.
Solutions almost always lie in a mean. We may have pursued the global economy too far, but that doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad.