Monday, April 25, 2011

Just Food Review Part I

A wise professor of mine once said that you should read both those that you agree with and those you do not. This is why I picked up James McWilliams’s Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly this weekend. As the title suggests, McWilliams believes that those of us that advocate eating locally grown and produced food aren’t doing as much good as we think we are. By assessing only “food miles” and transportation as the sole source of energy consumption in the food production process, we are missing the bigger picture of the impact of what eat.

In some ways, I agree with McWilliams. He cites several studies that show that the transportation of the food we eat only accounts for about 11 percent of the total energy needed to grow or produce our food and that the production process of food is the real culprit, coming in at 46 percent of energy consumption. That makes sense to me and I can see how LCAs (life cycle assessments) are instrumental in identifying the steps in the provision of food that use the most energy.

What I don’t agree with is his assertion that minimizing food miles, and thus transportation energy consumption, is the only reason us locavores chose to eat locally. Sure, we would like to think that buying from the local farmers market means that our food has traveled much less than what one buys in the grocery stores, but is that the entire reason for eating locally? I say no. Buying locally also supports your local economy, brings you closer to the food you eat by meeting farmers and seeing how they raise their crops or animals, and increases your appreciation for what it takes to produce food. Also, the food often tastes better because local farmers are less likely to add harmful chemicals, use pesticides, and artificially flavor or inflate the size of their produce.

I have not finished this book and usually I would wait until the end of a book to write a review or comment on the validity of the author’s work. However, this book has affected me much more than I thought it would so I decided to start now. If you have read McWilliam’s work, feel free to comment (both positively and negatively) and let me know if he was able to persuade you and/or affect your buying habits.

Disclaimer: James McWilliams does not seem to have his own website (at least not one that Google listed in the first two pages of a search on his name). If you find one, post it in the comments.

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