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The Globavore’s Achievement — A Review of ‘The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet’

“When reading this book, I had two feelings that I often have when reading Desrochers and Shimizu’s work–’Why was I never taught this?’ and ‘Everybody need to know this!’ …. The Locavore’s Dilemma will give you an appreciation of the unappreciated glory that is capitalist agriculture, which is responsible for the fact that you are alive, will live a long time, and in greater health than nearly anyone in history.”

One reason why the modern Green movement has won Americans’ hearts and minds, even as it advocates anti-development, anti-capitalist policies, is that the advocates of capitalism have spent too little time explaining, in vivid detail, the staggering improvements to human life that capitalism, and only capitalism, brings.

Advocates of capitalism have too often played defense, allowing anti-capitalists to control the debate: the anti-capitalists blame every problem (or pseudo-problem) under the sun on capitalism, and the pro-capitalist painstakingly refutes the charges point-by-point.

This is a futile strategy, because its best-case scenario is that observers hold the absence of a negative view about capitalism.

But why not make the positive case? Why not showcase the amazingly positive nature of capitalism, both its ingenious inner-workings and its glorious results?

If we frame the debate on our terms, the anti-capitalist side clearly gets exposed for what it is–an anti-freedom movement that seeks to interfere with and expropriate individuals whose lives would be much better without the anti-capitalists’ coercion.

Taking a positive approach to defending capitalism is one of the chief virtues of Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu’s must-read The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet.

Much of the book, as the first half of the title indicates, is polemic. It systematically eviscerates the claims of the so-called locavore movement, which, as Dr. Desrochers explained on my podcast, is just the latest incarnation of the anti-capitalist, anti-development movement in agriculture, this time with a superficial focus on the distance food travels between production and consumption.

Five of the chapters are devoted to the major myths: Locavorism Nurtures Social Capital, Lovacorism Delivers a Free Economic Lunch, Locavorism Heals the Earth, Locavorism Increases Food Security, Locavorism Offers Tastier, More Nutritious, and Safer Food.

But what makes The Locavore’s Dilemma stand out from other myth-busting books is that it busts the myth primarily by illustrating the positive nature of the system it is advocating: global, capitalist agriculture. For instance, in combating “locavore” accusations that large firms jeopardize food safety because of the alleged potential of mass contamination, the authors make the positive point that one of the very reasons large firms exist is because they can produce much safer food:

the threat of food contamination by natural pathogens is much more serious in small than massive food production and processing operations because smaller operations can never possibly assemble the same quality of equipment and food safety know-how as much larger firms.

This method of combating the negative with the positive is not occasional or accidental–it is pervasive, and a result of the central question the book asks of the locavore movement, which is “why the globalized food supply chain had developed the way it did in the first place” given that it is supposedly so irrational?

This seemingly simple question leads the authors to focus on the fact that the modern agricultural system is the result of the intelligent choices of free individuals–and that the essence of the “locavore” movement is to deny them those choices. The “locavore” criticisms are plausible only because they hold modern agriculture to the standard of infallibility, and then assume, bizarrely, that “locavorism” could solve all of the problems while retaining all the achievements. Desrochers and Shimizu accept neither of these fallacies, admitting frequently that there are problems in modern agriculture (not least due to government interference) but always comparing the full, positive reality of modern agriculture to the full, overwhelmingly negative reality of anti-industrial “locavorism”–which, in its embrace of universal organic, local, and anti-biotechnology farming, would sentence much of the world to death.

Beginning the book with a section entitled, “A Short History of the Global Food Supply Chain,” the authors explain step-by-step, from Ancient Greece to the present, why the food supply became more and more global, more and more technological, more and more corporate. The features of capitalist agriculture that are regarded as bad–its modification of foods, its size, its “impersonal” nature, and dozens of others, are revealed to be benefits.

Paragraphs like the following are worth the book’s price of admission:

Food manufacturers have long relied on distant suppliers for additives that affect not only color and flavor, but also extend shelf life while often reducing production costs. People afflicted by diabetes, obesity, and dental decay have benefited from non-nutritive sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame, and acesulfame K, used in everything from soft drinks and chewing gum to mouthwash. The application of fumigants keeps worms away from grain products such as flour and spices, a problem that was once significant. The fortification of staples such as flour, milk, sugar, and salt with the likes of iron, vitamins, and iodine also had important benefits including eradicating blindness (vitamin A), beriberi (vitamin B1), ariboflavinosis (vitamin B2), pellagra (vitamin B3), anemia (vitamins B6 and B12, iron), scurvy (vitamin C), rickets or insufficiently calcified bones (vitamin D), birth defects (folic acids), and weak immune system and growth (zinc).

When reading this book, I had two feelings that I often have when reading Desrochers and Shimizu’s work–”Why was I never taught this?” and “Everybody needs to know this!”

Everybody needs to know the material in The Locavore’s Dilemma. It will give you an appreciation of the unappreciated glory that is capitalist agriculture, which is responsible for the fact that you are alive, will live a long time, and in greater health than nearly anyone in history. And with this appreciation will come the ability to both enjoy your world that much more, and effectively advocate for the agricultural freedom that will enable us to consume ever-cheaper, healthier, tastier food.

6 comments

1 tfisher { 07.16.12 at 3:27 pm }

Great post. I especially agree with the idea of making the positive case for capitalism. As I was reading that part, I thought of Hayek’s essay “Why I Am Not A Conservative.”

Hayek said about classical liberals: “What the liberal must ask, first of all, is not how fast or how far we should move, but where we should move. In fact, he differs much more from the collectivist radical of today than does the conservative. While the last generally holds merely a mild and moderate version of the prejudices of his time, the liberal today must more positively oppose some of the basic conceptions which most conservatives share with the socialists.”

I agree that our task is not just to play Whac-A-Mole with each next anti-capitalist idea. It is more important, although maybe more difficult, to demonstrate to the layperson the enormous benefits and marvelous dynamics of the free market.

2 Jon Boone { 07.16.12 at 4:14 pm }

Although I agree that the cheerleading for organic foods and local food supplies is replete with a great deal of ignorance and an utter incomprehension of a world with 7 billion plus people, such that agricultural scale has become a near imperative, I nonetheless share some concerns about many practices that are now touted as technologically advanced. Monoculture and diets rich in corn and sugar, which dominate agriculture today, contain the seeds of their own mortality, as Michael Pollan thoughtfully explains interviews like this: http://www.organicgardening.com/living/conversation-michael-pollan.

Still, in general these are ankle biting criticisms of an enterprise that deserves much praise. How many agricultural experts 75 years ago predicted the massive interplay of forces–agricultural, transportation, refrigeration, and the complex chain of growers, merchandizers, and markets that feed much of the world today? All of us should marvel at the splendors of Wegman’s, say, knowing that the experience is merely the culmination of a groundswell of workers functioning, generally, in the best traditions of Adam Smith’s capitalism.

3 aepstein { 07.16.12 at 5:02 pm }

Jon, I agree to a large extent about corn and sugar, which the government has promoted economically and in its food-pyramid propaganda. I am fortunate enough to have modern agriculture so I can avoid those plus other starches, and each a lot of healthy meats, fruits, and vegetables. But as D and S point out in the book, the proliferation of corn has brought with it a mass alleviation of malnutrition.

4 Alex Epstein: The Globavore’s Achievement — A Review of ‘The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet’ | JunkScience.com { 07.17.12 at 3:22 am }

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5 redc1c4 { 07.18.12 at 11:54 pm }

there is nothing wrong with corn and sugar, and they do NOT contain the seeds of your mortality. being alive does that already.

besides, you feed the corn and sugar to the pigs so you have meat for the BBQ and take the rest and distill it into alcohol…

three cheers for science and the capitalist way of life.

6 T. Caine { 08.11.12 at 9:55 pm }

I definitely have to echo Jon comments. Organic is a well-intended but ill-equipped notion when presented with the global population as well as its vast array of climactic conditions. My distaste and distrust of the engineered nature of GM crops still leaves me open to engineered farming (hydroponic & aeroponic greenhouses) that can produce higher yields, more efficiently without excessive chemicals.

All that aside, I consider myself a pro-environment/pro-free market advocate. I don’t think capitalism is to blame for the problems we may or may not have. Capitalism is just a tool that translates the values of its participants into the marketplace. Environmental problems that exist are the result of those values, not the capitalist system that ascribes prices to the forces of how we live.

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