Defending the Benefits of Eating Local

Learn Liberty is an organization I really like. They recently put out a great short video series on Behavioral Economics featuring the Davies. They also recently put out the really awful article Most benefits of eating local are wildly exaggerated, and this is why.

Prior to reading the article, here are some of the things I expected to be addressed:

  1. Eating local is sometimes healthy. For example, eating local honey can help with allergies, fresher food may be healthier, and small farmers may take a quality not quantity approach to production.
  2. Eating local benefits the local economy, and many people choose to eat local to support local values. Jim from Texas wants to buy a Ford not one of those Asian cars, and not even one of those government-subsidized Chevy Detriotmobiles. This is at some level cultural consumption.

Here is what the article dealt with:

  1. Tyler Cowen says eating local doesn’t reduce your carbon footprint very well.

After reading the article I thought, “I guess it would be an obvious claim by some that transportation costs favor local producers,” but I cared so little this wasn’t even on my mind. Climate change is not a problem. To fight it costs more than the harms it inflicts. Indeed, the harms it inflicts are likely to be negative in economic terms. Global warming makes more land available for agricultural and other use than it removes and more people die of cold than heat. Transportation costs, as the article points out, are a small component of price. Big firms could easily offset transportation costs with scale production gains.

While getting irritated, I decided to post on Facebook about how I was irritated. But first, I paused. “I’d better do a quick Google both to check myself and also to possibly gather munitions for the coming rant.” I found plenty of munition. Highlights:

  1. Farmer’s Markets offer a wide variety of local foods that you won’t typically find in supermarket.
  2. Farmer’s Markets can offer produce cheaper, including organic and specialty crops. This is due to many factors not just transportation.
  3. Related to #1 above, consuming local varieties preserves genetic diversity.
  4. (Allegedly) local food keeps taxes down.

Admittedly, I didn’t look very deeply into many of the above points, but that’s the whole complaint. Learn Liberty’s article didn’t deal with many of the common and obvious claims.

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