Pierre Desrochers, an associate geography professor at UTM, criticized local food movement and policies in a talk titled “Locavore’s Dilemma” on campus last Thursday. The talk was organized by the Mississauga Freethought Association, a student club that seeks to promote logical thinking, scientific inquiry, and secularism at UTM.

Locavores are people who try to eat only local food. Desrochers criticized the common assumption that “local” includes a political boundary. For Torontonians who hold to the literal “100-mile diet”, he says, it means they can eat food from parts of New York State, but not from west of London and east of Belleville, Ontario.

Desrochers said the historical shift from locally grown food—which meant that food options were limited according to the season—to imported food happened as transportation technologies became cheaper and readily available and due to a growing concern about food adulteration.

“The amount of trust you can put in small operators that you meet in person, but who don’t have anything else to assure you that they are selling what they say it is, is not very compelling,” said Desrochers. “You have a better idea of what you are buying in a large grocery store or retailer.”

Consuming higher-priced local food destroys more local jobs than it creates, according to Desrochers.

“If you spend more money to buy local food, yes, you will create some farming jobs. But you will have less money to spend at the local movie theatre or to buy local furniture,” he said. “You don’t create jobs by paying more for lesser-quality products. You create jobs by paying less for higher-quality products.”

Global trade routes for food are necessary for food security and to prevent famines, according to Desrochers, who cited this year’s early spring and late frost, and droughts in Ontario as a reminder of the vulnerability of the local food supply.

The concept of “food miles” is flawed, he added, saying that the energy consumed to transport food varies greatly between modes like container ships and pickup trucks, and because food transportation accounts for only about 4% of the energy required to get food. The majority of the energy is consumed in production, said Desrochers.

“If you want to cut down on transportation by, let’s say, growing tents in a local greenhouse, you will need to heat the greenhouse in the first place,” said Desrochers. “So overall whatever you save on transportation will be more than made up on the production side because you will need additional inputs. […] So there are no real environmental gains.”

Desrochers cited the environmental impact on forest cover in the U.S., which was at a low in the 1920s because more land was used for low-yield farming. The forests resurged after global trade routes were established and food production moved to high-yield areas in suitable climates. “If you want to protect nature, stay away from nature,” said Desrochers.

Desrochers is a coauthor of the 2012 book The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet.

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