Digest – Commentary & Blogs: NYT discovers eating local isn’t always green, Alex Avery pretends feedlot beef is

It's about mindset, not just footprint: We  recently called the New York Times main investigative food & ag reporter the "always-excellent" Andrew Martin, but after the Sunday installment of his column The Feed, maybe that adverb should be "usually." In it, he shares the distressing newsflash that just because "something is local doesn’t necessarily mean that it is better, environmentally speaking." Especially not if you drive to the farmers market in your SUV. Well, duh. So, we'll keep saying this until we're green in the face — no supercomputer exists that can calculate the most ecologically guilt-free meal. Your brain cannot process all the variables for every ingredient, and no labels can do the work for you. But if enough people simply try to chew the right thing, we'll hopefully encourage more organic agriculture, improve public health, rebuild local food systems, and yes, reduce our carbon footprint, too. (New York Times)

starCrap we read so you don't have to: We saw this "report" and had planned to ignore it, but then Hoosier Ag Today founder Gary Truitt just had to go rub our nose in it until we took the grain-fed bait. New "research" published by the "prestigious" Center For Global Food Issues and authored by none other than our favorite Big Ag public defender Alex Avery "proves" that

Pound-for-pound, beef produced with grains and growth hormones produces 40% less greenhouse gas emissions and saves two-thirds more land for nature compared to organic grass-fed beef.

Say what? Yup, just another instance of looking at the time and land it takes to produce a pound of protein. (Saving it "for nature" was a nice touch, we'll give them that.) The argument goes like this, with some poetic license in the paraphrasing: Cattle hopped up on steroids and antibiotics get fat in record time on their unnatural carb-heavy diet of grains, and it takes fewer acres of fertilizer-hungry GMO corn and soybeans to feed these monstrous cattle than it does acres of free, solar-powered grass on which to let the smaller, less-obese organic ones forage. What a relief — we can all save the planet by continuing to eat at McDonald's! You know, Gary and Alex, we're shocked — shocked! — that mainstream media chose to ignore this report, too. But we're here to help. (Hoosier Ag Today)

And now to make that bad taste go away: BoingBoing follows posts about icky things with "unicorn chasers" to cleanse your palate. After the last item, we desperately need one of those too, and what could be better than pictures of newborn piglets? (Sugar Mountain Farm)

Shut yer cotton-picking mouth: Jack Thurston takes issue with a U.K. billboard advertising U.S. cotton as "soft, sensual and sustainable." He filed a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority, arguing that the cotton industry is neither economically nor environmentally sustainable. In an update, he reveals that the Authority is starting to look more closely at environmental claims. It would be nice to see such scrutiny in the U.S., where it seems the FTC is too busy ignoring consolidation in the meat industry and stopping the Whole Foods/Wild Oats merger to police ads. (Farmsubisidy.org)

4 Responsesto “Digest – Commentary & Blogs: NYT discovers eating local isn’t always green, Alex Avery pretends feedlot beef is”

  1. Emily H. says:

    Re: Andrew Martin's column: I'm not quite sure why the poor man deserved to be stripped of the "always-excellent" moniker you awarded him. I don't think Martin was implying that consumers shouldn't buy local, or that how they shop is irrelevant if they use irresponsible modes of transit. I rather interpreted his piece as yet another reminder to our buzz-word, fad-loving society that there is no magic bullet. Americans tend to jump onto a tunnel-visioned bandwagon and stay there. This piece seemed to me an attempt to encourage readers to widen their perspectives and think beyond the term "local" into the actual processes involved in getting food from farm to plate. Everyone would have a much better understanding of where our food comes from and how it arrived if they actually took a good look at the route. I walk to my Sunday farmers market weekly and nearly every day to the Whole Foods down the block (today it was for a lime), but I've also thought through the issues enough to know that I'll choose organic Calif. strawberries in a second over local ones from a grower in nearby Va. still using pesticides, and I agonize over not being able to compost all of the peels, stalks, gnarly leaves and scraggly roots we accumulate, because I hate that we are contributing to that 17 percent of landfill mass that is food. In other words, I think Martin was only trying to encourage consumers to do just that: be conscious of all of the issues rather than being beholden to one more buzzword without fully understanding all of its implications. Look what happened to organic.

  2. Bonnie P. says:

    hi Emily: OK, maybe I was just grumpy after reading the link that appears underneath that one, about how feedlot beef is supposedly better for the environment. You're right, it's true that Martin wasn't saying we shouldn't buy local, just that there is no magic bullet. I guess I feel like, given how minuscule farmers-market sales are as a percentage of the overall food purchases, what's the point of picking on how people get themselves to and from there? But he's right -- buying local produce should be done in tandem with eating less meat and driving less … and harassing our congresspeople to pass the various small reforms on the table for the Farm Bill, which will have far more impact than our individual actions!

  3. ed says:

    Re. Andrew Martin's NYT article - I agree with Emily that that the tone wasn't critical of local foods overall, but just reminding us of something that we (especially you guys at ethicurean) think about plenty anyway - don't take 'local food' claims at face value!
    It's an important point. Michael Goodman and David Goodman have described how the organics movement was co-opted by industrial agri-business (see book chapter). The risk is that a similar process could occur for local foods. Guptill and Wilkins warn that 'localness' can be just as commodifiable as 'organic' (2002: 50).
    So following Andrew Martin's point - it's worth thinking about how we source local foods.
    More at my research blog

  4. Amanda Rose says:

    Alas, Ethicureans, we met a few months to late to enjoy Alex Avery's Milk is Milk billboard here together. I see he was even here to talk about it. It made a whole three part series on my blog. :)


    Alex, if you are here, I want you to know that I have tried a number of times to file a "police report" over your billboard. The Sheriff says "First, there is no police department in Pixley; second, do you actually have standing in the case?"

    It's good that you all got that covered up just in time for the World Ag Expo. If you attend every year, look for me. It would be fun to talk.