Sam Fromartz takes on anti-locavore contrarian James McWilliams

Swatting flies: We've mostly tried to ignore James McWilliams, hoping he'll just go away, but now that the New York Times has given his locavore-baiting views a regular platform, we may not be able to much longer. Fortunately Sam Fromartz, blogger and author of Organic, Inc., has decided to take on McWilliams' latest contrarian-for-the-fun-of-it Freakanomics post. "It's fashionable, or maybe just attention-grabbing, to argue that local and organic foods are elitist, the preserve of wealthy shoppers who are willing to dole out wads of bills for a weekly fix of local, sustainable food at the farmers' market," writes friend o'Ethicurean Sam. "If good, clean, food is elitist, [McWilliams] argues, then it leaves out the vast majority of shoppers and thus creates a wedge in our communities. So you better watch out! Farmers markets are secretly destroying your neighborhood." Sam points out that McWilliams provides zero evidence that buying local is solely the preserve of white middle-class shoppers, because there isn't any. The data analysis firm the Hartman Group has said that" income is the least important factor" that tells you whether someone is an organic shopper or not. Availability is. (Chews Wise)

11 Responsesto “Sam Fromartz takes on anti-locavore contrarian James McWilliams”

  1. Steve says:

    Maybe, instead of trying to ignore him, you should pay attention to what he is saying!

  2. Cherie says:

    Well said Sam! This McWilliams character sounds like an uneducated ignorant ass.

    -Cherie
    http://www.cheriepicked.com

  3. Ed Bruske says:

    Farmers markets are clearly elitist if you accept the standard definition of "elite" to mean "the best" or "choicest" in its class, here referring to the food sold at farmers markets. Anyone who follows the modern food movement will agree that the produce sold at farmers markets is "the best" that money can buy, judged according to freshness, nutritional value, appearance, variety, and the earth-friendly care that the growers put into it, meaning sustainability. (Or, according to the number of restaurant chefs who shop there.) All of these values place farmers market food above that grown conventionally and found in traditional supermarkets. Anyone who shops at a farmers market thus joins an elite group of people who have chosen "the best" over "conventional." It's the precise demographic of this group where things get murky. In urban areas, I think it's safe to say that farmers makets are distinguished by a wealthier and more educated clientele. Farmers markets are clearly distinguished by class. Here in the District of Columbia, for instance, a city that is majority black, only a tiny minority of shoppers at farmers markets are black. The markets themselves are located almost entirely in white, upper-class neighborhoods. Accordingly, prices on many items are high, reflecting the income status of the clientele. For instance, a dozen eggs cost $4.25. Recently on a trip to Red Bank, New Jersey, we paid $5 for a dozen eggs. Conventional eggs are available for a fraction as much. (It's also worth noting that free-range eggs, along with many other products, are cheaper in other parts of the country, more distant from the affluent urban center). On Sundays, I walk at least a mile to buy eggs at the tony Dupont Circle market here in the District of Columbia. I don't see any of my neighbors from the mixed neighborhood where I live doing that. I assume they are not interested in the "elite" group of shoppers who, for various reasons, choose to buy groceries at the farmers market, even though they clearly could if they cared to make the walk and had the money to make a purchase. My own concern is with government policies, and specifically federal policies, that clearly benefit conventional, unsustainable food methods over more earth-friendly and community-friendly agriculture and contribute to a bifurcated system in which the vast majority of the population is not availing itself of the healthiest food because of price, accessibility, cooking ability or other reasons. I think it would be far more construction to talk about that than to split hairs over whether farmers markets are "elitist" or not.

  4. Emily says:

    If it takes the elite to keep the farmers in business until such time as ALL farm produce is sold locally, so be it. If diverse farm go out of business today, or all become commodity farms, we'll all be stuck eating raw soybeans pretty soon.

  5. A reality is that I could not afford to buy what I produce. That is part of why I grow so much of our own food. The fact that I'm good at farming has allowed me to produce extra that supports our farm and family. I get to eat my pig and share it too.

    Is it elitist that I sell to people who are willing to pay a premium for the top quality food I grow? No, it is simply good old Capitalism. I can produce a limited quantity of my product. People who want that high quality product are willing to pay a higher price so they are the ones who buy it - I'm not willing to bother selling for a price that won't sustainably support my farm and family. Since I don't get government subsidies I must make the economics actually work, unlike Big Ag. There isn't anything elitist about that.

    Everyone makes choices. Some people choose to buy lottery tickets, expensive cars, cigarettes or cigars, lavish vacations, fancy wines, champagne, beer, Picasso originals  and velvet portraits of Elvis. It is a semi-free market - everyone can make their own choices. Are a large percentage of our customers of higher income? Yes. Are all of our customers rich? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. The determining factor is they are people who appreciate high quality, pasture raised, humanely handled, local food. It is all about personal priorities, not elitism.

    You make your choices and take your chances. Do you want cheap high fat with bread crumbs $1/lb E. coli hamburger or top quality choice pastured meat? Do you want low cost tainted peanut butter or something better? In the long run the cheap food is more expensive. Nothing elitist about being smart.

  6. Michael says:

    If you think that a revitalization of small farms and the growth of Farmers’ Markets in this country was a positive thing, apparently you would be wrong. Associate Professor James McWilliams’ recent post, “Is Locavorism for Rich People Only?” on the New York Times blog, Freakonomics, suggests this surge in smallholder farming is actually a part of a conspiracy masterminded by and for the benefit of “rich people.” This “elite few” structured the Locavore movement so that “a small group of people will have exclusive influence” over what we buy. It seems Locavorism is destroying the economics of our carefully constructed industrial food system, and in the process, jobs stocking shelves and unloading trucks in big box supermarkets are being lost, jobs that are vital to the lower classes, all for the sake of enriching smallholding farmers.

    I have responded to McWilliams flawed pieces in the NYT and The Atlantic in the past, and given his penchant for wrapping deficient strands of logic around his flimsily constructed straw men, I am astounded that these two publications continue to grant him space. With his latest NYT’s post, he plumbs new depths in writing with a sloppy use of words, a paucity of facts, and a logic that would impress Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. I suggest that given the good Associate Professor’s credentials had a student submitted this piece to him, he would have returned it covered in red ink!

  7. Michael says:

    If you think that a revitalization of small farms and the growth of Farmers’ Markets in this country was a positive thing, apparently you would be wrong. Associate Professor James McWilliams’ recent post, “Is Locavorism for Rich People Only?” on the New York Times blog, Freakonomics, suggests this surge in smallholder farming is actually a part of a conspiracy masterminded by and for the benefit of “rich people.” This “elite few” structured the Locavore movement so that “a small group of people will have exclusive influence” over what we buy. It seems Locavorism is destroying the economics of our carefully constructed industrial food system, and in the process, jobs stocking shelves and unloading trucks in big box supermarkets are being lost, jobs that are vital to the lower classes, all for the sake of enriching smallholding farmers.
     
    I have responded to McWilliams flawed pieces in the NYT and The Atlantic in the past, and given his penchant for wrapping deficient strands of logic around his flimsily constructed straw men, I am astounded that these two publications continue to grant him space. With his latest NYT’s post, he plumbs new depths in writing with a sloppy use of words, a paucity of facts, and a logic that would impress Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. I suggest that given the good Associate Professor’s credentials had a student submitted this piece to him, he would have returned it covered in red ink!

  8. azure says:

    "Locavorism is destroying the economics of our carefully constructed industrial food system, and in the process, jobs stocking shelves and unloading trucks in big box supermarkets are being lost, jobs that are vital to the lower classes, all for the sake of enriching smallholding farmers. "

    Actually, the wealthy can do what they've always done: hire gardeners to grow veg for them (the wealthy) on the wealthy person's land.    Some of them probably are.   Even the not so wealthy have done that--I've read about a service in Portland, OR, two women gardeners who will turn your backyard into a veg garden for you--and if you don't have time to look after it, they'll do it for you (for a price, of course) and all the homeowner does is walk outside & pick the ripe produce.  

    As for losing jobs, where was this guy when NAFTA was signed?   When all the well paid manufacturing jobs starting leaving the US in the '90's?    Only now it's  a concern?    Oh yeah, I believe that.   Sounds like the argument against health care reform, but, but, the jobs!    The big bonuses for upper management!   

    In addition, it's municipalities & organizations like Rodale who are funding projects like that of NYC's which has brought Farmers' markets into low income areas--neighbhorhoods/entire parts of the city which are "food deserts" or  areas where the vaunted industrial ag/food system has chosen not to go--even when offered some incentives.  But small suppliers (w/incentive) are.    So, who's really bringing supply to the demand?   Not the industrial food system.

  9. Michael says:

    Unfortunately, some technical problems of my own prevented me from posting a link to the extended version of my post. I regret that anyone may have read the first paragraph in any but the satirical way it was intended. To read the remainder of my post click <a href="http://www.jakobsbowl.com/jakobs_bowl/2009/10/logic-and-the-academic-locovore.html" target="_blank"><em><strong>  Logic and The Academic LocOvore</strong></em></a>.

  10. I mostly ignore what McWilliams has to say, since he doesn't really make a clear argument nor is any of it based on data, as he readily admits to.  Here is my counter of his latest NYT post-

    http://www.honestmeat.com/honest_meat/2009/10/sometimes-a-great-notion-will-get-you-published-in-the-new-york-times.html

  11. Ben Mustin says:

    I'll admit to some bias here - but ignoring the opposition to local foods seems counterproductive, especially when the core argument of opponents seems to be as follows: Local food is exclusive, therefore supporting increased access to local food is elitist. So working to increase access to local food options is an elitist enterprise.

    Of course - isn't increasing the availability of local food choices the only way we'll increase the accessibility of local food and thereby decrease it's exclusivity?

    It seems like you can't support making local food less elitist without being labeled... an elitist.