Thursday, May 17, 2007

100 miles diet

Good website on eating locally. Starting from beirut, 100 miles radius would be enough to cover all of Lebanon


Mustapha said...
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Mustapha said...

In other words, growing a mango in my garden at the cost of 30$ per fruit would be better than importing it from Africa at 10$?

A better solution would be to include in the final price of the imported food the cost of its transport on the environment. The markets will take care of the rest.

The "100 miles diet" is yet another fancy initiative that will fall against the mighty powers of supply and demand.


Bedouina said...

Mustapha's faith in the mighty powers of supply and demand (the market) is charming.

Where is the recognition that no truly free-market system exists? The USA subsidizes big agriculture, big corporations, and freeway/highway driving at enormous expense. The so-called free market of goods depends on heavy government support in the transportation and agriculture sectors.

Cheap oil is furthermore a kind of subsidy on imported food. As oil prices go up, imported food will become more expensive.

Now those of us who try to eat local (For me that means West Coast of the USA, a range of 1500 miles or more than 2,000 kilometers) know that we're engaged in another kind of act of faith. We are acting in the faith that supporting local farmers is good for the economy.

However, this faith-based shopping can be supported by good research - look at the Oakland Institute listed here at this blog on the right. They just published a policy paper quoting research that shows how buying local improves the local economy. Dollars spent in the community get recycled in the community, generating jobs and local government tax revenues.

It's hard for people to get their minds around new ideas - but buying local produce and locally-made goods (for instance furniture and textiles) creates more jobs and recycles more money inside your local economy.

Free-market fantasies have been purveyed by university academics and big business leaders for years. However there are many unconscious assumptions in this model that do not address bigger issues facing us as we look to the future: oil supplies and environmental impact being the major questions.

In the San Francisco Bay ARea and all over the rest of the West Coast we are using our economic power to buy local produce. Our economy is diverse and healthy, in part because of the independent spirit of our citizens. IT's a block-by-block struggle - local gadflies work the democratic system to prevent Wal-Mart stores, encourage small businesses, open up farmers' markets.

Most of us still consume products from around the world - my house has a new armoire made in China, our clothing is made offshore as well. But, buying local is a model for the future, when oil prices will make it much more expensive to import mangos from across the world.

I doubt I'll convince old school business types like Mustapha of the benefits of buying local, but the local goods ship has left the dock and is under sail. Policy makers and business leaders will be swimming desperately behind that ship, trying to catch up.

Mustapha said...


I must say, your point made me inch a bit closer toward understanding how protectionists think.

If I understand correctly, your opposition to free markets is based not an ideological grounds but on a conviction that it's a highly theoretical matter that fails the test of reality on the ground?

To phrase it differently: If there was a way to include all the real costs (oil & trade subsidies, environmental damage..etc), you would think it's a superior way to organize consumption than fads like the 100 miles diet?

If your answer is yes, then you and I agree :)

m. said...


buying local is not a contradiction of market forces - it just includes different set of preferences when taking a decision of what to buy.

also, i live on the west coast, and the movement to by local is as of yet very small, and only consists of certain classes / groups of people. regardless of what we think of walmart and co., it has been able to cater to lower social strata, because of market forces.

Bedouina said...

Mustapha - I'm not against "free markets" - I just challenge you to show me a market that is actually free. The US government, for one, subsidizes, influences and controls markets in all manner of ways.

This idea that buying local is elitist (if I understand M's comment correctly) ignores the reality that small leading edges of consumers can generate massive waves of change.

Wal-mart is now providing organic food - unthinkable five years ago. Those of us who care about these issues are now looking at buying locally - "organic" produce shipped thousands of miles from Chile to California is not as optimal or sustainable as conventionally produced food from within the state.

In my lifetime (40+ years), recycling of materials has gone from a bizarre activity practiced only by a few hippies, to a normal part of daily life for tens of millions of Americans.

My city, Oakland, has committed to "zero waste" within a certain number of years, and has started by banning styrofoam food packaging. So my college changed over from petroleum plastic to compostable plastic food containers, and installed new three-bin "garbage" cans - one for compostables, one for recyclables (paper, metal and glass) and one for actual trash (unrecyclable plastic, foil wrappers, miscellaneous)

Also, we all have three waste bins at home, too - same division.

These are not market forces -these are personal choices that are trickling up into policy at the local level.

But California is also taking the lead in messing with market forces - our Republican governor has implemented programs to encourage solar and other alternative energy research and production. Many corporations have jumped on this band wagon as well. (Applied Materials will adapt its chip-making technology to photovoltaics, for instance)

The hope is that with more markets for alternative energy, the price will come down. I.e, if you sell ten solar electric systems, the price is 100X, but if you sell ten thousand of them, the price goes down to 10X.

And so forth.

This is the market responding to consumer pressure from below and governmental pressure from above.

Oh, and by the way, that mango from South Africa? No way it's going to taste as good as a mango picked in your neighborhood.

Certainly it's not going to be cost effective for Mustapha to grow mangos on a single back yard tree when he probably earns a great deal more per hour than a mango farmer. But if a farmer in his area grows a lot of mangos in an orchard, the cost goes down from Mustapha's back yard cost; and the farmer probably doesn't expect to earn as much as Mustapha (who is probably at least a college grad, more likely has graduate degrees). Meanwhile, the local economy is helped by the farmer's profit, which turns over in the community (he buys supplies from a local store, he buys goods and services in his village, those merchants and providers use the money they earn from him in the area as well)

As a side benefit, that locally produced mango tastes much more delicious than a sad fruit picked green off a tree, refrigerated, shipped thousands of miles, gassed with fungus controls and mold retardants before sale weeks later.

Much more carbon is emitted to the atmosphere in moving that South African mango to LEbanon than in moving a South Lebanon mango to Beirut. Buying local is a global warming issue as well.