The Food Revolution: Vegans v. Locavores
May 9, 2012 19 Comments
I’m not much impressed with the local, sustainable food movement. When I’m cranky, it strikes me as insular, retrograde, solipsistic, libertarian, conspiracy-minded, and self-indulgent. When pressed, I’ll admit that the movement has a place in the overall effort to reform the food system, but it’s a small nook. Decentralizing the food system, fragmenting it into a billion little pieces, makes little sense to me with meat consumption skyrocketing and the world population about to hit 9 billion. Why not change the way we eat rather than fetishize where food comes from?
I’m perfectly fine with having my food produced for me. Fact is, I don’t want to grow my own food–there’s a million things I rather do besides farm. Moreover, I feel no need to have it grown near me. As I see it, an apple is an apple, whether it came from Washington State or my backyard. And in this sentiment–one consistent with the historical continuum of change–I know I’m not alone. Plus, one thing I’m always noticing is that vocal locavores are always buying stuff that’s globally sourced–coffee, wine, bananas, mangoes, and such. So, in a sense, they would have to agree as well.
It’s not that I get excited about impersonal agricultural entities sending me food from all over the world. I’m aware as anyone about the dangers inherent in such dependency. It’s just that I think density of production and global transportation have to be critical factors in a future plant-based food system that’s diverse, accessible, responsible, and–here’s a key point–nutrient dense. It is on this last point where I think the sustainable food movement especially fails. For them it matters none whether you are producing goats or groats. As long as it was produced nearby and with a veneer of eco-correctness, then all is well. Call it the tyranny of greenwashed localism.
What I envision is far more radical than anything the food movement advocates. Forget animal products–because when it comes to nutrient density, they fail. And forget corn and soy for the same reasons. Processed foods–nope. Instead, envision a food system based totally on plant-based superfoods–whole foods such as avocados, gobi berries, anasazi beans, teff, amaranth, blueberries, sprouts sunflower seeds, barley, root vegetables, lentils, nuts, kale, squash, and sprouts. Eating these kinds of foods is the healthiest and most environmentally sustainable way to produce and consume food. However, there’s simply no way we can expand the range of available superfoods without some level of industrialization and large-scale distribution.
Locavores, who cringe at the mere mention of “industrial”– have a problem with this. They see revolution in downsizing. But perpetuating an animal-based diet on the local level is not revolutionary. It’s just scaling down the status quo. Real food revolutionaries–superfood eating vegans–are the ones who work to fundamentally alter the status quo. They seek a way of eating that’s unprecedented, disruptive, compassionate, and sustainable. I’ve said it a hundred times, but here it is again: to eat animals is to implicitly endorse the heart of the food system as it now exists. Vegans get this. They are the ones who seek fundamental, rather than merely locational, change.