The Economist on food politics

The Economist has an excellent article (subscription required) this week on the appeal of organic foods and fair trade products. It also introduces us to the local-food movement, with which I was previously unfamiliar:

The rise of “Big Organic”, the large-scale production of organic food to meet growing demand, has produced a backlash and claims that the organic movement has sold its soul. Purists worry that the organic movement’s original ideals have been forgotten…

Local food need not be organic, but buying direct from small farmers short-circuits industrial production and distribution systems in the same way that buying organic used to. As a result, local food appears to be immune to being industrialised or corporatised.

The discussion of fair trade coffee echoes the objections documented in Kerry Howley’s piece for Reason, “Absolution in Your Cup.” So does the conclusion:

The idea of saving the world by shopping is appealing; but tackling climate change, boosting development and reforming the global trade system will require difficult political choices… Conventional political activity may not be as enjoyable as shopping, but it is far more likely to make a difference.

3 thoughts on “The Economist on food politics

  1. R. Cowan

    I usually don’t comment here because the vast majority of material is over my head, but I’ve got some experience here…

    In Spokane, a service called Fresh Abundance ( offers weekly delivered locally grown organic produce. I subscribe because it is exceedingly easy, healthy, and keeps me roughly on a budget when it comes to produce (my primary staple as a vegetarian). Other people who do it, like Uma S. or Brian E., do it in order to save the world, and this is indeed Fresh Abundance’s primary goal.

    I agree that simply shopping local will probably not effect economies on a large scale. Still, what is your judgement on the local foods movement, and, grand-scale ideas of saving the world aside, is it a rational choice?

  2. Enrique Avogadro

    Fair trade will not save the world, that´s for sure. However, is great to have an increasingly sofisticated offer of goods at your table. Besides, packaged with fair trade comes information about developing countries, their realities, etc. Some consumers might even be tempted to think about world affairs while they are eating!

  3. Jonathan Dingel

    R. Cowan,
    If you find local food to be convenient, healthy, and fiscally sound, then there’s no reason to quit. But if you’re concerned about the global climate or the energy costs of your consumption, then it’s possible that insisting on local production will result in inefficiencies with environmental impacts.

    See here for more excerpts from the Economist, including

    Research carried out at Lincoln University in New Zealand found that producing dairy products, lamb, apples and onions in that country and shipping them to Britain used less energy overall than producing them in Britain. (Farming and processing in New Zealand is much less energy intensive.) And even if flying food in from the developing world produces more emissions, that needs to be weighed against the boost to trade and development.

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