Ezra Klein unpacks the local food debate along public policy lines, and brings up a seminal point about the ways localism is portrayed as such a good thing, food-wise:
But the food movement has developed a relentless emphasis on localism, and for little reason. It’s not the best way to cut carbon emissions (as you can see in the graph on the right, where “delivery” and “freight” are those tiny slivers of color at the beginning of the bar, and the various shades of production dominate the rest of the image). It won’t have massive public health effects (except insofar as you substitute processed food with produce, but you could do that at Safeway). It’s not an easy thing to do. It is, arguably, the most delicious change we can make to our diets, and if we all started eating local it would have profound effects on the nature of American agriculture (demand for local foods grown sustainably would create supply of local foods, grown sustainably), but it can scan as a bourgeois virtue that folks are trying to recast as a pressing policy solution. So far as food policy goes, localism is small, trucked-in potatoes compared to eliminating corn and soy subsidies, pricing carbon, or cutting meat consumption. Indeed, unlike cutting subsidies, localism isn’t something government can actually do.
It’s one thing to think about what individuals can do as opposed to, as Klein points out, what government should. Changing the way we think about sustainability is, often, necessarily connected to the systems we presently rely on; the extent we are tethered to them bears an inverse relationship to the degree to which we are willing to entertain replacing them with new ideas or new systems which will be more sustainable. It would ostensibly be better to think about the changes that are coming down the pike for our society as positive steps forward, rather than restrictions on our lifestyles.
Food is a perfect example, but transit is another. Both are encapsulated in the southern European lifestyle with which we are already familiar, and many know quite well. A rural, farm-centric network of villages connected to the central cities by a modern, efficient rail system. We already know what it looks like; we also, and many are the number, have a built-in affinity for it. These issues, policy determinations that affect regional and national food availability and individual gastronomic tastes, are different yet convergent, largely around the approaching reality of regional and local sustainability.
We already want to live this way; we should embrace change as if it was our preference.