Re: Contra locavorism

1

It does seem plausible. Anyway, I'm not about to eat only local because seafood.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:06 PM
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I like the part about the unpaid labor involved.

Doubt this is a new observation, but I wonder if displacement of work by internships and volunteering could be the mechanism by which we transfer to a post-scarcity economy.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:08 PM
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2.2: It doesn't seem plausible.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:09 PM
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By "seafood" we all know Moby means "Swedish fish."


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:10 PM
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I've been eating a lot of non-euphemistic fish tacos lately. It's become a new favorite.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:12 PM
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5 must be an imposter. 4 is the truth.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:23 PM
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5: The recent local festival for the local scrapple equivalent featured a non-euphemistic fish taco with said scrapple equivalent on it. I did not have any, but my friend said it was pretty good.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:26 PM
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That sounds pretty good!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:28 PM
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It does. I had sweetbread tacos, but didn't really like them. I think maybe I just got a bad pancreas, because usually I like sweetbread.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:30 PM
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I don't understand why one would ruin a taco by putting fish in it, when delicious taco meat is a perfectly good option.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:31 PM
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On the other hand, I could go for a scrapple taco.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:32 PM
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You wouldn't put the same stuff on it that you would if you used taco meat. Probably.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:32 PM
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Also, taco meat is mostly salt and rat parts.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:32 PM
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2.2: That might help with refactoring social structures into forms that will be more resilient when we're The Culture, but it's still missing the vital "post-scarcity" element.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:33 PM
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Locally-sourced rats would at least by easy in New York.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:34 PM
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Its the salt that makes the rat parts so delicious.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:37 PM
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These people are nuts. There's no way I'm eating anything grown in a traffic median.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:42 PM
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I once made some tempeh tacos that were actually quite surprisingly delicious considering, well, tempeh.

OT, at this point I tend to be reflexively skeptical of these contrarian pieces about environmentalism. Obviously not every "green" fad is actually beneficial, but ever since I read a piece in Reason* purporting to "prove" that a hummer was somehow more energy efficient than a hybrid**, I've been suspicious of those sorts of articles.

* I know, why was I reading it in the first place.

** Analysis by another writer revealed a number of assumptions ranging from dubious to plain bullsh*t that the author made in order to reach that conclusion.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:43 PM
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Good point. New York City soil isn't exactly non-toxic.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:43 PM
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The linked piece seems a little confused between locavorism meaning food grown in a vacant lot in Brooklyn, and meaning food grown on an actual farm close to the city. I mean, I've seen arguments that local-farm locavorism is also not particularly environmentally beneficial, but it seems like a totally different thing from goofy people planting carrots on their roof (which may be a nice thing to do, but probably isn't an important part of any environmental strategy), and mixing the arguments looks misleading.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:45 PM
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17, 19: Buck forages for berries in Inwood Hill Park. This seems about on a level with licking the subway to me, but considering it's about a handful of berries a year, it probably doesn't do him any harm.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:47 PM
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I'm reflexively skeptical about environmental contrarianism as well, but locavorism has always been one of those things that seems way off base to me. If you want to reduce the carbon footprint of your food, eat less meat. That one change alone dwarfs any difference made by reducing your "food-miles".


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:49 PM
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If you want to reduce the carbon footprint of your food, eat less meat. That one change alone dwarfs any difference made by reducing your "food-miles".

Tempeh tacos, for example...


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:50 PM
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Its the reason I only eat salted rat.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:50 PM
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Debunking the debunking:

Graf 8: Would a cargo van really consume a whole gallon of gas getting from Brooklyn to Midtown? Probably depends on the traffic. What if it was an all-electric or hybrid vehicle? What if it was a pedal-powered cargo trike? What if you mostly sold your Brooklyn tomatoes in Brooklyn? What is the semi-truck from Florida or California hauling out of NYC? And how many semis are really "meticulously packed and scheduled by corporate bean-counters?" I see produce delivery vehicles doing the "last mile" that are far from being fully loaded. In fact, it's quite common to see a semi or large delivery truck carrying just a few pallets of foodstuffs around, and unloading less than a pallet's worth per store/restaurant. And you don't turn diesels off when you stop. This kind of hazy, back-of-the-envelope calculation is endemic to this kind of article, and seriously undercuts their legitimacy in my mind.

Graf 9: Okay, so now you want it both ways: If urban farming works a "far-flung landscape" of small plots all over a city, why are we talking about potato farmers upstate? If anything, that example just shows that we need more efficient co-op distribution structures for organic farmers. If we are actually talking about little, sub-1 acre plots, how many of those vegetables ever see the inside of a truck? Lots of them go home in people's knapsacks or bike panniers.

Graf 10: Are these folx really "uncompensated?" If they're deriving pleasure from the activity, and probably fresh produce too, then there's a big gain in overall societal health compared to what Mexican migrant workers have to endure. These volunteers' kids aren't being bounced from school to school, living in rundown accommodations or facing a huge burden of social stigma because of their parents' vegetable-picking proclivities.

More later...


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:54 PM
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20: That, plus the argument may look much different for smaller cities. I'm sure local farming for some types of things in some settings is more efficient.

Still, if Whole Foods can bring me organic produce from California for much less than a local farmer even during the local growing season, it doesn't seem plausible that the California produce can be that much more inefficient from an environmental perspective.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:54 PM
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A lot of this contrarian stuff is written by people looking at industrial agriculture with rose-colored glasses. How many of them have temped in a turkey-processing plant? Or trudged through the utterly lifeless soil of a Roundup-saturated soybean field? Urban agriculture might use to much petroleum as it stands, but industrial agriculture MUST use that oil -- unless we're talking about a utopian vision of solar-powered tractors and wood-fueled locomotives or something, i.e. something far more difficult to achieve and make economically viable than the urban agriculture model.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 1:59 PM
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This kind of hazy, back-of-the-envelope calculation is endemic to this kind of article, and seriously undercuts their legitimacy in my mind.

Right. These articles seems to compare the cost of transport of locally grown food from dirt to gullet with the cost of transport of industrially grown food from shipping plant to truck depot, and spotting the industrially grown food the last ten miles on both ends. It's possible that doing the math properly, transport costs are either a wash or still in favor of the long-distance transport, but the reporting never sounds like it's a level comparison.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:00 PM
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utopian vision of... wood-fueled locomotives or something

So, so not utopian. That'd be really unpleasant.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:01 PM
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Okay, unobtanium-fueled locomotives then.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:02 PM
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Handcars. Solves the obesity problem and the food-transport problems.

(In my neighborhood, there's an establishment with the sign "Hand Car Wash." But there are no railroad tracks leading to it, leaving me puzzled about how the handcars get there.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:06 PM
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How many of them have temped in a turkey-processing plant?

I've worked in pig barns. Pigs are scarier because they can squish you to death if you fall over. Also, the chemicals (at least the herbicides) are used to replace tilling, which burns all sorts of fuel if that's what you're worried about. I think the anti-local analyses are plausible because you can get a great deal of efficiency out of creating a commodity (like corn or soybeans) if you do it on a big scale. I don't know about produce.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:08 PM
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Yeah, I'd be really surprised if locavorism turned out to be a good idea for grains. Produce, on the other hand, seems like an entirely different analysis.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:11 PM
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leaving me puzzled about how the handcars get there.

Flatbed truck.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:12 PM
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Re transit costs: I remember reading somewhere that the carbon/energy used in shipping potatoes from north Africa to England was equivalent to the difference in energy between boiling them uncovered and boiling them with a lid on (I think it was in the LRB, but I'm not finding a source).

My basic assumption is that there are _large_ differences in the amount of energy used in transporting produce depending on how it's stored and transported, and I don't know where on that scale transporting vegetables from CA to NYC lies.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:12 PM
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. . . locavorism has always been one of those things that seems way off base to me.

I do agree with this. I think the argument for locavorism is that one enjoys having contact with and sharing a community with the people who produce your food, rather than ecological.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:15 PM
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the carbon/energy used in shipping potatoes from north Africa to England was equivalent to the difference in energy between boiling them uncovered and boiling them with a lid on

Again, I'd believe that in a heartbeat if we're talking about the energy it takes potatoes that have been loaded onto a container ship in Africa to be shipped to the dock in England. Ocean transport is cheap as anything, energy-wise, and potatoes from North Africa to England seems like they'd plausibly be ocean transport. Once you add in farm to dock, dock to store, and store to table, though, I don't buy it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:17 PM
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Somebody on fb just linked to a really scaremongery "SOY BEANS WILL KILL YOU" thing that basically double-stealth-contrarian-ed me into a corner. Because I am very fond of arguing with vegetarians about how eating tofu is bad for the environment and probably not that great healthwise, compared to fancy locally sourced artisanally cossetted meat. However, I also do not think eating edamame is going to give me brain damage.

Therefore, uh... anyway. It seemed revelant for a minute and now I typed this whole thing out so I'm posting it.


Posted by: E. Messily | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:18 PM
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One other thing, randomly floating through my brain (it's Friday, I'm not completely functional right now). I know that I've seen people talk about Cuba as a model for sustainable agriculture using less petroleum inputs. Without having any real knowledge this article seems informative.

Popular descriptions often oversimplify the narrative of Cuba's sustainable agriculture. For example, the website of the Durham, North Carolina, non-profit NEEM (Natural Environment Ecological Management) features a narrative sketch that labels the rise of organic garden collectives in Cuban cities "the urban agriculture miracle." . . .

What we do know about Cuba's agricultural innovations is that domestic shortages brought on by the end of Soviet subsidies and the U.S. embargo forced the Cuban government to seek alternative solutions. This entailed ceding some degree of power to its innovative citizen farmers and gardeners who have, in turn, helped create an alternative to industrial agriculture through the formation of organic garden cooperatives known as "organopónicos," local distribution channels, information exchanges, and the like. Urban dwellers, many of them university trained, some of them scientists, have joined cooperative gardens in the cities. Working toward sustainability, Cuba's rural farmers have received new freedoms to produce for more open markets. Such policy changes, along with newly revamped farms and numerous urban gardens, have contributed to a much-needed increase in the country's food supply since the early 1990s. While overall food production in Cuba in 2010 was lower than in 2005, the organic movement coupled with local sales and farmers' pocketing some of the profit, is one area of progress.

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:22 PM
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The article's bullshit, written by some kid that googled a few numbers.

Local farmers markets, local cattle or pork that's treated humanely and not stuffed with antibiotics-- great. The factory farming apologists seem to be gesturing towards the idea that there are too many people for all of us to eat good food which might be more expensive.

But the existing system is efficient for ADM and Tysons, not for the whole country. The environmental impact of growing too much subsidized corn, that's just good business. IMO raised awareness and any viable connection with farmers and food production is a good thing, worth an (unproven) carbon cost as an intermediate step to saner and healthier food for all. Less meat, less corn.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:23 PM
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Once you add in farm to dock, dock to store, and store to table, though, I don't buy it.

I agree (my comment was specifically thinking about the advantages of ocean transport over trucking, but I didn't make that explicit). I think the key point that we're both making is that, "food miles" is not a very good proxy for environmental impact, what matters is the distribution/transportation chain (and it is not clear that the author of the linked article is making particularly reliable estimates).


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:24 PM
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I keep on wondering what happens when the aquifers that supply all the wells on the Great Plains go dry. What part of US agriculture can keep going off that year's rainfall?

I sort of figure it's not that huge a problem, or I'd be reading more panicking about it, but who knows.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:26 PM
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My argument for locavorism is that I live square in the middle of the breadbasket. I've never really understood locavorism in places with snow.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:26 PM
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or I'd be reading more panicking about it

My new years predictions aren't looking good so far.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:29 PM
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My basic hierarchy of eating rules, from most important to least, is

1. Vegetarianism (for animal welfare mostly, but also to help the environment).

2. Organic food (for the environment.)

3. Locavorism (to build local community and support independent businesses.)

There is almost no way to move from back of the envelope calculation to real environmental cost benefit analysis without a big research grant and a well defined problem. I'm skeptical about arguments on either side for the impact of transporting food. However, I do see value in building community.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:31 PM
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Should I see Elysium or The Wolverine tonight?


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:32 PM
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42: This map was already linked here once today. Everything in yellow or brown stops growing corn (excepting maybe a river valley or two).


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:36 PM
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The yellow part of MN grows a lot of sugar beets though.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:38 PM
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You wonder what that turns into in terms of food prices/supply.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:39 PM
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This is kinda neat. Too much woo, but the guy's a regular Ewok:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tekwt_5HwA0


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:39 PM
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49: That would take more work to figure.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:45 PM
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Focusing on only transport to calculate efficiency is stupid. There are policy inefficiencies (ethanol, export subsidies, tariff barriers) that I bet dwarf transport costs.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:48 PM
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In as much as locavorism can undermine the power of ADM and Monsanto, I can support that. But that's only going to work with real farms that can produce good food at a decent scale, and city-based hobby farming is not that.

I've heard of proposals for "vertical farms"... skyscrapers that grow food. This strikes me as particularly dumb. If you are building a skyscraper in the middle of the city, people should live there, and land-intensive operations should be located in places where there is a lot of land to go around.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:48 PM
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Oh and water usage. If only there were someone knowledgable about that who could fill in.

Basically the beady-eyed weasels who want a nation fed on fast food want people not to thin about food production, similar to the wishes of agribusiness.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:50 PM
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I agree with 53, but local farms and farmers markets can be a basis for getting people to think about where food comes from and buy something that is not shrinkwrapped.

The guy in Milwaukee, Wil ALlen, MacArthur Fellow, who takes food waste from restaurants as a basis for compost to do raised-bed farming in blighted parts of the city seems pretty neat-- not a scalable policy, but a cheap and effective improvement from soda and chips at the Safeway.

It drives me crazy when people make motivational arguments like this on topics I don't care much about, so I guess that I should stop.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 2:55 PM
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Ocean transport is cheap as anything, energy-wise Well, sort of. Burning bunker fuel C is dollar-cheap, but the exhaust is one of the reasons so many kids in Oakland are seriously asthmatic. (I think idling ships are now required to run off shore electric more of the time now -- that helps the kids in Oakland, but of course the total atmospheric load from the ocean crossings is still high.)

If we could price in all the externalities we'd find out PDQ what the efficient way to feed ourselves is. I don't know what it is, though, like Megan, I suspect that it will involve a lot more planning ahead and paying attention than is fun.

Anything that gets shipped by air, and a lot of what gets shipped by truck, might be worthwhile to grow in temperate urban corners if it's eaten in bike range. Herbs, leafy veg, even some fruit -- we like having temperate well-lit spaces with some plants in them already, why not edible plants? The skyscraper farm plans I've seen make sense in the tropics and subtropics where the main energy burden for dense buildings is cooling, not heating. (The plants are shade scrims for the floorplates, not grown *on* the floorplates.) We'd eat different things in different places and seasons.

Or, you know, maybe we'll invent zero-point energy and not only be able to ship everything everywhere forever, but we'll be able to extract phosphorus from seawater, so we'll never have to use urban wastes to grow anything, and we can pump desalinated seawater back into the Ogalalla, and, uh, build mansions on Greenland with the left over salt. Or a space elevator. Filled with sparkle ponies.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 5:40 PM
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Wait, Thorn, did we have a conversation about local scrapple equivalent?


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 5:44 PM
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My uncle was murdered by a sparkle pony, you monster.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 5:58 PM
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Time to ship them offplanet, then.

(Send them to the shoulder of Orion and set them on fire. )


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:04 PM
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I suspect that if all the extremities were priced correctly, most of the food shipped by air wouldn't be available and would be replaced by frozen whatever it is.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:18 PM
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Except bananas. You can't freeze bananas. I guess those come by boat, if you can believe the song.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:20 PM
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if all the extremities were priced correctly we'd eat fewer fish fingers.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:25 PM
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But if we don't eat the fingers, the fish will become dexterous and take over the world.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:27 PM
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But seriously, the people I know who work on this don't know about frozen food: they say the cold chain now is very energy-intensive, but might be improvable fast with current tech. One of the charming examples is using cold as a battery so it fits well with renewable or remote energy.

E.g., pasture and ranching areas would be more likely to have their own meat coolers, with a central core that can get really really cold when energy is cheap -- and a door to open between that and the actual food storage. Already done in Germany somewhere, I think.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:27 PM
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I welcome our righteous fish overlords.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:27 PM
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Hopefully we stop polluting before the ocean gets bad enough that fish mutate themselves into some fingers.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:28 PM
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fish fingers.

"Whoever Invented the Fishfinger" -- not one of Leon's best songs, but still memorable.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:29 PM
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66 was so pwned. In my defense, I'm not paying attention.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:34 PM
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64: They used to ship everything to Chicago and kill it there, but that might cost more, transportation-wise.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:38 PM
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61: I guess those come by boat, if you can believe the song.

And the Illinois Central. Bananas northbound, Steve Goodman southbound.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:39 PM
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59: Right, that's where they'd kill the bananas.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:43 PM
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59 s/b 69, although 59 sort of works.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:44 PM
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I don't know who Steve Goodman is, but if he fucks with my bananas....


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:47 PM
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The criticisms people in this thread have made of the article are fair, but I think the basic premise is right. There's a role for urban agriculture in some contexts, but in general agriculture makes the most sense in rural areas where land is cheap.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 6:50 PM
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It seems nontrivial to try to make a complete argument-- as others said, the sort of small-volume intracity transport he accounts for surely happens also with things shipped on giant trucks, right? It's not like the truck is unloaded in one place in NYC and everyone shops there.

But I'm with teo: the gist of the article feels right to me. More broadly, there's this general conflation of sort of feel-good-about-the-natural-world stuff and environmentalism. A high school friend of mine who has pretty good quantitative instincts (majored in physics in college, for a while was in a graduate astrophysics program) somehow, last I heard, was spending all his time advocating for people to go back to small-scale local farming, and I think this is just wrongheaded. It's been a while since I last spoke with him but it was an odd experience, since we were both really concerned about the urgency of addressing climate change but he was completely dismissive of large-scale policy options like a carbon tax or cap and trade and thought that the only realistic option was that everyone adopt a locally-oriented way of life, and preferably start a mass exodus from suburbs into small farms. Which is not even in the same universe as anything I would call "realistic", plus I think it's quantitatively nutty in terms of the number of people who have to be fed. I think the trouble is this kind of old-fashioned "back to the Earth" environmentalism is seductive but not, ultimately, very useful.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 7:11 PM
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18: at this point I tend to be reflexively skeptical of these contrarian pieces about environmentalism.

Indeed. I had never thought that the sole and entire point of eating locally was to reduce one's carbon footprint, such that if only that can be disproven, the case for locavorism has been destroyed. Community sharing is key, but it's not just a kumbaya extra: you're keeping your money in the local economy. The food also tastes better, and can have better nutritional value, when fresher. You're also contributing to a better use of area land -- a use which keeps the soil rich and productive -- than, you know, the production of another parking lot.

There's been an unfortunate stray in the notion of what counts as local, though: word is that much of what you find in your local farmer's market these days, at least in this area, is actually coming from some 150 miles away. That's local, um, sort of. That's not what we meant, though. Um.*

The source doesn't need to be within biking distance, but how about within 30 miles? There are many small farmers within 30 miles who'd keep going if they could find a market. (Well, maybe not in the New York metropolitan area.)

Oh, Natilo spoke of that in 25: we need more efficient distribution structures for organic and small farmers. Some people are working on that.

* The local farm stand I frequent is very busy by noon: people are chatty, and I often hear them ask the proprietors (who offer produce not just from their own farm), "Where is the cantaloupe coming from?" "Where is the corn from?" People are paying attention to this.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 7:13 PM
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Good lord, that turned out long. Turns out I have feelings about it.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 7:15 PM
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There don't seem to be any drawings of contra dancing lungfish. The appeal of deviantart increases.

I'm not sure your example makes me less nervous, essear; someone who can do math and wasn't originally insane and has been studying the question thinks powerdown is the safest option, and you --- feel this is wrong? Me, I hope so.

One of the numbers that we don't feel directly is that, as far as I know, small-scale low-input ag usually has higher output (total calories per acre, roughly) but lower yield (total calories per acre of the single largest crop) than big-scale high-input ag. We know how to make money off the latter. The former would probably feed more people. It requires that a lot more people than now spend more of their time and attention farming (also cooking, as we need to know how to cook more things over the course of a year).

About one person in ten in my R1, engineering-and-politics-and-science lab quits to start a farm. (Say, three in ten in policy somewhere, four or five in academia or the USGS.) Our PI doesn't think they're nuts, and he grew up farming.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 7:27 PM
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57: No, so who's talking to you behind my back? Has the local sausage (and there's another called leona I've never even tasted because who would name a sausage after his wife?) made it to your ancestral region? And really, the fact that my town has a festival for this sausage and so does the next town/county over plus we have a generic sausage festival and Italian and German festivals that are basically stealth sausage festivals proves that we're part of the Midwest for real.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 7:29 PM
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78: Tomorrow we go visit our friends who bougtht their farm in part through a grant that had them turn tobacco land into vineyards and a winery instead, because our state is now into diversifying vices. Lee and I talked about moving down there (there's a lesbian not-quite-commune in the area) but kept coming back to wanting to raise children of color and not feeling we could fairly do it there. I'm not sure how this factors into anything, but that too is part of the bigger picture.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 7:33 PM
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78.2: I mean, I think I'm with you on that, and certainly in terms of any quantitative metrics about food production I'm sure he knows much more than I do. It's just that it seems like an obvious non-starter to me; whether it's the best conceivable outcome or not, you're just not going to convince a large fraction of Americans to give up their current lifestyle to work on a small farm. However politically impossible a carbon tax is, it's still orders of magnitude more feasible than a massive, voluntary reorganization of our entire society from the ground up.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 7:38 PM
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74: The criticisms people in this thread have made of the article are fair, but I think the basic premise is right. There's a role for urban agriculture in some contexts

Having now read the article, sure, if locavorism is to mean urban farming in New York City, it's a dubious proposition. But the fact that it may not be workable in NYC doesn't mean the notion is silly.

I find the writer's remarks on CSAs annoying.

Unfortunately, the exorbitant cost of buying local prevails from the Whole Foods at the high end right down to the populist, communitarian--and rather cultic--wing of the movement known as "community-supported agriculture." A CSA is an alternative distribution system that lets groups of consumers contract directly with a local farm for regular disbursements of produce. Cutting out wholesalers and supermarkets is supposedly a financial win-win for farmers and consumers, but the main benefits may be spiritual.
Alas, that bond is one-sided to the point of abusiveness. CSAs are the worst food deal imaginable

I can't speak to CSAs in the New York area, so whatever.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 7:42 PM
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And let's remember that New York's sustainability lies in its sidewalks and subways, in the stupendous density that puts the world within strolling distance and makes driving impossible, in the teeming high-rises that pen people in spaces small enough to cramp a veal calf. The result is a triumph of eco-engineering

Awesome.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 7:44 PM
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81: Obvs we won't work harder if we don't have to. But we've reorganized our whole society in fifty years several times already. We seem politically incapable of planning for expensive energy top-down. So it's piecemeal power-down, sparkle ponies or...?


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 7:56 PM
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78: One of the numbers that we don't feel directly is that, as far as I know, small-scale low-input ag usually has higher output (total calories per acre, roughly) but lower yield (total calories per acre of the single largest crop) than big-scale high-input ag. We know how to make money off the latter. The former would probably feed more people. It requires that a lot more people than now spend more of their time and attention farming (also cooking, as we need to know how to cook more things over the course of a year

I love you, clew.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 7:57 PM
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84: Alarming wakeup calls prompting grudging, too-little-too-late actions and then a very long and painful period of adjustment? Geoengineering? I don't know. I just don't see "piecemeal power-down" as very different "sparkle ponies", I guess.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 8:03 PM
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So it's piecemeal power-down, sparkle ponies or...?

Muddling through, of course.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 8:10 PM
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More broadly, there's this general conflation of sort of feel-good-about-the-natural-world stuff and environmentalism

I definitely agree with this, although I would say that the term "environmentalism" could just as easily be used for the former as the latter (and often is). There's a lot of conceptual incoherence to "environmentalism" if you treat it as a single movement that's assumed to speak with one voice, as journalists and so forth often do.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 8:12 PM
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Environmentalism doesn't mean "save the earth from global warming", but I guess that's the only important part of it now.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 8:17 PM
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89: I actually meant it more broadly: trying to avert global warming, ocean acidification, collapse of fish species, and so on; preserving ecosystem services; generally, figuring out how we can live sustainably and, as much as possible, avoid damaging the environment.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 8:23 PM
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clew, essear: Is there some idea afloat that we should abandon large-scale agriculture altogether?

That would be rather pie-in-the-sky. Rather, I thought the idea was that we should be inviting more diverse ways of feeding ourselves, to include, importantly, small-scale farming.

I'm getting the impression that people are viewing this as an all or nothing thing.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 8:27 PM
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78: I know someone who's good at math who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy because of some long chain of reasoning of how it was optimal. Good at math is compatible with lunatic decision-making.

An outcome where most people go back to farming is disaster. It's not a solution to anything -- it's an admission of total defeat. Waiting for a technological miracle at least has a greater than 0% of success.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 8:27 PM
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No to locavorism because there's so much good stuff that isn't local. No to locavorism because it's horribly expensive. Yes to locavorism if all you're talking about is fresh locally grown produce. It's prime greenmarket season. Yay! But what about the rest of the year?


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 8:45 PM
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We don't know which of the currently energy-intensive processes will have usable engineering fixes without rejiggering everything so we don't know what we can keep doing. (My guesses: shipping bulk dry food, yes; adequate phosphorus, no; water, hell I don't know but it's really heavy so prognosis: bad)

Because of the output/yield argument, sending a lot of people back to smallish farming -- probably reconverting suburbs, not leaving them -- looks to some very-pessimistic-but-not-crazy-I-think people like a success, as opposed to having so fragile a system that we face actual decimating famines. Which are unimaginable! That hasn't happened without a war in a rich country for yonks! But our whole system is based on cheap energy, and if that runs out WTF? Probably a war. Oh, wait.

I dearly wanted marijuana to become legal to grow but not to sell so we'd have a quiet, mellow corps of gardeners. Hello the Shire.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 8:55 PM
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Because of the output/yield argument, sending a lot of people back to smallish farming -- probably reconverting suburbs, not leaving them -- looks to some very-pessimistic-but-not-crazy-I-think people like a success, as opposed to having so fragile a system that we face actual decimating famines.

Whereas societies composed primarily of small-scale farmers never experience famine.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:06 PM
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79: Stealth...sausage...festivals.

Oh dear.

No just my family and I spent a weekend in your town, I think maybe we were going across the river for the opera or something, and we went out for breakfast and they offered us local scrapple alternative to which my parents were all "WTF?" and this slapstick conversation ensued in which they kept repeating the main ingredient and all of us would say "what?" and they'd repeat it again and it went on and on for about twelve hours. Spin oats or something. But like one word. Spinoats. I think I was a vegetarian at the time and wasn't sure if spinoats were an animal like a cousin of a stoat or something* so I didn't end up trying any.

*as in the classic song "Mares spinoats and stoats spinoats and little lambs eat goetta," so memorably performed by Leland Palmer right after his hair went white.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:14 PM
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Snark aside, I do think there's a lot of potential in the long term for converting suburbs (back) to farmland. I don't see very many of the people staying in place, though.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:15 PM
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A kid'll eat local scrapple alternative, too, wouldn't you?


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:16 PM
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And the Illinois Central. Bananas northbound, Steve Goodman southbound.

I appreciated that, thank you.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:16 PM
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When I travel to villages I should check if the stores have bananas and, if so, how much they cost.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:23 PM
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As I remember it, a big argument in Victorian Holocausts is that it takes global-market farming to guarantee *big* famines -- that local farming tends to have local famines (and had systems to ameliorate them, which we could do better because we have better engineers).

The hegemon won't have a famine. Don't know if the US is going to stay the hegemon, don't think we should have a system optimized for the hegemon.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:29 PM
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I can't speak to CSAs in the New York area, so whatever.

Our NYC area CSA basically imploded after a bout of flooding, and the shareholders really didn't get much of their promised food. Turns out the CSA model is not so good when it comes to diversification of risk.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:33 PM
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In country after country, over a wide span of cultures and time, we have seen that a large chunk of people actually engaged in traditional small scale farming prefer to engage in Dickensian factory labor while living in hellish slums. Anyone who feels any hint of sympathy for a long term future where the bulk of the population is engaged in traditional small scale farming for a local market should ask themselves how open they'd feel to some right wing types arguing for the bulk of Americans to live the lives of Bagladeshi textile workers. Why? TINA. Fuck that.

In any case the assumptions those folks make are the same idiotic ones made by Paolo Bacigalupi in his SF dystopian world where in a post oil, greenhouse effect world there is no hydro, no solar, no wind, because ummh, just because.

But our whole system is based on cheap energy, and if that runs out WTF?

No. You can have car and trucking centered urbanized societies with far higher energy prices and far lower incomes than the US. Really, they exist. Unless you think transport energy costs at the equivalent of twenty bucks a gallon are cheap, or impossible without cheap fossil fuels, then there is no issue here. Or rather there is, but nowhere near enough to call into question the viability of a sub/urbanized society even assuming zero technological progress.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:33 PM
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As I remember it, a big argument in Victorian Holocausts is that it takes global-market farming to guarantee *big* famines -- that local farming tends to have local famines (and had systems to ameliorate them, which we could do better because we have better engineers).

That's interesting, and I'll have to think about it. There aren't very many data points, of course, so it's hard to evaluate that sort of theory.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:35 PM
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My understanding is that in many cases the "systems" that small-scale farmers had to ameliorate famines were along the lines of "move somewhere else where there isn't a famine" (yet...), which can cause a different set of problems. Of course, my knowledge is mostly of areas where agriculture is pretty marginal to start with.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:37 PM
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My understanding of medieval and early-modern history is that famines actually sucked balls.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:41 PM
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a large chunk of people actually engaged in traditional small scale farming prefer to engage in Dickensian factory labor while living in hellish slums.

I've also seen the reverse (in Nicaragua, for instance); and in the two histories I'm most familiar with, the US and UK, the awful factories only got workers when there wasn't enough good farmland to go around for small-scale farmers so I couldn't call it a balanced choice. OTOH, lots of China looks like an argument for your side.

The more sensible argument is not for *traditional* small-scale farming but for *low-energy-input* farming, which is likely to be small-scale because it has to be locally adaptive, but might be novel in other ways. Would you call the e-choupals traditional?


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:44 PM
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I mostly agree with Teo, and I guess that he's sober so I won't try to restate his point. Also, 103.first. Because plants suck.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:46 PM
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I guess that he's sober

Mostly, but not for long!


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:48 PM
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Anyway, I think most of these disputes ultimately come down to differing value hierarchies and aesthetic preferences, so it's not like anyone's ever going to convince anyone else.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:49 PM
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106: Well, sure, but an enormous amount of history sucked for stupid reasons. Both ancien regime France and (some of?) British India lost significant animal and human productivity because salt was overtaxed. (one of my favorite cases because in France the government turned into commerce, and in India commerce turned into the government. Also, _The Great Hedge of India_ is a ton of fun.)

103.4: Could you give examples of how sub/urbanized you're thinking? Because, e.g., I can see Manchester NH doing pretty well at $20/gallon and similar for natural gas, but Phoenix AZ, no.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:51 PM
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Someone might convince someone!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:51 PM
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Although if teo thinks Phoenix will be OK, I will get more cheerful. I've always wanted to see Venice.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:53 PM
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Is Phoenix doing well with $3.69 gas?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:53 PM
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Although s.b. For instance, now that I've seen 112.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:53 PM
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I do not think Phoenix will be okay. I'm surprised it's not in worse shape now, actually.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:56 PM
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I once convinced a guy to try a rusty nail.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:56 PM
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But that's mostly about water, not energy.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:56 PM
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Whiskey is water and energy. Drambuie is mostly whiskey and raspberries.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:59 PM
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Everything is water and energy.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 9:59 PM
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Water is just water.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:01 PM
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I know someone who's good at math who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy because of some long chain of reasoning of how it was optimal

You know my dad?


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:01 PM
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All of the arguments I'm seeing here seem to boil down to "if we can replace industrial agriculture 100% and right away, then there is no alternative." It's just a straw man argument to suggest that that's what advocates of locavorism or vegetarianism or whatever are supporting.

You know why New Jersey is called "The Garden State?" Because it used to feed Manhattan from all of its many truck gardens. Milk used to come in from nearby dairies up the Hudson. The idiocy of the "garden city" suburban ideal took much of the best farmland in the world -- both in terms of fertility AND ready access to urban markets -- and turned it into a useless, toxic monoculture. Obviously, Rome wasn't built in a day, and it's going to take awhile to undo 70 years of asinine development schemes, but ultimately, that is the direction things will have to move in, even if we are still shipping citrus fruits and what not.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:01 PM
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s/b "can't replace"


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:03 PM
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123.2: New Jersey doesn't like it when you call them an asinine development scheme.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:04 PM
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The idiocy of the "garden city" suburban ideal took much of the best farmland in the world -- both in terms of fertility AND ready access to urban markets -- and turned it into a useless, toxic monoculture. Obviously, Rome wasn't built in a day, and it's going to take awhile to undo 70 years of asinine development schemes, but ultimately, that is the direction things will have to move in, even if we are still shipping citrus fruits and what not.

I don't disagree with this at all.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:05 PM
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125: Tell me about it.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:06 PM
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Or when you point out that the state's best musician had to name his album after a state with real farms.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:07 PM
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They've still got plenty of fake farms.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:07 PM
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And a few real ones.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:07 PM
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|| If I were the kind of person who did fun things I'd ask for suggestions for things to do in New Orleans this week. But I don't care about alcohol and music, and that seems to be the most popular stuff people recommend.|>


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:10 PM
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43 gets it right. If we want more people to eat locally, the sensible way to do it is to put more housing units in California.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:12 PM
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"Advocates of locavorism or vegetarianism or whatever" gets at exactly what bugs me. These things are not equal. The arguments for vegetarianism are pretty good, while the arguments for locavorism is pretty poor. The arguments for whatever are fucking excellent. You can't just lump them all together just because they are advocated by various well-meaning people.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:14 PM
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I hadn't heard of e-choupals but from the (very) brief look up, it sounds like something that will take small scale farmers from horrific poverty to just extreme poverty. For farmers to not be poor most people must not be farmers. The economics just don't work otherwise. And it doesn't address the nature of non mechanized farming - it's heavy physical labor from dawn to dusk.

In addition to China, I was also thinking of pre WWII France when it comes to movement to the cities. No serious land pressure because of zero population growth, only moderate industrial growth, no government policy encouraging urban migration, yet it happened in spite of lower urban living standards than in the US or UK. Not at the same speed, hence my qualification of 'many' rather than most. And in the UK migration continued long after the land pressures eased. The cities and factories of England in the last quarter of the nineteenth century weren't as bad as they were when Dickens was writing, but by present day standards they were third world hellholes for the poor

I don't know Phoenix, I do know Manchester, however I don't see why not Phoenix. The reason is there is no technological barrier to far higher mileage - between making vehicles smaller and less powerful and plug in hybrid systems you can really jack up efficiency. All but short distance freight transport can be shifted to rail, which can be run on electricity. The question isn't what would happen to Phoenix, it's what happens in Sao Paolo or Bratislava - far less car dependent places, but far more vulnerable to energy price shocks because they're already more efficient and have less of an income margin. The US, between its energy inefficiency and wealth is in a very different situation.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:24 PM
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But that's mostly about water, not energy.

The water argument against the viability of Phoenix and the rest of the Southwestern urban areas ignores that we spend most of our water resources there on agriculture. Phoenix is not viable if we continue to insist on growing cotton and rice in the fricking desert. If we decide that the desert is not a good place for farming then it should be fine with moderate conservation measures.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:28 PM
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132: We tried. The ones near the food had the worst foreclosures. Maybe that means they'll be cheap for the Agenda 21 migration.

It's annoying, for the efficiency-and-robustness arguments, that cities seem to `want' to get big. A lot more places with the population of, oh, Spokane, surrounded by their good farmland, with towns and hamlets for people who can telecommute... could be delightful! Plus one megacity per coast.

I was very sorry this summer to realize that _Pacific Rim_ wasn't a movie of Kim Stanley Robinson's _Pacific Edge_. Then I went and saw it and was even more sorry. (Why isn't anyone filming the three? Lots of explosions in the first two.)


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:28 PM
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122: Unless you are 13 years old, no. The guy I knew decided that orthodoxy was the closest to original Christianity.

The same guy got married and had a kid. He and his wife were trilingual, so they came up with a weekly schedule where Monday they would speak English, Tuesday Chinese, Wednesday Spanish, etc. The kid of course ended up inventing his own English-Chinese-Spanish creole. They had to take him to a speech therapist, who ordered them to pick one language and stick to it.

I always think of this guy when I find myself tempted to believe that modus ponens can solve all of life's problems.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:31 PM
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The water argument against the viability of Phoenix and the rest of the Southwestern urban areas ignores that we spend most of our water resources there on agriculture. Phoenix is not viable if we continue to insist on growing cotton and rice in the fricking desert. If we decide that the desert is not a good place for farming then it should be fine with moderate conservation measures.

You weren't kidding when you said you didn't know Phoenix.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:33 PM
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Why ever speak English at home if both parents know all the languages and they're living in the US? I've known a number of kids with two languages at home and a third one outside the home (and sometimes a fourth as well) and they did fine, e.g. my friend from school who spoke Arabic and Greek at home, English at school and French outside of school or home.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:36 PM
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138 I've seen water usage figures for Arizona, and the majority seems to go to agriculture. What am I missing?


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:37 PM
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I would think of dropping almost all Southwest ag and switching to small, electrified cars as rather a large reconfiguration of the US. I really hope the people proposing shooting wars if we try it are joking, since (along with a zillion better reasons) we'd lose that nice income margin.

So what do you think will happen to Sao Paulo and Bratislava?

I didn't think _The Windup Girl_ made any energy-sense on its own, let alone why they didn't have wind or solar.

(irrepressible pedantry: with enough energy we could solve all our water problems everywhere. We'd have new ones when it all melted.)


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:37 PM
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I've seen water usage figures for Arizona, and the majority seems to go to agriculture. What am I missing?

That Phoenix is a fantastic place to farm, if you can build and maintain the irrigation infrastructure necessary to get the water there. Agriculture is probably the best use of water in the Salt-Gila basin. Suburban residential development, not so much.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:42 PM
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The linked piece may be plausible or even right but it's pretty scattershot and annoying.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:43 PM
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The Brasilians and Slovaks better hope that we make significant technological progress. Which may well happen. I'm far more worried about cheap fossil fuels in the short and medium term than I am about expensive energy in that same time span. Peak Oil is something a market economy is quite well suited to dealing with since it plays to its strengths - innovation and adaptation in response to price signals. Climate change on the other hand, where the problems are both delayed and don't directly encourage the right kind of change, is what gives me nightmares.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:45 PM
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I had the impression that the French turn-of-the-century migration you describe was more like the Nicaraguan families I know, and in fact my farmer-to-engineer US grandfather's advice: you want to go to the city because there's a chance of getting rich there, but the family has to keep the farm so no-one gets trapped and indebted and permanently immiserated in the city instead. And Chinese migrants usually *can't* give up their legal rural residence, so maybe they've hedged their bets too.

Which is not quite the same as believing that the factories are in themselves and forever better than farming (though there are decades, regions, and temperaments for which that is true, too, and heck, apparently a lot of women went on the Long March because even THAT was better than being a daughter-in-law).


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:47 PM
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Peak Oil is something a market economy is quite well suited to dealing with since it plays to its strengths - innovation and adaptation in response to price signals. Climate change on the other hand, where the problems are both delayed and don't directly encourage the right kind of change, is what gives me nightmares.

This is exactly right.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:47 PM
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142 Huh, did not know that. I assumed it was simply a historical legacy of what Arizona was like back when water rights were being distributed.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:47 PM
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147: The history is much more complicated than that. Thousands of years.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:48 PM
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Leapfrog to 144: yay, price signals can send us to coal instead of oil and gas, dooming us all.

On the other hand, the recent Roman concrete rediscovery kind of looks like a $50 bill that's been sitting on the sidewalk for centuries. This is why I want to tax the skin off dirty everything, to concentrate the minds of engineers.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:51 PM
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price signals can send us to coal instead of oil and gas, dooming us all.

In practice the effect recently has been to send us to gas instead of coal and oil. Yay fracking!


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:53 PM
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But eek water! Or no?


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:53 PM
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But eek water! Or no?

I dunno. Weighing the benefits and costs is tricky.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:54 PM
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That concrete thing is cool, though. Thanks for linking.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 10:55 PM
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Also neat. If we could harness the Archaea, wierd times can come down, I tell you. As my favorite microbiologist says, the eukaryotes are metabolically untalented. (But the link is all eukaryotes, afaict.)


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 11:00 PM
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Yeah, I saw that when it came out, and it sounds promising. I used to be pretty skeptical about biofuels (and still am to some extent), but since I've been in my current job I've come around a bit to the potential for advanced biofuels. There are certainly a lot of applications for which they are the only plausible alternatives for fossil fuels.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 11:05 PM
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149 Yes. Which if Peak Oil was the only issue would be fine - coal would be a medium term more expensive alternative that would encourage adaptation and innovation and which would grow more expensive over time, continuing the cycle. At the end we'd have electricity powered everything, including net negative energy high density synthetic fuels for uses where we absolutely need them. Unfortunately we'll also get climate disaster. Louis XV was even more right than we thought, apres nous le deluge.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 11:11 PM
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Apres vous, maybe.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 11:14 PM
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149: See, this I agree with completely. Better engineering is best way forward.

Locavorism is basically besides the point when it comes to solving the problems of the modern world. I guess the purpose locavorism serves is that it allows everyone involved to make a contribution. If the solution really is better engineering, then there's not much rest of us can do. (Other than political engagement, of course, which frequently feels Sisyphean.)


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 11:15 PM
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154: Bacteria, not eukaryotes. Divide amazement by half.

149: I'd be more polyanna-ish if the actual engineer-physicists I know, even the optimistic ones
like Lovins, didn't seem to be describing pretty radical changes in our lives. Patzek and Pimentel are more pessimistic still, but correct when they say that we're not guaranteed answers, let alone answers we'll *like*. And boy we get politically pissy about answers we don't like.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 11:43 PM
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I'd be more polyanna-ish if the actual engineer-physicists I know, even the optimistic ones like Lovins, didn't seem to be describing pretty radical changes in our lives. Patzek and Pimentel are more pessimistic still, but correct when they say that we're not guaranteed answers, let alone answers we'll *like*. And boy we get politically pissy about answers we don't like.

See, I feel like this whole approach is sort of a category error, and typical of an engineering-centered mindset. We don't have that much control. Climate change is a collective action problem on a scale we as a species have never encountered before, and it's not surprising that we're failing miserably at addressing it.

At this point, though, the ship has largely sailed. Adaptation (rather than prevention or mitigation) is the name of the game. Reducing emissions and so forth is still important so things don't get even worse, but they're already bad and we may well have hit some of the dreaded tipping points that cause irreversible feedback loops. This sort of forces our hand, in terms of what we do now.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 9-13 11:55 PM
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This sort of forces our hand, in terms of what we do now.

How? I mean, there's a sensible and maybe possible mitigation/adaptation/climbdown route, but what's forcing our hand to take it instead of the denial, blame-shifting, war, scrabbling in the ruins route? Historically very popular! Easy initial terms!


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 12:03 AM
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I mean, there's a sensible and maybe possible mitigation/adaptation/climbdown route, but what's forcing our hand to take it instead of the denial, blame-shifting, war, scrabbling in the ruins route? Historically very popular! Easy initial terms!

Nothing, really, and we may well end up going down that road. But we haven't yet. And the current context means that using our logical democratic process to decide upon a rational response to the problem facing us is no longer an option. Maybe we'll end up using a different process, but more likely we won't and things will just happen and we'll react when they do. Muddling through.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 12:12 AM
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Lindblom's original paper on "muddling through" is very much worth reading, btw.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 12:27 AM
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This thread was really interesting after I fell asleep. Which I think I'm going to do again.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 2:44 AM
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I don't have an ecological argument to make, but it still needs to be said that the thing that's wrong with getting all of your fresh produce from California is that it lacks flavor. At least Strawberried from flavor taste like cardboard when they arrive in the Northeast.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 3:44 AM
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My relative grows tilapia in Tuscon. That strikes me as a rather hair-brained scheme, but apparently the Tuscon market is in dire need of fresh fish.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 5:55 AM
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The primary issue I have with our industrial food supply isn't the cost of transport, it's the quality of the food.

You simply cannot physically transport a good ripe tomato from California to New York. And that's just the tip of the ice burg.

Blathering on about nutters growing vegetables on roof plots and transportation costs seriously misses the point.


Posted by: delurking | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 7:57 AM
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re engineering: I believe this is a true solution, but the incentives have to change before it will do any good. Until then, we will keep making things worse.

Our engineering efforts on food supply over the past six decades or so have been largely focussed on cost reduction and marketablilty at the expense of everything else. That has predictably resulting in grocery stores overflowing with cheap(er) produce that looks good and tastes pathetic, and aisles packed with crappy preprocessed food options.

Figure out a way for the money to flow to higher quality food, and the engineers will deliver it at reasonable costs.


Posted by: delurking | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 8:02 AM
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Chiming on to agree with everyone who was annoyed with the article linked in the OP. Since folks have already covered the substantive issues, I'll just say that the writer sounds like a douchebag.

To whoever mentioned Will A//en's farm in Mi/waukee, btw, I recently read his book. My biggest take-away thoughts were 1) I'm really glad he's doing this; 2) I am even more glad I'm not married to him;* and 3) a lot of what he's doing doesn't seem like it was particularly well thought out.**

* There were several instances in which he seemed to be basically gambling with his family's ability to support itself
** See above. I also got the sense that he hadn't done a ton of research in the initial stages.


Posted by: J, Robot | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 9:01 AM
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This thread is great, if depressing. Thanks to clew, teo, and teraz for the various historical perspectives.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 9:06 AM
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I do know Manchester

It is about Liverpool, not Manchester, but this made me think of, "Does This Train Stop On Merseyside" as an interesting song engaging with the complicated history in an industrial English city.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 9:10 AM
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166: Cheaper to do it there where you don't need to spend money heating the tanks so much.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 9:53 AM
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159: Patzek and Pimentel are more pessimistic still

Sounds like a lyric from a Tom Lehrer song

162: Maybe we'll end up using a different process, but more likely we won't and things will just happen and we'll react when they do. Muddling through.

But what does "muddling through" consist of? Couldn't a significant component of it be urban farming, municipal energy descent schemes, green building, etc?


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 10:22 AM
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173.last: I don't see why not. Wholly agreed with your 123.first, by the way: too much of discussion over these matters seems to suppose an all or nothing deal, as though growing and eating locally is supposed to solve all of our problems. Of course it's not.

What it does do, if adopted more widely, is take away some of the incentives to large-scale monoculture farming.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 10:53 AM
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Put another way: the question posed by nay-sayers often seems to be "Why should I eat locally, and why should people grow locally?" But surely the question is actually: "Why not?"

I can't help but feel that much of the opposition amounts to rationalization of other motives for preferring to shop at the supermarket.

Relatedly: my household is awash in tomatoes from the garden, and they are outstanding! Like orgasmically delicious.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 11:26 AM
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Lastly: in good conscience I acknowledge an argument according to which deliberately growing and eating locally is nothing more than picking away at the margins of a much larger problem. That seems to be a theme upthread. Sure.

That doesn't mean it's to be scoffed at. At the risk of violating the analogy ban, I'm reminded of arguments dismissing recycling: Dude, it's not remotely going to help anything if I recycle my yogurt containers. My yogurt containers are like 1 in a million of those tossed into landfill, so there's no point at all in my recycling mine.

Well, no.

N.B. Again, growing and eating locally may not be workable for New York, but there's no reason that should be that test case.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 12:04 PM
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that s/b the


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 12:06 PM
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176: but surely the difference is that it's possible for everyone to recycle their yoghurt containers, and that would be a good thing. But it's never going to be possible for everyone in NY to grow and eat their own food. Violates the categorical imperative.
THE WHAT!
Sir, the categorical imperative! You know, the Kantian thing, sir!
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, PRIVATE?
Sir, this marine believes that one should act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law, sir!

(probably time to watch Full Metal Jacket again, come to think of it.)


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 12:22 PM
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178: That is why and how I violated the analogy ban, terribly, in mentioning it.

On that categorical imperative thing: what say we view the desirability of eating locally as not subject to that?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 12:44 PM
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175: I don't understand why you think that's a decisive argument. Why would I eat locally? In a vacuum, this seems like a property that has zero value to me.

And what's wrong with supermarkets? Supermarkets are awesome. They're open late, they have wide selections from around the world, and generally you can stick to unionized ones.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 1:03 PM
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180: True, in a vacuum, you should eat whatever you want.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 1:10 PM
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That is, again: I don't view this as a "Why would I eat locally" question, but rather, why wouldn't I? Is it really fucking hard to buy local produce? Is that it?

But perhaps you live in a megalopolis, in which case, yeah, it would be.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 1:16 PM
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and generally you can stick to unionized ones.

The supermarket may be unionized, but the farm from which its produce comes may not be, and is likely not. Non-starter there.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 1:18 PM
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180 Supermarkets are awesome for people who don't have much in the way of spare time. As far as carbon efficiency goes, I'm rather dubious that the greenmarket I went to just now is particularly good - two dozen or so small stands, each each with their own truck driving a long, long ways to get to the City with their very yummy but very perishable and expensive products.

Urban farming, if we're actually talking urban areas or inner suburbs, makes sense only in declining metropolitan areas. Otherwise it makes a lot more ecological sense to build housing and increase densities.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 2:02 PM
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Supermarkets are great because I'm not making two stops.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 2:31 PM
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But what does "muddling through" consist of? Couldn't a significant component of it be urban farming, municipal energy descent schemes, green building, etc?

Sure, and it is. What I'm pushing back on is the idea that the solution to these problems is going to be a massive transformation of society according to a well-designed plan. Obviously not everyone is arguing that, but there are plenty of people out there who are. Mostly engineers, for obvious reasons.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 2:52 PM
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And parsimon's recent comments are the sort of thing I was talking about when I said these disputes are usually primarily aesthetic and thus unresolvable. If you think small farms are great and big cities are gross, nothing I say is going to convince you otherwise.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 2:54 PM
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And as for the NY-centeredness of the original article, well, it was published in the New York Observer, so yeah.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 3:27 PM
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As a protest against locomotivatorians and the world in general I have taken to occasionally augmenting my Diet Mountain Dew with Sanbitter.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 8:03 PM
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The supermarket may be unionized, but the farm from which its produce comes may not be, and is likely not.

The farm from which your local produce comes is also likely not unionized.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 8:10 PM
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At least not "Chavez Can Go Fuck Himself" brand of pre-washed, organic lettuce.

But, completely unrelated to this topic, I found this to be a small bit of cheering reform.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 9:02 PM
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True, in a vacuum, you should eat whatever you want.

It's too dark in a vacuum to see what you're eating.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 9:55 PM
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Also noisy and dusty.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-10-13 10:01 PM
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a massive transformation of society according to a well-designed plan.

Like the transcontinental railroads, the interstates, redlining, and the CCC reversed by fenceline to fenceline? Apparently this is how we roll.

On my way down I-5, I had a great brunch in the Rogue River Valley with a complete stranger (crowded brunch place, she was the other person there alone) who is working on signs for parks in eastern Oregon. We had a fine talk about soil and water history and patterns of habitation, pre- an post-Garcia. I realized why I'm not primed to assume that everyone thinks any city life is better than farming: much of the US was settled by people who could have poured into the cities in Europe but wanted to prove up here instead. They didn't all know how to farm (leading to some humor, some tragedy, and some interesting innovations). Tastes differ? Evil mills bad? All the fault of the railroads? etc etc.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08-11-13 6:17 PM
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Man I have been holding it in for a while but I just gotta say: up up down down left left right right b a UNLIMITED KALE


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-13 7:01 PM
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I realized why I'm not primed to assume that everyone thinks any city life is better than farming: much of the US was settled by people who could have poured into the cities in Europe but wanted to prove up here instead. They didn't all know how to farm (leading to some humor, some tragedy, and some interesting innovations). Tastes differ? Evil mills bad? All the fault of the railroads? etc etc.

That's an interesting point, and certainly a counterexample to the general worldwide trend toward increasing urbanization over the same period. I think the usual explanation is that the availability of abundant, cheap land provided an alternative option for farmers in both the US and Europe who would otherwise be squeezed out by the push factors leading others into the cities. Most of their descendants ended up moving to cities anyway a few decades later, of course.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-11-13 7:14 PM
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Anyway, I hear the Rogue River Valley is beautiful. Athabascan country, you know.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-11-13 7:20 PM
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Illegal immigrants.


Posted by: Pleistocene megafauna | Link to this comment | 08-11-13 8:00 PM
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OT At the height of the real estate boom in Spain a developer decided to build the tallest residential tower in the EU - 47 stories. Then came the crash and things got a bit more difficult, but after considerable delays, the building is now almost done. Unfortunately, in all the confusion, no one noticed that the architect had forgetten to include an elevator shaft above the twentieth floor. Oops. The apartments are for sale with a move in date of January - you can get a great view for very, very cheap apparently. Comes with a built in fitness program.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 08-11-13 10:23 PM
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They can't even retrofit an elevator? That's as good a story as the library that was built too weak to hold books.

Rogue River Valley is lovely, and the tree fruit is ambrosial. I might choose the Willamette Valley instead if I had to homestead, but I like it really, really, really green.

One of the interesting problems for the sign-maker is that most (all but one) of the tribes of the region shared a lot of material culture and some immaterial culture, so the norm there is to speak generally of what `the Native Americans' did, even among the current Native Americans. This is shocking by her previous training. We chewed over whether it was a result of material environment or social contingency but even with really good grilled peaches we did not decide.

But, considering it historically, back to settlement -- it wasn't always cheap, if you weren't connected, and the Oregon Territory was the arse end of nowhere. Surprisingly un-navigable navigable rivers, too damn many mountains, the forests took generations to cut down and the trip overland was, one hears, as dramatic as a video-game. And the Trollopes and Dickens had reported very pessimistically on the possibilities of new land in the Americas. And people still came to regions that had nothing but farming and weak market connections.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08-12-13 12:20 AM
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One of the interesting problems for the sign-maker is that most (all but one) of the tribes of the region shared a lot of material culture and some immaterial culture, so the norm there is to speak generally of what `the Native Americans' did, even among the current Native Americans. This is shocking by her previous training. We chewed over whether it was a result of material environment or social contingency but even with really good grilled peaches we did not decide.

Of course my reaction to hearing this is to wonder which is the odd tribe out (Paiute?). And also to wonder where her previous training was; there are lots of parts of North America that are pretty homogeneous in both material and non-material culture, and even more areas where people frequently talk about what "the Indians" did or didn't do.

But, considering it historically, back to settlement -- it wasn't always cheap, if you weren't connected, and the Oregon Territory was the arse end of nowhere. Surprisingly un-navigable navigable rivers, too damn many mountains, the forests took generations to cut down and the trip overland was, one hears, as dramatic as a video-game. And the Trollopes and Dickens had reported very pessimistically on the possibilities of new land in the Americas. And people still came to regions that had nothing but farming and weak market connections.

Well now I'm confused about which settlers we're talking about, and when. I've been thinking primarily of the waves of settlement after the 1860s, when the Homestead Act was in force and the land was literally free if you could farm it long enough, which many couldn't. A lot of those settlers came from various parts of Europe where their main alternative options were probably to go to the nearest city. I doubt many of them read much Dickens or Trollope, though.

It sounds like you're talking about an earlier period, though, when settlement in the far west was focused mainly on Oregon and California. I'm not sure what the demographics of that movement were; my general impression has been that it was mostly native-born Americans moving further west, but I guess there must have been a lot of Irish and Germans, at least, as well. I kind of doubt that the number of people going that far at that time was very significant compared to the number going to places like Kansas that were the immediate frontier of established settlement. But my knowledge of any of these historic periods isn't very extensive.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-12-13 12:35 AM
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186: Look, I'm not arguing that: I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08-12-13 12:51 AM
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I believe it was the Paiutes -- one military tribe with six trading neighbors.

an earlier period, though, when settlement in the far west was focused mainly on Oregon and California. Complicated by the disorganized cooperation and cessions between the Russians, Brits, USians, and even Spain in the late 1700s. The early settlements were as likely to be British as USian, and were attached to the trading posts, and the farmers didn't do very well (only the Welsh would have understood the climate). Various natural harbors have pathetic little historical notes with a 1940s photo of the decaying stump that was a house in an early-nineteenth settlement.

One of the first successful settlers, George Washington Bush, is an example of ... lots of things!: legally black because of of Asian Indian descent, Quaker, veteran, inherited a fortune, did not grow up a farmer, went West to... be independent? Found a city? Own his own evil mills? Not to be confused with the African-American George Washington.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08-12-13 11:27 AM
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Thorn, my late father-in-law had a favorite sausage: Lyoner. Long coils, two inch diameter (sausage) and eight inch diameter coils. Consistency like a Wiener.


Posted by: CCarp | Link to this comment | 08-13-13 3:08 PM
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204: Oooh, I'm sure that's the source and it's an eggcorn or something. I thought it looked salami-esque but I never ate any of the sandwiches when it was offered in my high school cafeteria, nor did any of my friends.

To Smearcase's memories, it's PIN oats and otherwise everything he says seems absolutely accurate. I didn't grow up on the stuff, but I've made it for the family a few times and it was actually on the menu at our friends' farm this weekend, though I kept my singing to myself.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 08-13-13 4:47 PM
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