20.8.17

LET'S EAT LIKE IT'S 1825.

A "local food planner" in Columbus, Ohio, writes as if that's a good thing.
There are many reasons to promote local food in your community: freshness; knowing where your food came from and how it was grown; supporting local farmers; having an alternative to fruits and vegetables that were trucked across the country from California or Florida.

But one of the best reasons is economic development: keeping your food dollars in your own town, county, and state.

In Ohio, where I live, much of what we produce – notably livestock – is shipped to other states for processing. Then we buy back the finished product at a higher price. We’re exporting our food dollars to other states, even as our once-vibrant rural farm towns have been hollowed out.

This dilemma is not unique to Ohio; it’s the case in states across the land.

Until half a century ago, we didn’t have “local food.” Instead, we had “food,” much of which was raised locally, or within the state. Many places had a local slaughterhouse which bought hogs and steers from local farmers, and processed them into steaks and chops sold in local stores. At the edge of town was a truck farm that hired generations of teens in the summers to pick fruit and vegetables for local consumption. Somewhere in the county, there was probably a greenhouse that supplied off-season “hothouse” tomatoes to the region.
Where shall I begin?

Do you really want to make a chicken sandwich from scratch, dear reader?  Hmm, with the new academic year starting, maybe I'll have opportunities to beat up Student Affairs idiots with pencil privilege, or steel privilege, or chicken sandwich privilege.

Are we really worse off today than we were fifty years ago?  (No.  The purpose of all production is consumption.)

And why have the better parts of the old glass town of Lancaster become sort of a bedroom suburb of Columbus?

The "local food planner" sort of gets it, or would, if he thought it through.
Today, if every farmer in Ohio pledged to grow for local markets, and every Ohio consumer vowed to buy local, we would have hungry people and wasted food. That’s because we lack the supply chain – the processing, distribution, and marketing “infrastructure” – to move food from farm to fork. I believe institutional markets are the key to developing that infrastructure. Most institutions cannot accept, say, a truckload of lettuce fresh from the field. They want it washed and trimmed and packaged – meaning the farm itself, or a third-party business, would need to provide those services. In either case, the service would add value and create jobs.
Put another way, "eliminate the middleman" is another form of "do it yourself."  Yeah, everyone who has thought about economics beyond multipliers and simple supply and demand gets this, but even the most assiduous among you could benefit by a modicum of repetition.


Werner Schuch, Two Riders of the Thirty Years' War and Farmers, 1881, oil on canvas.
Painting from the collection of the Grohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering.

Perhaps Our Betters on Horseback had sufficient authority back in the day to insist that the harvest they confiscated be washed and trimmed before it's handed over as tribute.  These days, the deplorables, er, peasants, have the right to keep and bear arms, and it's not going down that way.  You'd better hope, dear reader, that I'm being facetious.

Perhaps there's money to be made in fragmenting food markets along the lines the "food planner" proposes.  But if so, is there really any reason for food planners existing?

Perhaps, though, the regional food planner is being an optimist.  There's always James H. Kunstler.
If you want a chance at keeping on keeping on, you’ll have to get with reality’s program. Start by choosing a place to live that has some prospect of remaining civilized. This probably doesn’t include our big cities. But there are plenty of small cities and small towns out in America that are scaled for the resource realities of the future, waiting to be reinhabited and reactivated. A lot of these lie along the country’s inland waterways — the Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri river system, the Great Lakes, the Hudson and St. Lawrence corridors — and they also exist in regions of the country were food can be grown.

You’ll have to shift your energies into a trade or vocation that makes you useful to other people. This probably precludes jobs like developing phone apps, day-trading, and teaching gender studies. Think: carpentry, blacksmithing, basic medicine, mule-breeding, simplified small retail, and especially farming, along with the value-added activities entailed in farm production. The entire digital economy is going to fade away like a drug-induced hallucination, so beware the current narcissistic blandishments of computer technology. Keep in mind that being in this world actually entitles you to nothing. One way or another, you’ll have to earn everything worth having, including self-respect and your next meal.
The good news is, we've learned enough about steam railroading and electric steelmaking and shooting accurately at 450 yards and a few other things that, even in such a scenario, we won't be reverting to the Thirty Years War or 1825 or even 1870.

1 comment:

David Foster said...

"But one of the best reasons is economic development: keeping your food dollars in your own town, county, and state"

I notice that the people who want to keep their dollars in the local community, and the people who want to keep their dollars in the United States, are pretty much non-overlapping groups.