Everybody has certain things they are willing to pay for in food. You might be willing to pay more for convenience (pre-washed salad greens), for a particular flavor (those perfect ginger snaps from World Market), or tradition (must have Saunders Hot Fudge at Christmas). I am willing to pay more for food for two main reasons: preserving the environment and grocery insurance.
When I say I buy organic foods to “save the earth,” most people understand that well enough to be getting along with. I don’t like to pollute, I want to be nice to the plants and animals, I’m a tree-hugging liberal hippie freak and that’s just what they do, etc. I think it’s a little more nuanced than that – or perhaps not nuanced at all; I don’t think anyone should have to drink poisoned well water as a result of agriculture – but it’s close enough that I don’t feel a need to explain any further.
My preference for local food is a bit more complex. Yes, I want to keep my money in my community. Yes, it’s often fresher, and also organic (whether certified or not). But the real reason I do it is so my community will have something to eat thirty years from now.
Look, gas prices are going to continue to rise. At some point – and maybe that will be in ten years or thirty or fifty, but I’m sure I’ll see it in my lifetime – gas will hit such a price that we won’t be able to afford to truck products across the country. Not to mention the price of producing the beef in the first place, fed on irrigated, petrochemical-soaked corn. At some point, it will cost more to produce and ship a pound of hamburger from the Plains states than anyone is willing or able to pay for that hamburger – so Plains states farmers will produce less of it.
No problem. That’s when it will make financial sense to buy beef from the local farmer who raises her cattle on grass, right?
Wrong. Because if, up until that date, I refuse to pay a little more per pound for local grass-fed beef, my local cattle farmers will go out of business and probably sell their farms to developers because they can’t make a living farming. So not only will the farmer not be in business, the farm itself might be gone, too.
I am currently financially able to buy the majority of my groceries from local sources. I see it as my responsibility to do so, not just to support my local farmers, but to create conditions that will keep my local foodshed thriving so it is available to feed as many people as possible when the day comes when we really need it.
I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Think this argument will sway any WalMart devotees?