Locavorism The Great Leap Forward?

Girl in Chinese poster looks at big melon graphic
Damon Darlin in the New York Times says he thinks in the midst of this cold and snowy East Coast winter it is time to question the viability of the locavore movement and those "so-called locavores who think they are part of a national trend." Darlin compares the practice of searching out local food to Chinese Chairman Mao Tse-tung's industrial plan calld the Great Leap Forward in the 1950's. Locavorism, Darlin posits, just isn't practical, and he implies, neither is it credible.

(Poster of girl with human-sized melons is a Chinese propaganda poster from the 1958 Great Leap Forward era, from Wikimedia Commons and seen here.)

Local veggies on sunny table photo

Photo of this week's haul at the local year-round farmer's market. (There is a parsnip hiding in there.) Credit A. Streeter.

There are certainly rabid locavores, just as there are rabid Democrats, rabid bungee jumpers and rabidly committed cold-water swimmers. Every human endeavor has its push-the-envelope elements.

The main idea of the locavore movement was to try to help people re-connect with fresh food, generally produce, from a farmer they might know or want to get to know, growing or producing food at a farm or an artisan business close to where they live.

Darlin says locavore's localism "bears at least some resemblence to Mao Tse-tung's Great Leap Forward" of the 1950's, in which villagers were encouraged to make backyard steel. "It was a bad idea," he says, "that dragged down the nation's productivity and played a role in widespread famine."

Darlin's argument seems a bit backward. During the Great Leap Forward, multitudes of farmers were forced into cooperatives to grow designated grain crops while others were diverted to small-scale steel making, which helped contribute to the crops rotting uncollected in Chinese fields, leading in some part to famine. In the U.S. currently just 2 to 3 percent of the population even has the savvy or stamina to grow and produce food for the nation.

How could any consumer buying practice that might increase the number of farmers and the diversity of fruits and vegetables grown domestically and locally be compared to a centrally controlled agricultural policy from China in the 1950's?

Few locavore-minded shoppers would want a world in which the parsnips at their winter farmer's market are the only choice. Even fewer imagined that locavorism meant that every one of us would move to a farm and forsake our urban lives. Most locavores do want a world, however, in which the parsnip farmer and all the other farmers can support themselves and survive to plant next year's crop. It seems to me that only by more eaters getting into the locavore idea can we reach the balance Darlin says he wants between factory farms and parsnip purgatory.

Read more about locavores at TreeHugger:
In-Season Food App for Locavores' IPhone
5 Strategies for Getting the Most From Your Farmers' Market
Eating Green:Locavores Versus Life-Cycle

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