It’s no surprise that the New Yorker’s annual food issue featured an article on the year’s hottest food trend—eating local. In “New York Local,” writer Adam Gopnik takes his family around New York to nosh on the fruits of the five boroughs. His oldest, worried he’ll be asked to eat squirrels or pigeons, is skeptical:
‘Anything city-colored, that looks like it could actually live in New York, is being thrown out,’ Luke, the twelve-year-old, said. ‘Gray things. Brown things. We don’t eat anything that blends in with the sidewalk. It needs to stand out from its surroundings.’
But in the quest to be entertaining, Gopnik maintains a detached, ever-so-slightly mocking tone in his profiles of the the (fascinating) NYC farmers and foragers he encounters. And he reminds us that not so long ago, local used to be all anyone ever ate, and famine was ever ready to rear its ugly head.
That’s where Grist magazine’s Tom Philpott snorts in derision.
But in historical terms, industrial ag was born yesterday. In its half-century reign, chemical-intensive farming has mined the soil so thoroughly, and so steadily eroded the genetic diversity of key crops, that it may have seriously compromised its ability to produce food in the long term. To say nothing of its reliance on fossil fuel.
In short, rather than imperiling the food security of discrete villages and cities, as Gopnik accuses the ‘localist vision’ of doing, industrial ag may be imperiling food security over a broad swath of the globe.
Philpott also shreds Gopnik’s assertion that eating local is all about social class, partially by pointing out what Gopnik didn’t bother to: One of the farmers profiled in the New Yorker piece uses his farm to “build wealth and skills in an economically devastated neighborhood.”