Jay Rayner Explains Why Locavorism Is a Load of Bollocks (Video)

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In anticipation of his new book, A Greedy Man in a Hungry World: How (Almost) Everything You Thought You Knew About Food Is Wrong, British critic Jay Rayner dropped this typically cheeky video tackling a very hot issue: Is eating local food simply a lifestyle choice for the affluent, or does it really have a positive effect on the environment?

Beginning by pointing out the irony of carrying around a China-made iPhone while scouring the farmers’ market for local produce (a cheap trick without much of a point), Rayner dives into some more interesting counterpoints to the locavore doctrine. The main idea he drives home is that thinking solely about geography—literally the number of miles it takes to get food from one place to another—is far too simplistic, and it diverts attention away from the real carbon footprint of the things we eat: ”[That analysis] only looks at the amount of carbon involved in getting the food from field to fork. It doesn’t take into consideration the amount of carbon involved in fertilizers, putting up buildings, in running tractors, in the lifestyles of the farmers…. If you do a full sustainability study on your food, you’ll find that the proportion of its carbon footprint caused by its transport falls to between 2-4%.”

As an example, Rayner points to a study claiming that the carbon footprint of lamb raised in New Zealand and brought to Britain is a quarter that of lamb raised domestically. So according to him, we should be looking at which farms have a comparative advantage in agriculture, not which farms are closest to us.

Rayner notes that he’s talking about buying food in urban areas, not rural areas where you might literally live by a farm and want to support the small business. But why can’t city dwellers enjoy supporting (relatively) local businesses, or enjoy the connection formed by knowing exactly where their food comes from? Why shouldn’t they, too, be concerned about the self-sufficiency of their nation? And hell, what if you like the taste of local potatoes over imported varieties?

Rayner glosses over these nuances in his screed about carbon footprints—alas, perhaps we’ll have to read the book for the rest of the story. Well played, Mr. Rayner. Well played.

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