by Jen Maiser
In an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday paper, William G. Moseley takes a swipe at the eat local movement in an article titled "Farmers in developing world hurt by 'eat local' philosophy in U.S."
While I respect Mr. Moseley's attempt to bring any attention to the admirable fair trade movement, his finger is pointed in the wrong direction.
Eat Local advocates are often painted as coffee-shunning, chocolate-declining masochists who eschew absolutely everything that is not local. The truth is much less compelling in print, so the moderates among us are not often in the spotlight.
"What do you do about coffee," I am often asked during interviews. Sometimes the question is conspiratorial or indignant. "I buy from local roasters who choose their beans carefully and I am drinking non-local coffee right now," is my standard answer.
As has been discussed on this site, the locavore way is not strictly about food miles. It's also about how something is grown, how it got to me, and how the employees getting it to me were treated. Above all, it's about having a sense of exactly where my food comes from.
That's where fair trade certification comes into play. In describing the eat local way on this site a couple of weeks ago, Gary Paul Nabhan addressed fair-trade by declaring
"Fair-trade with other cultures, localities and regions is fair game. Circumvent the globalized economy for the items you truly need from other regions by establishing fair-trade exchanges."
Fair trade and eating locally grown food are not mutually exclusive propositions. Around here, we recommend considering locally grown food first, and then using other criteria (organic, fair trade, family farm, etc.) to make your decisions.
And for the moment, the choice will not be "local peach" vs. "fair trade peach". The top Fair Trade Certified product categories for 2006 based on revenue dollars are as follows:
(via TransFair USA)
Of those products, the only one available locally to me is rice. And most of these products are not widely available anywhere in the United States. Pitting these movements, which are small relative to the general population of food buyers, against each other is not the solution. Michael Pollan often paraphrases a Mao Zedong quote which says "let a thousand flowers bloom." When talking about this, Pollan refers to the fact that there is no one food movement that is going to solve all the issues.
It never occurs to me to be critical of a person because they are choosing fair trade over local. At least it shows a decision making process that is beyond that of the typical American. The important part of all of this is having the general populace make conscious decisions about where their food is coming from. Eating local is just one avenue of many.