Eat local or eat smart
I love food. I'm a happy eater, and a less-than-happy yet genuinely enthusiastic cook. Only recently, though, have I started gaining a sort of food conscience. Food conscience growing up was more about knowing how to hold up my chopsticks properly, or being able to recognize a shallot, or learning to enjoy gross stuff like ants eggs (yes, we eat ants eggs in Mexico. We call them escamoles, and they're positively buttery and delicious). In any case, conscience was more of a snob thing than an actual curiosity or desire for knowledge about the stuff I was being fed.
Now that I'm older, though, not only do I care about what I cook or eat; I also try to worry about what goes onto my plate and how it gets there. I've tried to go organic, but in Spain it's still virtually impossible (organic food stores or markets rare here, and the prices are simply insane). I've tried to buy fresh produce in markets instead of supermarkets. Barcelona has wonderful food markets. But most of the tomatoes in the markets are also grown in those massive plastic-covered freak farms in Almería, and many of the fruits are imported from Brazil or India and the fish is sometimes frozen. I've begun to wonder how far a conscientious eater can really go, particularly in an urban setting.
Apparently pretty far. Take locavores, or local eaters. Yes, it's a proper word. But what does eating locally actually mean? Originally, it seems locavores should only eat food produced within a 100-mile radius of their home. Details and hidden agendas aside, a very good case has been made against this hardcore notion of eating local, in its own terms. It turns out that eating local can actually be less sustainable than eating food from the other side of the equator (click to read why).
Again, we're faced with one of the distortions of the localist rhetoric. It's one thing to support locally-oriented farmers markets or wanting to eat something that hasn't been radiated and tastes like plastic. I think initiatives like Fritz Haeg's Edible Estates or the various urban-farming movements taking over empty lots and fighting underemployement are great. But this sort of initiative can only cover a fraction of our needs, and can only work under very specific conditions. Why not make a call for eating consciously instead of only locally?