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Where are the Political Locavores?
October 8, 2012 Politics

I’m beginning to be swayed by the locavore movement! I’m sure you’ve encountered the calls for people to “Think Globally, Act Locally” and to “Support Your Local Business” and all that jazz. As we’ve explored here many times before, there is nothing inherently wrong with people freely choosing to live their lives any way they wish. Indeed, that is one of the most important virtues of living in a free society. And of course that is one of the ironies of living in a “progressive” (i.e. less property) society. Under freedom, heterogeneous wishes are completely compatible with one another insofar as people are not causing harm to each other. The opposite is most certainly not the case. Hence the guns and thugs once we want to start walking down that path.

And while “Buying Local” as a national economic program would surely lead to disaster – both economically AND environmentally, I cannot quite say the same about the political application of the idea. Which brings me to my idea(s) for today.

  1. As you know, the “No Fracking” signs, particularly in my suburban neighborhood, drive me up the wall. Do I wish to shut up people’s rights to free expression? No, not in the slightest. But putting up a No Fracking sign in Pittsford, NY is a bit like someone in the Antarctic Winter putting up a “No Solar Panels” sign. In other words, there is not a chance in _____ that fracking is going to happen anywhere near here. We can discuss why in some future post.

    How would you respond to a sign in someone’s lawn in your neighborhood that read, “No Vegetable Gardens in Omaha, Nebraska!” You’d think it silly to be posting that in western NY, wouldn’t you? Even IF there were major environmental problems with the production of residential vegetable gardens, the issues that arise from it are entirely localized. When vegetable gardens attract too many deer in Omaha, how does that impose costs on someone in Pittsford? If an Omaha vegetable garden is ugly or smelly, how does that impose costs on someone in Pittsford? I suppose we can argue that small applications of pesticides in Omaha will make their way into the Missouri River, which make their way into the Mississippi River which causes dead-zones in the Gulf, which damages fisheries there and in fact can damage fisheries in … Ireland based on ocean currents. I suppose.

    The same is true for fracking, at least on the grounds that most people are complaining about it. I’ve not heard solid arguments from fracktivists about their concern about Global Warming. Indeed, the substitution of gas for coal has done more to combat global warming than ANYthing in the last decade. Virtually all of the fracktivist problems with fracking have to do with issues that are almost entirely local (exceptions would be water that crosses state boundaries such as the Allegheny River). All of this makes it extremely odd to see No Fracking signs up here in the town of Pittsford – what actual stake do they have in whether wells are drilled in Binghamton? And are there other things that happen in Binghamton, for example, that have a greater impact on the people of Pittsford? I’d argue yes. But nonetheless, the fracktivist movement, at least here in Pittsford, cannot possibly be expressing any concern about what is going to happen to them. Sure, it is plausible that they care so much about the people of Omaha and Binghamton that they put up yard signs to advocate for them. Sure, it’s plausible. But not likely.

  2. Which brings me to the real point of my post. There is clearly a lot of overlap in the tribe membership of those whom I call “fracktivists” and those who would self declare as “locavores.” Is there not an incredibly irony here? If indeed we are to focus only on doing business in our own communities, if indeed we want to keep money and jobs local, if indeed we need to worry about our own local environmental impacts, if indeed we need to worry about local social justice issues, then why are fracktivists (and others) so intent on directing the federal government to do things? Indeed, the fracktivist community wishes to see an end to all natural gas energy development, everywhere. There are of course two ironies here. One is that for some communities, being able to access their natural gas would enable them to actually do more things locally. You might google around and see what kinds of manufacturing can and do spring up around communities where natural gas is abundant. But I guess that doesn’t matter for the fracktivists. Try running a factory in central Ohio on solar alone – with all of the sand, rare earths and other materials for the panels sourced in Columbus. The second irony is that this is quite the opposite of being a “locavore.” If it is so virtuous to live sustainably locally, to get to know the name of the man selling you your cinnamon spice muffin, to appreciate how difficult it is to grow apples, and so on, then it follows that living non-locally is morally wrong and necessarily bad. And if THAT is the case, then how is political activism outside of your local community somehow exempt from the proscriptions of the locavores? Seriously.

I’ll take a locavore seriously if in addition to wanting me to shop only from local businesses they agree that they have no business in the political affairs outside of their little communes. And while I am sure you are going to contort yourself into all kinds of pretzels trying to tell me “it’s different” because some political issues do impact all of us, the majority do not. For example, how could a locavore living in Pittsford, NY, living LOCALLY in Pittsford, NY justify support for a steeper progressive federal income tax on rich dudes living in Willimantic, CT?

When the locavore movement comes around to supporting political locavorism, they can then count me as a committed member of their congregation. I think I’d deal with being considerably poorer in exchange for removing the ability of 300 million people’s whims and biases from controlling my life. I think.

"2" Comments
  1. Comment coming from Manchester, CT. I know this is nitpiky and normally I wouldn’t mention it, but it goes along with the theme of your post. Willimantic is not a rich town and is relatively poor ($30,000 median household income). Now what are the odds if you went around Pittsford, NY and asked people, “Hey, are you guys down with raising the taxes on those rich dudes from Willimantic, CT?” that they would be met with a resounding “yes”?

    So what I’m saying is that you made your point quite well and you unknowingly (wish I could use italics) made your point quite well.

  2. Yes, Sherlock, WC makes a good point, and he might have chosen West Hartford.

    I have always been a food locavore. I was raised to be thrifty, and used to trade cow manure and clean straw with a friend of my mother for green beans, asparagus, and lettuce picked fresh. Ever since I can remember summer was great. Winter was less interesting with Bird’s eye frozen vegetables, but as we progressed with free trade and innovation, we eventually got Wegeman’s of Rochester, where we can buy everything year round. I think it is fair to say that WC and I are committed locavore/Wegeman’s lower case environmentalists. My apologies to WC if I have mischaracterized anything so far.

    WC, however, wants us to stay on point: if one is committed to the buy local and be local doctrine, why do you put up an anti-fracking sign in your yard? Did you ever read the story of the Dog in the Manger in Book House? OK, that is a tough allusion; it is a story of coveting and mean selfishness, a parable for today.

    I can understand the concern of friends of mine who live near a proposed quarry; this is a complex ethical question that I am yet unprepared to answer, knowing many of the philosophical and political arguments on both sides of the question. I will defend their right to put up anti-quarry signs, which they have, near their homes and the quarry.

    These people are consistent with respect to WC’s point, which is about inconsistency.

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