Letter: Beyond Taste

In reply to your article "Eat Here Now" in the October 20th issue, the author [Cari Wade Gervin] implied that there are no other valid reasons to support local food beyond taste. I disagree.

If the world were to tick along as it has through the past 65 years, the author would be right—most of us would continue to get more of our food from far way industrial producers. The food would be cheap, there would be fewer farmers, and we'd have to deal with the health problems of ourselves and our children becoming more obese. Some may choose to do something about these health problems (like buying local whole foods), but they would have to pay more—and therefore local foods would never become mainstream. Local food would continue to be a niche market for the yuppies and health nuts.

But the world is not, and will not, "tick along" as it has been. We are facing big changes. These changes are showing up on the price tags at supermarkets. How is your monthly food bill compared to 2007? Quite a bit higher, eh! There are two major reasons explaining the hikes: 1) Global oil production has peaked; and 2) weather catastrophes are increasing around the globe. Experts in both energy and weather indicate that these trends will continue. As energy becomes more expensive and food producing areas of the world experience increased weather disasters, the industrial food production, processing, and distribution systems are not going to run as efficiently as in the past. We should expect even higher foods prices and sporadic non-availability of some foods. This is not academic mumbo-jumbo. It's happening today—one of the nation's largest food distributors is being hit with high food prices from far away source areas and is looking to diversify locally.

Local food systems are in their infancy. Today, there is little food being produced locally—we are at the end of a 90-year run of cheap, plentiful energy and bumper crops. The geography of East Tennessee is not suited for massive-scale agriculture; therefore farming, for the most part, shut down. But with food prices set to rise and possibly become scarce, we'd better start thinking seriously about our options. Relegating the local food movement as a niche market is shortsighted. We must take a broader view and start asking the right questions. What can we do to assure food availability to our city? How can we support a local food system today that's full value may become evident in 10 years? How can we develop a food system that is energy- and resource-efficient and can deal with energy and weather shocks? How far could a mature local food system go in feeding our region? We don't know precisely how the local food movement will play out in the years to come, but surely we can agree that it is important to support for reasons far beyond taste.

Chad Hellwinckel