As Congress gears up to debate the issue of hunger in the 2012 Farm Bill, some have come to the surprising conclusion that the real problem with the food system is those idealistic, asparagus-hugging, slow-food-savoring locavores. Don't believe it. The local-food movement is a hopeful development in the battle against hunger, both at home and abroad.
In a recent Foreign Policy article, Charles Kenny derides government support for local-food initiatives like the 104 farmers markets in Washington state. He acknowledges such funding represents a measly 0.00025 percent of the total, but is concerned about the growing cultural clout of what he characterizes as "misguided, parochial Luddism." He writes, "... these First-World food fetishes are positively terrible for the world's poorest people," because they supposedly push up the price of food.
Judith Warner at Time followed suit a few weeks ago with an article titled, "The Locavore's Illusions: As charming as it sounds, growing kale in your backyard won't solve the nation's food ills." She dismisses community-gardener activists as misguided and argues they don't sufficiently appreciate the importance of government nutrition programs.
Though they take different routes, both arrive at the same conclusion: The local-food trend is bad for the poor and hungry.
As a self-professed locavore who spent a year without sugar and chocolate in pursuit of a local-food life, and as pastor of a church that hosts a farmers market and feeds the hungry, these critics make me feel like a child told to quit complaining and eat my genetically modified vegetables: "Don't you know there are children starving in Africa?" That ploy has never worked well at family dinner tables, and it's not a helpful posture in today's food debates. In fact, local-food initiatives are emerging as an important part of efforts to end hunger.