Op Ed: Is Eating Local Earnest or Elitist?


I initially found myself amused reading about all of the "local food" shenanigans reported in Kim Severson's front-page article, "A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss,"  published in today's New York Times. It is funny that we have come to this point in our food culture where people would hire out personal gardeners, invest in an animal share, or plan a wedding with catered food grown within 100 miles of the altar. Why not poke fun at the trendiness of those who want their food local, but don't want to get their "hands dirty" farming. What a bunch of suckers.

But, does anyone want to get their hands dirty farming anyway, rich or poor? The entire food industry rests on this simple notion. Most Americans buy their food in supermarkets, and while I'm a great supporter of farmer's markets, they are insufficient to supply all of my food. My local farmer's market is open only from July to October, and when it is open, it operates only once a week. The produce is great, but there is no fish and little meat available

Interestingly, less than two weeks ago that the Times published another front page article on local food, focusing on the growing popularity of Community Supported Agriculture. Rather than tease these folks, who also apparently also want to eat local food without getting their hands dirty, the tone of the article was extraordinarily positive, painting those who have paid up for a summer's worth of locally grown vegetables as not only smart, but well-meaning and earnest.

But, as far as the consumer is concerned, is picking up a weekly box of a CSA share all that different than having a box of locally grown fruit delivered by the FruitGuys to your door? Or, are CSAs just another gimmick, too? Which one is the "lazy locavore"? How about chefs like Dan Barber of Blue Hill, who are constantly praised for sourcing locally grown ingredients. Are we now going to poke fun at the people who would actually blow money on eating at Blue Hill?

I think I am most perplexed at the mention of folks who are hiring professionals to build and tend a vegetable plot in your backyard. There already exists an entire industry (landscaping and lawn service, anyone?) which is dedicated to doing all of the dirty work of gardening plants and cutting grass. People want to have a pristine yard, but not "muss" or "fuss" with gardening. I'm sure that this will not be an alien concept for the Times' suburban readership. After all, is hiring a professional gardener to weed, prune, and take care of a vegetable garden really any different than the myriad companies that are doing the same for plants and flowers right now in thousands of towns at this very moment? Paying someone to help grow your vegetables seems like a step forward in the right direction (at least compared to landscaping), not a gimmick.

Finally, Severson, who is herself a self-declared member of the "church of local food," wrote last year about her own friend and colleague who purchased half of a locally-grown heritage pig; yet this is basically the same thing she pokes fun at in her article. What better way could there be to support a farmer and also ensure the best quality of the meat you consume?

Excuse me while I eat my backyard-grown radishes.

Photo: New York Times.



Just heard Ruth Reichl on Lenny Lopate raising somewhat the same point: Why does it have to be mocked as elitist? What's so bad about wanting to eat well?


Your radishes are in already? I really should have started earlier!


How is it 'lazy' not to grow your own food if you don't have a backyard and work long hours? It's not like we all live on acres of land, the way most people did before the advent of the modern food system. The Industrial Revolution happen, and now we all work. Most of us don't have the time or resources to farm as a hobby. You're right that the farmers' market is insufficient-- why not advocate expanding it and making it more affordable and accessible, instead of just writing it off as elitist? It's not just the rich who want fresh, delicious food.


I use a CSA because in this age of salmonella-infested spinach and jalapenos I like to know where my food comes from and the farmers who grow my produce. How can this be termed "elitist"? Every week I receive my box of certified organic produce. If anything goes hinky I take a ride down south and kick some ass... Problem? I don't think so.


The writer probably drives a suburban and is still under the delusion that petrol supplies are unlimited.Know your farmer,eat things in season so they arent shipped across the country burning fuel.Buy local and keep your money in the community.Plus the food tastes better when it is fresh and naturally ripened instead of picked green and shipped across country.The writer is livinf in denial


I must have missed something - I did not see this article as mocking these elitists - I saw it as celebrating them. Coupled with the grateful, earnest quotes by people like Barbara Kingsolver, the whole piece reeked of sincerity.

I'm conflicted about whether the idea of the suburban elites hiring a vegetable gardener is progress or not. Aren't they just creating their own little Central Valley, complete with their own Jorge?

And what if rich city dwellers price me right out of the freezer beef market? I've been buying a whole beef cow from my farming neighbor for years. Will he abandon me when Westchester County money comes calling?

At least my beans are my own...unless someone offers me a better price.


I really like your assessment here, Josh, of asking why it's so different than having someone mow your lawn or landscape your house. It's environmentally friendlier, and you're getting fresh, local food. I found myself rather conflicted about this article -- happy that it was more press for the eat local movement, but saddened that it's once again being written about with an elitist slant.


I was also a little conflicted by the article. Yes it is great that people really thinking about where their food comes from but feel that they are still removed from the emotion of growing their own food

Also, I feel that being part of a CSA is a little different from having someone tend to a garden in your backyard. Every week I meet the farmer who delivers my produce, I help sort and get dirty. I also go to the farm and help out. Many people involve with CSAs do the same. Not so for those having their personal chef or gardener take care of their local produce.

What is wrong with the way Americans eat is that they are too removed from where their food comes from. Being a lazy locavore puts you a little closer but not close enough.


God bless the locovores: More bananas (bread, French wine, tea, coffee, chocolate, real Parmigiano Reggiano) for the rest of us.

I don't know if it's elitist, but it sure is getting silly.

Last weekend a cadre of one or two hundred volunteers "planted" a "victory garden" in front of City Hall in San Francisco. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/article?f=/c/a/2008/07/23/HOPU11Q5Q2.DTL&o=0
with four feet high corn, fully bearing tomato plants, posies in bloom and inported soil. I am not sure you can call it gardening, but considering the local demographics, it's sure to be more organic than you'd probably want to know.

Of course bucknekid emperors have always been our specialty out here, so "planting" an instagarden in a city with really no summer is pretty much in character. If I believe my tomatoes will mature and not die of this year's particular blight/wilt/fungus, then surely they will.

As for me, no radishes but baby bush beans, peas, tomatoes already red and not yet showing whatever blight is going to hit them this year, loquats, second lettuce harvest, lemons, little oranges, two (count 'em, 2) apricots, cherries, carrots, onions, raspberries, strawberries and figs, if the birds leave any. I never thought of myself as elitist for the three decades I've been putting seeds in dirt and expecting something back, but considering the real estate the plants are using, growing anything on San Francisco ground probably makes your that.


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