I do hate to get snarky on this blog, and especially don’t like to call people out (Michael Pollan being a notable exception), but this fellow, Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill Restaurant in New York, must be the poster child for pampered city-boy agricultural cluelessness. He is by all indications a fabulously talented chef, though exactly why that qualifies him to pontificate on the subject of agriculture is a question only the New York Times can answer.
Make no mistake, a lot of foodies are very excited by the recent spike in oil prices. The spike, so the thinking goes, now makes locally-produced foods more competitive with their conventionally-produced counterparts. While that argument has a certain intuitive appeal, it is, in the end, bunk. As anyone who shops at their local farmers’ market these days knows, prices for local foods have risen just as steadily as those at the corner mega-mart. Why? Because contrary to popular myth, local farmers don’t bring their produce to market by ox cart. Nor do they bring in seed, fertilizer or animal feed on the backs of coolies. It’s all transportation and it all takes gas — a lot of it, by some measures even more than conventional food, since produce coming into a farmers’ market is brought in dribs and drabs via dozens of vehicles instead of in one or two big trucks.
This is one of many fallacies that organo-philes keep repeating, but is so risible only the disconnected foodie press could possibly believe it: that large-sale farming is somehow less efficient than small-scale farming. In fact large-scale farming is large-scale precisely because it’s more efficient than small-scale farming. If it weren’t we’d still be growing our food like our great-great-grandparents did in 1885. Small-scale organic farming is much, much less efficient in just about every way that matters: land, labor, cost, output, you name it. It isn’t even more environmentally sound if you ask me.
Does it produce a better product? It frequently can, which is why I shop at my local farmers’ market every Saturday morning. But I do so in the full knowledge that I am not helping my society revert to a simpler, more Earth-friendly state of being. Rather I am engaging in an activity on par with shopping for a new pair of diamond-studded cufflinks at Tiffany’s — an unspeakable luxury, made possible only by the absurdity of riches the American economy affords (as well as by the absurdity of the ideas that people like Chef Barber routinely dish out).