Transition: Is the entire “eat local” movement naive and insufficient?…



About half the people on Bowen Island, where I live, commute daily to Vancouver via a heavily taxpayer-subsidized car ferry. The reason they do this is, basically, that whatever they have to sell can’t be profitably sold here, because it doesn’t directly meet any of our needs. Much of what they produce does make it back here, in the form of gasoline, imported products, processed foods, bank, insurance, accounting and legal ‘products’, construction materials, pharmaceuticals and household goods. And interest and rents paid to absentee mortgagors and landlords. Little of what we really need — food, clothing, building materials, drugs, energy, household products, health services etc. — is made here in significant quantities. We ‘import’ just about everything.

The other half of the population is either retired, unemployed, or (from what I have ascertained) constantly struggling to make a living. We have many artists, craftspeople and artisans, musicians, and service people of all kinds (hairdressers, therapists, construction workers, seamstresses, retailers, caterers, water taxis, maintenance people, restaurants etc.). The price of land and property here is insane, thanks to our proximity to Vancouver, so a lot of people work from their homes instead of offices. The citizens, struggling with the high cost of living, mostly find the prices charged by the locals “expensive”, while these prices are often not enough to cover the local service-provider’s rent. Turnover and business failure rates are therefore high, as is the number of people who give up and move ‘back’ to the mainland.

So we suffer from a double predicament: Our local economy is utterly unsustainable; and our residents (both commuters and non-) have so little left after paying for essentials — money that all flows out of the island — that they can’t afford to pay the locals who are trying to make a living here, and hence make our local economy a little more robust.

Jay Tompt, writer with Transition Town Totnes (where the Transition movement began), recently explained that even Totnes could not feed itself in a crisis, because the food, transportation and other systems are completely interdependent, so “you’re only as resilient as your neighbour”. And everyone is your neighbour in this globalized world.

And a local food expert in California says the entire “eat local” movement is naive and insufficient: “When the dust settles, however, locavores are likely to be disappointed and frustrated. The modern food system will bear their imprint to be sure: any ‘serious’ sit-down restaurant will source as much locally as possible, schools will have salad bars, and big box stores and groceries will glowingly highlight foods on sale grown within the state. Indeed, all of these things are happening already. But farm soil will become even more scorched earth, standard coffin sizes will be wider around the waist, and the eating habits of the majority of Americans will be barely changed.” [this is an outstanding article worth a read — thanks to Raffi Aftandelian for the link]

So when I went to hear Charles Eisenstein speak this month (more on that below) about the New Economy and community currencies, I was looking for answers that might be applied to deal with this ‘problem of dependency’, this ‘leakage’ of money out of our island to centralized corporations and institutions. I wanted to believe that, instead of encouraging the local artisans and service providers to form cooperatives to sell to mainlanders what Bowen Islanders couldn’t afford (the “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em” approach), there was some way to actually create viable ‘right livelihoods’ right here, that would increase our local self-sufficiency, resilience and sustainability, and wouldn’t be quickly eroded by this leakage of money. In the New Economy, Eisenstein said, everyone will be able to offer their gift to their community, and between us we will ensure that everyone gets what they need, without needing to monetize or account for it. What would it take for us on Bowen to give up our servitude to money and the industrial growth economy, and our mainland-dependent jobs, and create a sustainable local economy in which no one needed to struggle or work insane hours or do work they despised?

Alas, the only answer I came away with, and it will not be forthcoming for a few decades, is the final collapse of the industrial growth economy, when we will have no choice but to embrace the New Economy and discover, to our wonderment, that its subsistence lifestyle is happier, healthier and better for us and the world in every way. Only when the car ferry becomes prohibitively expensive due to fuel cost increases, and then rationed, and then discontinued entirely, will we react by either leaving the island or finding a viable livelihood here. Only when cheap imported clothes become more expensive than what we can make ourselves, and then unavailable at any price, will we relearn the essential (and enjoyable) skills of making our own. Only when the 3000-mile-meal becomes a $300 meal instead of a $30 meal, and then shelves empty of the California produce on which we now depend, will we start to relearn how to grow and harvest our own food, and relearn what to do with it.

That doesn’t mean we can do nothing now, and some of us, who are both aware of what’s happening and what’s coming and who have the luxury of time to act on our knowledge (mostly these are healthy non-commuters without young families) are starting to explore the many New Economy practices and experiments that are being tried in progressive communities in affluent nations everywhere. But it’s hard to be patient, to see this as (at least from the perspective of one person’s life) a marathon, not a sprint. It’s hard not to hope that the collapse happens sooner and faster and more persistently (but not so fast as to be overwhelming) so that the point at which we all must change comes more quickly, before things get even worse (and as we try to perpetuate the industrial growth economy with Tar Sands and fracking and endless war and geoengineering, they will get worse).

It’s hard to let go of the terrible knowledge of how the world works and what is most likely to come, and that we can’t ‘fix’ it, we just have to go with it, adapt to it, each moment and each day at a time. It’s hard when it’s gotten very dark and you’re lost in the forest and it’s starting to rain, not to get fearful or angry or sad, but instead to laugh and sing and play in the rain and know that life is astonishing and somehow you’ll find your way forward, safely, without suffering, to where you’re meant to be. It’s good to have you all, dear readers, here in the forest, laughing and singing and playing with me. It’s hopeless, but we’ll be fine.
The rest of Dave’s monthly links post also recommended


I’m not sure why Dave Pollard declares a good plan “naive and insufficient” simply because the plan doesn’t mesh easily with the current untenable way the people on his island (and elsewhere) live their lives. I also don’t agree that the current system has to collapse entirely before people are forced to shift their daily practices to conform to the evolving reality of our economy and food-getting systems. It is possible to make substantive changes because we choose to make those changes for our own good and the good of the world, individually and in groups. What I think is missing from this and many other discussions of the growing economic and energy and food-getting crises is a serious investigation of WHY people are so reluctant to make changes—many of those changes not difficult to accomplish—to address the obvious problems. For instance, it is not difficult for most people to drive their automobiles hundreds and even thousands of miles less than they do each year. To do so, they need only eliminate most non-essential trips via automobile. Nor is it difficult for most people to buy bulk grains and nuts and beans and dried fruit and fresh vegetables to wean themselves from pre-packaged and highly processed foods. They will have to do a bit more cooking “from scratch” and stop shopping at giant grocery stores and processed food depots, but that is not a great hardship for most people. Nor is it difficult to establish ride-sharing and car-sharing programs, gardening cooperatives, and fix-it/sharing stuff cooperatives. The difficulty lies in our collective unwillingness to enthusiastically undertake such changes to our collective life patterns. Are we simply lazy? I think not. I think we THINK such changes will be difficult and unsatisfactory, though I do not know why we think that.

Most of us work in unsatisfactory jobs and come home each evening stressed and tired, often after a difficult commute. We simply want to collapse, so we escape to our mind-numbing electronic toys. We were brought up on processed foods, never learned any cooking skills, and really don’t appreciate more complicated tastes because we’ve never been exposed. So, we fill up on processed foods, often high carbohydrate ones, increasingly organic ones, whether we eat in or out, and our health sucks. On weekends we go shopping to dull the ache for awhile and grab junk food as we rush by. We revolve in and out of physicians’ offices and take pills, including vitamins and supplements, as a fix. Such is modern culture. How do we break out? In fact, as I see in the case of my increasingly large family (a daughter, three grandchildren and spouses, and five great grandchildren), increasing sensitivity to global warming and GMOs is changing attitudes and they are learning to cook and are increasingly shopping at farmers’ markets. I suspect they are not too unusual, though I hope Marlene and I have had some effect, since we serve them only scratch cooked foods prepared from local ingredients when they visit.