Freakavorism

The Freakonomics guys, jugglers of all things counterintuitive, take on locavorism this week in their New York Times blog, resulting in a passionate and intelligent back-and-forth between readers. In the post, Stephen J. Dubner uses his attempt to make ice cream at home as an example of how “there are huge inefficiences at work” in growing or making your own food (often a part of people’s definition of locavorism). In his case, he spent about $12 to make a tiny bit of what turned out to be lousy ice cream, whereas he could have spent less than that on some gourmet tastiness that wasn’t local.

Writes Dubner:

Let’s say you decide to plant a big vegetable garden this year to save money. Now factor in everything you need to buy to make it happen — the seeds, fertilizer, sprout cups, twine, tools, etc. — along with the transportation costs and the opportunity cost. Are you sure you really saved money by growing your own zucchini and corn?

There’s a lot of squishiness in Dubner’s reasoning, as astute readers point out. (“Preparing food at home instead of buying it at the store is not ‘locavorism’ but rather ‘cooking’,” one opines.) Secondly, while the start-up costs of a garden may be expensive, the expenses every year after that will be significantly smaller.

Reader Petey Wheatstraw writes:

Nay-saying the idea of growing your own is like grumping about riding your bike to work: ‘Well, I’d have to buy a bike, and I would insist on a good one so that will be expensive. I’d have to train for a year because I’m fat and out of shape. This will require huge dietary changes because it will be too difficult on my current cheetos ‘n’ diet coke regimen. And what happens when I get more healthy? Then I live longer into my expensive old age! All in all, it makes more economic sense to drive my Ford Excessive the 10 miles to work every day smoking and choking down Big Macs.’