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Say What? President Bush Encourages Americans to Eat Local

greentie.jpgHeadlines from today’s White House press conference included a quote from President Bush encouraging Americans to eat local. It caught me a bit off guard.

Putting the comment back into context, however, there are a few problems with the logic of this suggestion, and not just that he, Bush, was the creator of the “eat local” concept.

The statement was made in response to a question on the relationship between ethanol and food price increases: (quote from press conference after the jump).

“Actually, I have a little different take: I thought it was 85 percent of the world’s food prices are caused by weather, increased demand and energy prices — just the cost of growing product — and that 15 percent has been caused by ethanol, the arrival of ethanol.

By the way, the high price of gasoline is going to spur more investment in ethanol as an alternative to gasoline. And the truth of the matter is it’s in our national interests that our farmers grow energy, as opposed to us purchasing energy from parts of the world that are unstable or may not like us.

In terms of the international situation, we are deeply concerned about food prices here at home and we’re deeply concerned about people who don’t have food abroad. In other words, scarcity is of concern to us. Last year we were very generous in our food donations, and this year we’ll be generous as well. As a matter of fact, we just released about $200 million out of the Emerson Trust as part of a ongoing effort to address scarcity.

One thing I think that would be — I know would be very creative policy is if we — is if we would buy food from local farmers as a way to help deal with scarcity, but also as a way to put in place an infrastructure so that nations can be self-sustaining and self-supporting. It’s a proposal I put forth that Congress hasn’t responded to yet, and I sincerely hope they do.”

Let’s look at the logic here. If more and more farmland gets diverted to commodity crops for ethanol production, how are we going to provide food for the world AND have land left for local farms? If just fifteen percent of the food price issues were caused by using farmland for ethanol, how is using more farmland for ethanol going to be part of the solution? Not to mention the massive input of fossil-fuel based fertilizers that are used to grow that commodity crop conventionally. Or, the fact that current demand for local food may become greater than what can be supplied with only four percent of our nation’s farms growing fruits and vegetables.

On the chance that this “new” buying local concept of our president’s may sour you on the idea of buying local, please don’t quit. Buying local is your movement. Your choice. Your actions. And they make a huge difference for positive changes in this country.

10 comments
  1. natureboyms

    Amazing. Bush says “eat local” and people find a way to contort it into something bad. None of Beth’s observations are followed by suggestions of how to solve the mentioned problems.

  2. nathan

    please don’t try to break-down the logic of anything our president says…it may just cause your head to explode. besides, do you think he actually knows the meaning of half the words that come out of his mouth?!

  3. Beth Bader

    Ah, solutions. If I were in charge …

    First, corn-based ethanol has to go. It uses more energy to produce than it provided. Head over to Gas 2.0 for a lot of other biofuel technologies that could resolve this issue, particularly of interest is the microbe approach that would use a fraction of the real estate to produce biofuel. That frees up our farmland to go back to raising crops.

    Second, let’s eat less meat, and make that meat grass fed, not grain. This frees up the grain to be used as grain for feeding people. That helps create more food for the world. Now, how do you get people to abide by this? Who knows. Charge the real cost of meat production including environmental clean up, that’s a start. But then, you are going to have to deal with the lobbyists for meat industry and fast food that own a good deal of your Congressmen.

    I guess I would need a temporary Marshall law level of leadership to invoke these things on the legislative side. The issues are there (safety, environment, subsidies) but they never get resolved. We can do our part on the consumer side.

    More local farms would raise more food crops. So, now we make the farm bill what it needs to be to support these small farms and get rid of Big Ag, largely, and the whole commodity deadlock on our farm system. Generally, you would expect demand to increase supply, but farmers need to have some incentive with policy as well. As consumers, join a CSA, that gives the farm the kind of support to make growing “specialty” crops a realistic endeavor.

    And, yes, continue to buy local. As much as you can, as often as you can. There are several resources and articles in this site that can help you head down that path. Sustainable Table and Local Harvest both have search tools to help you find a farmers market or CSA near you.

    Those are my solutions. The hard part is getting the world to embrace these solutions including the business interests that would lose billions.

  4. Megan McWilliams

    i think some of the solutions lie in the beast that is the ‘farm bill’. it sounded like bush was referring to it. i believe it is stalled on extension and there are ‘administration’ influences that he is hoping will be included before he will sign. i was going to try and write a post about it. have been reading about it for a couple of days, but i’m not sure if i’ll have time in the next couple of days to try and articulate it all. new job. they frown on blogging during work hours! back to work . . . ;)

  5. Megan McWilliams

    PS i don’t mean there are solutions in the current farm bill . . . NO . . . i mean, we need to get extremely active to seriously alter the NEXT farm bill. we have about 5 years. we need to get busy!!!!

  6. Beth Bader

    Bush’s major push back on the farm bill is the subsidy payments. He is pushing for reform there in order to cut domestic spending. Regardless of the reason, you have to look at the value of reform on those subsidy payments. It brought the Grassley amendment back to life, and that is good. Some of the other programs, however, like food stamp reform and other food assistance may be jeopardized. At this point it is a wait and see what makes the cuts.

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