Associate professor Pierre Desrochers

UTM professor challenges benefits of 100-mile diet

Patricia Lonergan

Almost 10 years after writing his book, The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile DietPierre Desrochers has provided an update to his arguments that the local food movement is doomed to fail.

Desrochers’ updated arguments, which tackle what he refers to as the five myths of locavores, is outlined in a Fraser Institute paper. The release of that paper comes on the heels of the federal government’s national food policy that includes plans for a new Buy Canadian campaign.

The associate professor of geography at UTM says there have been developments that were not obvious at the time he wrote the book.

“I wanted to restate some points I’d made in my book, mainly that you cannot expect small, diversified alternative producers to ever be able to compete with large scale ones who are able to generate economies of scale,” Desrochers says.

The basic premise of his book, which he co-wrote with policy analyst Hiroko Shimizu, is that the local food movement promoting the 100-mile diet does not deliver economic benefits or food security.

In his recent analysis, he points to the failure of vertical farming as an example of the technical limitations of urban agriculture. He’d made the case that, theoretically, vertical farming in urban centres would never be cost effective, but now there’s more empirical evidence to back up that argument.

Attempts to bring vertical farming into cities have suffered failures. In 2014, a vertical farm by Alterrus Systems Inc. in Vancouver went bankrupt. Atlanta and Sweden have also had vertical farms fail, says Desrochers, explaining they are not competitive compared with regular greenhouses because the “costs are enormous.”

There are times locally-grown produce can be the better choice when it comes to quality and price, but it isn’t always the best option. Sometimes food simply isn’t in season. For example, if someone in Canada wants to eat a locally-grown apple in May, that apple would have to be stored in a climate-controlled warehouse. That long-term storage, he says, is more expensive than shipping.

Local producers here, he adds, sell to other regions. That’s how a market economy works.

An advocate of economies of scale where regions specialize in what they produce, Desrochers argues food should be purchased because it has the best quality/price ratio, not simply because it was grown locally.