Here’s a pretty devastating critique of the concept of “local food”, which has many parallels with the “Locale” enthusiastically championed by CAMRA. The article clearly shows that promoting local food for its own sake violates the core economic principle of comparative advantage and does not actually deliver any tangible benefits in terms of assisting the local economy or improving the environment. By all means eat local food and drink local beer if you actually prefer it, but if you’re just doing it out of a sense of duty you’re effectively burning money.
Tom Vilsack, the current (US) Secretary of Agriculture, stated, “In a perfect world, everything that was sold, everything that was purchased and consumed would be local, so the economy would receive the benefit of that.” Apparently Vilsack believes that we'd be richer if we made our own shoes, iPods, and corn. Adam Smith and David Ricardo must be rolling in their graves.There is a point in pubs promoting local beers as a means of emphasising an area’s distinctive character – after all, you wouldn’t want to go on holiday to Cornwall and find Holts as a guest beer. It has to be said also that, once you get beyond meeting the needs of subsistence, preference in food and drink is essentially subjective anyway. But nobody should delude themselves that drinking local beers is in any objective sense “doing good”.
Local food is generally more expensive than non-local food of the same quality. If that were not so, there would be no need to exhort people to “buy local.” However, we are told that spending a dollar for a locally produced tomato keeps the dollar circulating locally, stimulating the local economy. But, if local and non-local foods are of the same quality, but local goods are more expensive, then buying local food is like burning dollar bills – dollar bills that could have been put to more productive use. The community does not benefit when we pay more for a local tomato instead of an identical non-local tomato because the savings realized from buying non-local tomatoes could have been used to purchase other things. Asking us to purchase local food is asking us to give up things we otherwise could have enjoyed – the very definition of wealth destruction.
It always seems to me that there is also a strong element of snobbery involved in Locale, that it’s OK for me as a discerning world beer aficionado to drink Orkney Red McGregor or Cooper’s Sparkling Ale, but you lager-swilling plebs are bad people for drinking Magor-brewed Stella rather than Scrodgin’s Old Gutrot from a shed down the road. And all the arguing over the precise definition of “Locale” you see in CAMRA circles really is on a par with Mediaeval theologians debating how many angels can fit on a pinhead.