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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 645)...

    My question concerns your thesis regarding food production and population growth. If you are right, and I rather think you are, then a human community should not grow beyond its ability to subsist on locally produced food sources. My question is this: how do we define local? I would like to define local ecologically in terms of "bioregions". For example, my bioregion, northern Canada, produces no bananas, oranges, grapes, etc. But it does produce very good raspberries. So my fruit diet should consist of raspberries. And if I recover a bit of old wisdom I could learn how to preserve a variety of rasberry products for use over the winter. This makes perfect sense to me, although in an era of global trade it does limit my food choices. Still, ecologically this makes sense to me. So the second question is this: Do you think the ideas of global trade and competitive advantage (not to mention cheap oil) have led us to an artificial understanding of things like food production. Is this one more source of our disconnectedness with natural processes? If I am understanding you correctly then the modern "supermarket" is a disturbing place, but the local "farmers market" is to be supported and encouraged. I would be interested in your response.

    ...and the response:

    Your first question is difficult to deal with in any practical way in the world as it exists today. The U.S. Midwest produces food for a much great population than lives in the Midwest. On the other hand, New York City produces very little of the food its population consumes. Matching population to local food production would be a matter of reducing the population of Manhattan to perhaps a few thousand and cutting food production in the Midwest by two thirds (or perhaps moving the population of Manhattan to the Midwest). It's hard to see how difficulties of these kinds are to be resolved. In your second question, I'm not sure what you mean by an "artificial understanding of things like food production" and I'm not sure who the "us" is that has this artificial understanding. If you're referring to the fact that people generally fail to see the connection between food production and population growth, I'm afraid I don't see that "the ideas of global trade and competitive advantage" contribute to it. It's a bit too late to be disturbed by supermarkets; given the arc of our cultural history, these were inevitable developments. Farmers' markets serve an enduring purpose (and are found in most cities in some form), but as presently constituted, few modern cities could survive on what local farmers produce. It would take a major social and economic revolution to replace supermarkets with farmers' markets (though such a revolution is not unthinkable and could conceivably have far-reaching benefits).

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