Redneck Locavores, Organic Onions and the Environment

You might be a redneck locavore if you refer to the squirrels in your yard as “free range.”

One of the fastest growing environmental fads is the push to cut “food miles,” and transportation-related carbon emissions, by buying locally grown food. Those who adhere to this philosophy, known as “locavores,” believe that buying food from local farms reduces the environmental impact by reducing the amount of fuel necessary to transport the food. In Seattle, one locavore has taken this idea to an extreme: eating squirrels she traps in her yard.

A retired “environmental analyst” told the Seattle Times she couldn’t eat prime rib without guilt and that eating squirrels is one way she is “trying to quiet her conscience.”

She doesn’t explain what is troubling her conscience, but given the context of the argument, we can only assume the guilt is the assumed environmental impact of eating food shipped from other parts of the country. Studies have shown again and again, however, that focusing only on the final distance that food travels is misleading.

On the Freakonomics blog, Steve Sexton notes that “local food consumers should understand that they aren’t necessarily buying something that helps the planet.” The reason is simple: if you grow food where it isn’t suited, the additional energy to grow the food more than outweighs the small savings in transportation. Sexton cites research that shows “Transportation only accounts for 11 percent of the carbon embodied in food anyway, according to a 2008 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon; 83 percent comes from production.” Focusing on the 11 percent and ignoring the 83 percent isn’t a good way to reduce resource use.

Others argue that even if the environmental benefit isn’t significant, local food tastes better. When you are reduced to eating squirrel, that argument starts to sound a little hollow.

As an aside, you might be a redneck locavore if you traded your washing machine for a clothes line that hold four pairs of jeans and three squirrels.

Seattle’s squirrel-eating locavores are one more bit of evidence that environmental ideology is as much about self image as the environment. Now, even The Onion (America’s Finest News Source) is indicating that just because you call something “green” doesn’t mean it is. In its “American Voices” section, The Onion asks “As they ramp up production to meet the demands of a growing market, some organic farms are coming under scrutiny for agricultural practices that may do more harm to the land than good. What do you think?” The answers are, in true Onion style, silly (“This is precisely why I’ve stuck all these years to synthetic carrots.”). The genius of The Onion is to convey reality in a humorous way. Questioning organic food wouldn’t work unless the topic had the ring of truth.

Obviously, not everyone who cares about the environment is going to end up as an urban, squirrel-eating, redneck locavore. But when you’ve reached the point you are creating recipes for “risotto di roentia” and are being mocked by The Onion, you might want to think about whether you are on the right track.

By the way, you might be a redneck locavore if you damage your Prius trying to hit a squirrel.

Comments (10)

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  1. Fried squirrel – don’t knock it if you have not tried it!

  2. Kevin Kelly says:

    8th paragraph, starting with “Seattle’s squirrel-eating”, is missing the word “because” in the second sentence.

  3. Allen Basala says:

    There are other reasons for dispatching squirrels.

    In 2011, squirrels twice chewed through the gasoline line on my pick-up truck while the vehicle was parked at my house. The first time my son-in-law and I were able to splice the line. The second time, I had to get another gasoline line since they chewed the part of the line which was close to the tank. This meant removing the truck bed and searching out junk yards for a replacement line. Thanks in part to EPA’s clunker/junker program, automotive parts folks don’t carry replacement gasoline lines anymore (yes, I have a vintage pick-up truck).

    Fixing the damage imposed by the squirrels were not inexpensive undertaking. On the 2nd chew, my vehicle was out of commission for two days.

    I told my son-in-law it must be the squirrels’ craving for the ethanol in the gasoline that causes them to chew through the lines. He didn’t agree. I am not convinced. However, I do not want to put out a bowl of grain alcohol to test that hypothesis. I can think of better uses for that product.

    I don’t want to exterminate squirrels within the city limits. I just want to manage them. The city, county, and state literature on the subject says to remove critical habitat elements like shelter and food. Well, that could mean destroying squirrels nests which is a violation of another wildlife law. It could also mean destroying the vehicle as squirrel nests were discovered when the truck bed was removed. Or, it could mean felling some nut producing hickory and oak trees, which provide energy saving shade, wind protection, and other amenities.

    Living close to red cockaded woodpecker country, I am aware of the shoot-shovel-shut-up solution that has been considered when confronting designated threatened and endangered species on one’s property. But, that solution is a non-starter for me. Clearly, gray squirrels are not an T & E species in the USFWS use of the term. In addition, I teach outdoor ethics, among other things as a master hunter education instructor for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

    So what does the state wildlife code say about such things? The state of NC requires a depredation permit to live trap and/or dispatch these critters or requires using (paying) someone who has a depredation permit to handle the pest control problem.

    I have a call into the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and am awaiting a discussion with the officer who issues the permits.

  4. Chris F says:

    Amusing article!

    When my redneck terrier catches a backyard, free-range squirrel, I applaud her for her resourcefulness at nabbing a free meal.

    I never thought that her catch could be a locavore dinner for me. …and I never will.

  5. JD says:

    The “buy local” campaign undercuts the benefits of comparative advantage and specialization.

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