“Locallectually” Challenged

Sunni's picture

A friend sent me a link to the Locallectual web site, along with a suggestion (or was that a hint?) that I blog about it. I’ll admit that upon seeing the term, I wasn’t very inclined to agree with my friend, but after poking around the site for a bit ... well, here I am.

My initial response was curiosity as to the name, so I first visited the “who we are” page in hopes of gaining an understanding. Here’s a summary:

[I]n our mind it refers to someone who has the intellect and the drive to shop local, buy local, eat local, and support local businesses and the local economy. ....

[W]e’re the first to proudly call ourselves Locallectuals. We’re forward thinking, we’re smart, and we’re tired of being disappointed by country of origin labels. We know that there’s power in what we buy, and we’re looking to harness that influence to benefit local economies–and more importantly, the planet.

It seems to me there is an inherent contradiction in pursuing a localist strategy while espousing a goal of benefitting the planet (however one might conceive of accomplishing that). Moving on in the overview, I went to the “locallectual terminology” page. A few bits from it (emphasis in original):

locatecture: a style of architecture which provides a strong counterpoint to globalism, built by utilizing local skills and materials, in a way that responds to local climate, manifests local mems, and embodies local stories

slow design: a style of design in which the time is taken to do things well, responsibly, with local components, and in a way that allows the designer, the artisan, and the end user to take pleasure from it.

agro-tourism: a type of eco-tourism which allows visitors to experience agricultural life first-hand.

locasexual: a person who chooses to date sustainably by dating someone who lives in their region, avoiding the carbon output of frequent air travel related to a long-distance relationship

And, showing that they can play the fear-mongering role too, a few snippets from the “why buy local?” page (formatting from original; hyperlinks not included):

CAN HELP TO HEAL THE PLANET: combat global climate change by decreasing your carbon footprint.

IS OFTENTIMES SAFER: Many countries that produce enormous amounts of consumer goods have less than stringent safety standard for the products they produce.

OFTEN MEANS FEWER CHEMICALS: Local produce grown on a small scale is often safer to eat as small farms tend to be less aggressive than large factory farms with chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. Also, fruits and vegetables from overseas may have been produced in countries with weaker environmental standards

IS A SAFER FOOD SYSTEM IN THE EVENT OF A NATIONAL EMERGENCY: The decentralization of the food system is a matter of national security.

Okay, now that I’ve dispensed with an overview, I’ll start opining. First and foremost, I have deep problems with some of the foundational positions, e.g. that current changes in climate are primarily manmade, and that they are threatening the planet. I also have some definitional problems with their words. Since we are talking about individual actions and choices viewed at an aggregate level, who defines such terms as “local”, “often”, and “small scale”? My family currently lives in an area rich with agriculture, both plant and animal. In our explorations, I have yet to see some of the factory-type operations I’ve observed traveling across the country; yet I regularly see farmers around here spraying their fields before and after planting.

Even with the abundance available to us locally, I simply don’t see how my doing without nutmeg, or pepper, or bananas or olives or lemons is going to help anyone. What is inherently wrong about someone choosing to bring those items here, to meet the demand for them? That demand is not a new thing, by the way: it was trade, especially of spices and silk, that drove a lot of exploration of the world centuries ago. People enjoy new and unusual things. Travelers like to be able to bring some of the exotic things they experienced home to share with family and friends, and if they’re well received, will likely want to obtain more. That genie (or monster, if one prefers) ain’t going back in the bottle. I suppose the conflation of size and safety doesn’t apply to the good ol’ USSA—the largest economy in the world, and a major exporter of agricultural products.

The hubris infusing some of the statements on the Locallectual site amuses me. One might think that quality and care taken in thinking and crafting simply were not possible before the localist political correctness came along. How is it that some textiles, furniture, pottery, and even complete buildings have withstood centuries to become valued heirlooms without the slow design concept guiding their creators? And the idea that agro-tourism allows tourists to “experience agricultural life first-hand” is simply laughable. A few days—or even a month—in a remote locale hardly captures the challenges, or the full rewards, of a life tied to the land. Visitors rarely (if ever) face the full spectrum of living elsewhere, primarily because their mindsets are precisely that of a visitor: they know they’ll be moving on at some point.

While I understand the focus on physical distance, the concept of “locasexuality” embodies the shallowness and narrowness of such thinking. The internet has enabled like-minded individuals from around the world to connect. How in Thor’s thundering hall can that be considered a bad thing? And, despite seeing examples of the negative effects of differently-minded individuals butting ideas that are regularly served up in the mainstream schnews, I think that there have been more benefits than problems there, too. A person who can set aside groupisms of any basis, and who can engage respectfully and thoughtfully with another respectful, thoughtful person experiences an expansion of his world that is simply not possible in an insular, closed community. Children who are exposed to a variety of cultures learn that there are many ways to accomplish a certain goal, a variety of ways of thinking, doing, and valuing; and I think that helps them grok the fundamental truth that underneath all generalizations one ultimately finds individuals—personal values, choices, decisions, and preferences.

Besides, this buttinskiness in the guise of doing good is just that: butting in to others’ lives. If Jorge and I decide to exchange coffee beans and blackberries, and we bear the costs of the transaction ourselves, how does it become someone else’s business? I am wholly uninterested in implicitly or explicitly laying a guilt trip on someone because his choices don’t align with mine—and yes, that’s what this localism nonsense seems to me to have at its base.

All my ramblings should not be taken to mean that I think everything is peachy–keen and groovy, and nothing can be improved. That’s far from the truth. The fascism [corporatism suffused with statism] masquerading as free markets is one of the deepest roots of the problem. But retreating to a hundred-mile view is not going to help kill it.

An accident of geography may be a sufficient basis on which to build a community, but I do not think it is the soundest basis. It is instructive to note that whenever mankind has developed a better means of transportation, he has quickly availed himself of it, reaching out to others—on the other side of the river, the mountain, the mountain range, the ocean, the planet. While I understand some of the concerns and fears underlying the localist movement, I think it is an unwise and ill-timed choice. Retreating into ourselves never helps us understand others, never enriches our thinking and methods and tools. This doesn’t mean I think that constant outreach is wise either; one can easily overdo it, again especially on the ‘net. Balance is good. And for me, striking that balance includes trading with others whom I find, who I think are doing good ... whether they’re 1.1 or 100.1 miles away from me.

Exactly

I've never resonated much with those who insist on "buy American" only, as if that was some magic answer to a sound economy.

We must make our purchase decisions based on many factors. Where it comes from is only one of them.

And, as for local farmers somehow automatically using fewer chemicals, that's a silly idea. People who grow or produce food of any kind must constantly weigh such decisions against potential profit, what their customers want and need and other things. I think it is fairly safe to say that few, if any, spray toxic chemicals just for the hell of it. Why would they want to poison their customers?

And this "Locallectual" outfit insisting on government regulation and oversight (of foreign producers at least) is proof to me that these people don't have a clue about how safe food and other consumer goods are produced, let alone understand anything about the free market.

That isn't to say that the big farms use chemicals perfectly, of course, but the small producer isn't somehow immune from error or malice by any means. In fact, I've seen more home gardeners use chemicals inappropriately than any commercial farmer, by far. They just don't have the profit and liability incentive to use the least necessary to produce a crop and stay in business.

Large producers must make such decisions carefully, since they have much larger operations and any use entails great expense - both for the chemicals and the labor/machinery to apply them.

And no, I'm not willing to live without pepper, bananas or coffee if I have any choice in the matter. :)

Once Upon a Time in an Alternate Universe

Someone didn't figure out how rock stupid this was 233 years ago...

Heh, Locasexual...why not carry it all the way and start advocating brother/sister incest? That will keep the blood local!

Very silly

Really, they are. Start with the fact that they have a presence on (cough) the World Wide Web. Their "locallectual" credibility goes down hill from there. Including the fact that they are registered with GoDaddy, who has a big outsource operation in India. They are hosted with CrystalTech (A good company from all I hear), but one does not find any "carbon neutral" nonsense on their site, as you do with many other hosting companies. In fact the "Power" heading under "Infrastructure" boasts a huge carbon foot print.

I am sure that every retailer they list will be happy to take my order and ship internationally, "despite" the big carbon foot print that entails.

Then there is the silliness of "Locallectual strives to promote companies that manufacture in their own country." Hmmm, how does this work in Singapore, Hong Kong, Monaco, etc? These countries do not even produce their own food. Singapore and Hong Kong started out explicitly as trading posts.

How does "country" even make sense in relation to their campaign? Does it really make more sense for someone in Washington state to buy a product from New York instead of British Columbia?

Looking at the pictures on the Who We Are page we see two young women, wearing (in the video) what seems to be cotton t-shirts, which is probably not grown in the US, even if the t-shirts are made in the US, which is doubtful.

In the photo both of them have footwear which appears to contain plastic.

Gah. The intellectual sloppiness of these people, even if you accepted their premise, is astounding.

Jorge has given me the first good laugh of the day

That was really an excellent un-masking!

Locasexual

I must say, the part about dating is born out by personal experience. While living in Florida I dated a woman who lived in New York. It did have it's problems. PeopleExpress at $99 per bus load (I think the sheep and cattle got reduced fares) helped and I didn't and still don't give a shit about my "carbon" footprint. But still, I think local is the way to go.

Then, of course, there is the D.I.Y. form of dating. That has it's own sets of tradeoffs. I don't think there is any carbon involved, however. Not enough heat.

Loco-sexuality

While living in Florida I dated a woman who lived in New York. It did have its problems. .... But still, I think local is the way to go.

So, would you abort a promising romantic relationship over “excessive” distance between the two of you?

That’s what I think is so silly about that particular point: one doesn’t know in advance who might be a good fit, romantically speaking ... it isn’t as if falling in love is easily controlled. I just can’t see turning away from a great possibility over such a relatively minor thing. Not to mention the likelihood of killing the friendship entirely when one says something like, “You know, I really like you; and I think this friendship could become something more. You seem to feel likewise. But you live in Philadelphia and I’m here in Cincinnati and that’s just too great a distance for a romantic relationship.” Besides, assuming one cared about sustainability and carbon footprints and suchlike, wouldn’t it be better if the couple lived far enough apart that they only got together say, once a month or so, instead of making an hour drive three or four times a week?

Imagine all the great poetry that would never have been, had our forebears adopted a locasexual attitude ...

Not what I meant.

So, would you abort a promising romantic relationship over “excessive” distance between the two of you?

Nope. That's not what I meant. In fact, the "excessive" distance did not stop that romance from developing, rather it ended up preventing it from growing into the rich relationship that I, at least, had hoped might result. I think the point is that nurturance is not something which can be done sporadically and from a distance.

This may in fact be part of the value of the idea of local stuff of all sorts. By that I am not at all buying into the strange dictatorial nature of this group, only recognizing that distance increases distance.

Romantic Toughness

Aw, tough it out, NonE. My wife and I had a mostly long-distance relationship for 3 years after we first met. We wrote a lot of letters (yes, people used to do that), talked on the phone, and travelled when possible. It was a great test! But maybe folks can't handle that kind of thing any longer in this age of immediate gratification...

Tuffing it out

Well, Saint, this particular relationship was about 30 years ago, so... I doubt it's gonna last. ;-)

seeds

Hi Sunni -

Nice dissection. I have to confess I sometimes find myself sliding into the locallectual mindset (not that I'd ever heard of it before you blogged it).

You can have family scattered all over the world and still keep a miniscule carbon footprint if you're so minded. I have. It just entails making every trip you take count for double and triple duty. Spacing out your trips or maybe cutting back in some other way. But that's an individual choice....it's not something anyone can mandate for the whole world - too complex.

By the way, this is a digression, but do you have any recommendations for seeds? Non-GM, non-terminator seeds that can reproduce themselves, properly sealed, so they have a long shelf life (as many years as possible)...I am looking to buy seeds in bulk. I saw an ad for something called survival seeds - seemed a bit hyped, but something of that nature..
Any pointers would be much appreciated.

Quick answer.

[D]o you have any recommendations for seeds?

I haven’t done as much research in this area as some of the regulars here—and I hope they’ll add their opinions—but I like Seed Savers Exchange. Becoming a member, so that one can see (and order from) their full catalog, is well worth it. There’s loads of valuable information in it.

I’m not familiar with “survival seeds”, but it does sound like fear-mongering and hype to me, too.

seeds

Hello Lila,

recommendations for seeds...

Get involved with seeds - which implies gardening (or farming). If I was going to save seeds (I do) - I'd want to get to know their properties - how they're suited to my situation (soil, weather, pest and blight resistance). I wouldn't want to go into a survival situation with only an unopened can of various seeds - even if they were labeled "survival"! Plants aren't a one-size-fits-all matter - they're very diverse and some can of generic seed sounds a bit dubious for all the growing conditions around the world. Also - as rewarding as gardening/farming can be - it can present a lot of challenges - so practicing with seeds (gardening) can only add to any skills one might need if they're gardening for survival.

I agree with Sunni's mention of Seed Saver's Exchange, that's the kind of environment to formulate what you might need. I get some seed from a group local to my region - called Native Seeds/Search. The main reason I use some of their products is that the seeds themselves are gleaned from crops long acclimated to my region - often heirlooms cultivated for centuries within a couple hundred miles from my own growing location. One doesn't have to always garden this way - but it's more reliable if you're trying to feed yourself.

If you have any farmer's markets where you live - that's a good place to meet local growers and engage them as to what works for them - most gardeners are fairly willing to pass along what they've learned. There's also a lot of good information online - I find a lot of information at Garden Web Forums.

Having a lot of seeds in bulk - sealed tightly against the elements - is one thing. But seeds are part of a process - and I recommend a lot of practice with them so that you can find out what works for your situation. In lieu of practice - meet gardeners in your area thru farmer's markets or university extension services.

Somewhat on the subject - if I had a limited amount of time and wanted to be able to be more responsible for my food sources - I might put some time into learning about foraging within my own region. Often right underneath our own noses are the same plants that provided sustenance for less 'civilised' folks for centuries - already tended for by nature. Look at what 'native' people in your region used and follow their lead. If I had to survive in my own region solely on what I could grow vs. what I could forage - I'd probably put 80% of my efforts into foraging in terms of diet quality and time spent for value.

An aphorism I've always found useful in terms of gardening and seed saving - "the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago".

Caveat Emptor...

...to quote Mike Brady.

Like so many knee-jerk reactions by various groups advocating one thing or another, I find some value in the overarching concepts espoused but for all the wrong reasons. Trading/purchasing locally is in many cases a good idea, if only to strengthen the relationship with the opposite party, which can strengthen community ties. A strong community yields benefits far beyond just the initial exchange. The bottom line should be awareness, consideration, and intention in transactions rather than blind trust and zombie-like consumption.

PoS

Murphy's Bye-Laws

Great column!

Even before long distance trading involved any carbon output, people were shipping (as you noted) vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc across vast distances. Except for the Brits, of course, who like bland food. ;o) Even sugar was shipped across the world.

Don't even get me started on long distance dating. My Hugs and I met online 15 years ago. (Yes, early adopters!) I was in rural CO, he was in Seattle area. He was raised in CO, and would never have found a good match in Seattle.

And in addition, we had met almost IRL 15 years before that. It was fate. ;o)

Our 10 month courtship involved a total of 4 flights, and his parents were in my same town. Hardly a huge carbon footprint. But we wore out several keyboards and phone wires.

The kind of snobbery disgusts me - "Rules for thee, but not for me".

And I'm not willing to even contemplate going back to nothing more than meat and vegetables that are either freeze resistant or will store over the winter. Imagine - the only (semi-fresh) food you get in winter is potatoes, onions, hard squash and carrots? I want an orange in my Christmas stocking, and bananas on my cornflakes. I like orange juice for breakfast and maple syrup on pancakes. And for that matter, my car.

None of these things are produced in my area.

And none of you would have hard copies of your software.

Your car?

You like maple syrup on your car? [ducking as she throws things... grin] Just kidding!

The key here is choice and rational decision making - as well as the ability to adapt to whatever reality we encounter.

Personally, I'm not eager to endure a subsistence life with few options. But, considering the alternative of death by starvation, etc... we may eventually be grateful if we have that opportunity.