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Cosmovore vs Local Foods

Cosmovore vs. local foods, by Catherine Wissner  

From the November 15, 2011, Drovers article Enter the Cosmovores;* “Mr. Kenny adds a new word to our food vocabulary as he answers — negatively — the question: Is buying local the best choice? He writes, “…these First-World food fetishes are positively terrible for the world’s poorest people. If you want to do the right thing, give up on locavorism and organics über alles and become a globally conscious grocery buyer. This should be the age of the ‘cosmovore’ — cosmopolitan.”

Local food as the bad-guy image to global utopia equality economics is incredibly off the mark. This is a narrow view of how third world countries actually function and the impact this misguided approach has on local US communities, poor third world villages along with food safety, local jobs and the general health of all communities, is disastrous.

For years Longmont, Colorado was home to Stear Turkey Farms and Processing, makers of Jennie-O Turkey, they made turkey loaf, turkey pastrami, and sold the by-products back to local processors for everything from fertilizer to pet food.  Stear Foods was bought out by Butterball LLC.  In early winter of 2008 Butterball LLC announced that it had sold the Longmont brand to Sigma Alimentos in Mexico.  Sigma Alimentos is Mexico’s largest producer and distributor of refrigerated and frozen food; they also own the distribution rights to Oscar Meyer among many other brands (1) (2).

The initial press release assured the Longmont community that no jobs would be lost. By September 2008, 491 people were laid off, the rest “were terminated...in November” according to the Colorado Department of Labor. Many of these workers were Hispanic; many were mid to high level management.  The facility was completely shut down by the end of the year.   Remittance or money sent home by people working abroad, according to the Mexican Central Bank totaled $21.27 billion dollars in 2010, is Mexico’s second largest source of foreign income after oil. Have we made Mexico’s poor people better off or have we created a new class of poor people in America? The City of Longmont is currently dealing with a serious gang problem. Is there a correlation to the decay of the community and the loss of the Longmont Turkey plant; have the poor in Mexico improved in status? The shutdown of the Longmont facility had a ripple effect to the outlying community; private turkey growers having no place to take their turkeys, grain mills that supplied feed to the turkey producers all are now empty buildings.

From “Enter the Cosmovore” article: “…But the big picture is more complicated.” Kenny argues. “Perhaps locally grown produce tastes better to some people,” he writes. “And perhaps it is psychologically better to have close contact with the people who grow your food. But that doesn’t make it good for the environment.”

I doubt that Mr. Kenny fully appreciates the ramifications behind his push of the cosmovore global culinary ideal and the environment; it is truly a very complicated issue. Concerning the environment, his argument is missed by miles.  From the 2011 October/November issue of Food Quality magazine, “Eye on China” the author Ted Agres points out, “ China’s sprawling system of food production is largely unregulated, operation in a Wild West environment in which the drive for productivity and profit outweighs adherence to even the most basic safety and sanitary measures…The misuse and gross overuse of hundreds of chemicals, many of them banned and toxic, have led to death for scores and sickness in hundreds of thousands of people throughout China.”  My favorite quote in the article “Eye on China”- “Those who can, grow their own food.” 

Fruit trees in China are heavily sprayed with chemicals to the point that people are hired to hand pollinate apple trees, once a job done by native bees, labor is cheap in China, authorities see no problem with this situation.  Seventy percent of all apple juice concentrate in the US is from China, including blended fruit juice drinks. (3)  What are you giving your children to drink, fruit juice, but its okay because you are helping the world’s poor through cosmovorism, never mind you are also feeding chemicals that are banned in the U.S.

Chinese honey, well known for having everything from heavy metals including lead, Chloramphenicol and other illegal antibiotics in it, is banned from Europe and US markets. Currently smuggled into the US via Canada, Brazil and other approved countries after ultra filtration to remove the very traceable pollen that points to the country of origin (4). In 2001 the Federal Trade Commission leveled stiff tariffs on Chinese honey to stop them from “dumping cheap, heavily subsidized honey onto the US market” before the tariffs, American beekeepers couldn’t compete; many gave up.  The National Honey Board, a federal research and promotion organization under USDA oversight, says the bulk of foreign honey (at least 60 percent or more) is sold to the food industry for use in baked goods, beverages, sauces and processed foods.   The label on your favorite baked goods list, that feel good ingredient; honey, but who’s honey is it?

Multinational companies like Dole and Nestle may have modern factories with trained employees and follow best food safety practices in China and other Asian countries, providing inexpensive food globally.  However, in China alone; “There are 480,000 licensed food processing enterprises, 80% of which employ 10 or fewer workers” (5), these small growers, processors, and merchants that rely on cheap, out dated or crude equipment have little to no training, or ignore basic standards and proper sanitation practices in pursuit of profit.

China, Vietnam, Korea, India, Poland, Romania, Peru, Mexico and Brazil are all listed countries of origin on packages of food found throughout grocery stores. Some countries struggling, some world powers; under communist, democratic or dictatorship governments, but all grasping with how to make the biggest profit at the smallest cost and get into that elusive global and financially lucrative food market. What does the environment have to do with profit to emerging economies?    

In the article Mr. Kenny is quoted; “Free trade among regions and nations allows people to produce and sell the goods for which they have a comparative advantage, benefiting all. “ Benefiting all? April 12, 2006 a free trade agreement was signed between Peru and the United States (later adding Mexico) specifically allowing certain vegetable importation into the US; this was done in an attempt to reduce the illegal drug traffic by putting poor people to work in a more gainful productive legal manner.  This free trade agreement resulted in the demise of American asparagus growers from Washington State to Michigan and did nothing to stem the drug problem in South America. In June of 2010 the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board (www.asparagus.org) announced to it members approval from the USDA for “Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to help producers overcome the hardship caused by foreign imports.” TAA was developed in addition to the 2008 Farm Bill, Market Loss Assistance Program, but it was four years too late.  

Article author Suzanne Bopp cites James E McWilliams “apples per mile” basis for energy consumption without regard to the efficiency that is delivered in the real world.  A local farmer going 50 miles to market will fill his 15-18 mpg truck with as much produce and other farm products as he can load into it, not just a single case of apples.  His round trip fuel consumption might be around 6-7 gallons of fuel.

Similarly, the full semi-trailer truckload of apples hauling 2,000 miles, as cited in the article, will consume approximately 340 gallons of fuel to make the trip, each way.  If he’s backhauling empty, that’s another 340 gallons of fuel to return home which must be factored into the delivery cost of said apples.

A local farmer is able to use his time effectively to deliver and return in the same day of delivery and sales, providing a fresher product.  The long haul trucker runs about 40 hours to make the 2,000 mile trip, which is days of operating time and paid driver time.  There’s an efficiency of scale that’s achieved, but there’s still a net consumption of resources which must be paid for, including mandatory stops for the driver and facilities enroute which consume energy.  If a rig is run slip-seated, that’s two drivers who will be paid for the trip and there’s still downtime each day because, per the DOT, they cannot run 24 hours continuously. 

Consumables are often forgotten in the equation; tractor-trailer rigs, lubricants like; oil, hydraulic fluids, insurance, workers comp, (which must be paid), along with road taxes which are collected on the ton-miles driven through many states as the semi goes through the weigh stations and gets taxed in addition to the fuel taxes which will be paid for during the trip.  Many states now collect fuel tax equivalent to the estimated fuel used to cross the state in addition to the ton-mile tax if the rig operator cannot produce a receipt for those gallons of taxed fuel purchased in that state.  With several hundred gallons of fuel on-board, the downtime to stop for fuel is more costly than paying the fuel tax, so the drivers simply pays the additional fuel tax penalty (6).

The vast majority of Farmer’s Markets are private, run only by volunteers who understand and value the intrinsic concept of locally grown food, not just the economic impact, but also the quality and enhancement to the community it brings, and keeping the family farm alive.  The Cheyenne Tuesday Farmer’s Market, Cheyenne Winter Farmers Market, Laramie (WY) Farmer’s Market, along with the vast majority of markets in the US where vendors are all juried before they are allowed to sell.  In the above mentioned markets vendors are not allowed to re-sell or broker food, all must prove that they make, grow or process what they are selling. Keeping food miles to a minimum, produce freshness at its peak with consumer to farmer contact, enhancing quality of life in the spirit that community counts.  

A vendor at the Tuesday and Winter Cheyenne Farmer’s Market grow their own certified organic wheat (read; no chemicals), harvest and clean their own wheat, than create baked good via their commercial kitchen; the main ingredient never leaves the property until it is sold. They are not the only people that are keeping food miles to a minimum.  Chicken sold at the same market travels the most at six hundred miles from day old chick to what’s for dinner, how far has that Tyson chicken or KFC traveled before you eat it.  Beef, Bison and Lamb sold at the same market travels 150 miles from farm to processor to consumer. Ranchers typically take many animals at a time for processing, keeping cost to a minimum. Locally grown vegetables have a smaller impact going from field to consumer in one trip, normally grown using organic methods and skipping the warehouse middleman. This is typical for most farmers’ markets. Kenny comments that food production at a large global scale bring the cost of goods down; but each country’s policy on environment practices vary, it goes way beyond the whole food mile issue.  Local food is not mass produced food and the economy of scale isn’t there, quality of product is imperative to the producer and consumer. Is ditching fancy, organic local food and über alles really good for the world’s poor; is it really good for local communities?  

Animal welfare in the global market cannot and should never be ignored; Mr. Kenny’s push for “this should be the age of the cosmovore-cosmopolitan consumers of the world’s food; “  then goes on to say: “It’s four times more energy efficient for Londoners to buy lamb raised in New Zealand than lamb raised in Britain...”. But what price do we and animals pay for this global consumerism?  September 1996, a Panamanian cargo ship on route to Jordan from Australia caught fire northeast of the Seychelles, on board were 67,000 live sheep, the crew abandoned the burning ship (7).  Debris was later found indicating that the ship had sunk. This is not the first or only ship loaded with live sheep that was lost at sea.


The Austrian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals condemns live sheep exports as cruel saying up to 8 percent of the animals die in transit.  The Australian government admits there are problems with live exports, it said the exports are worth $390 million a year and will continue. Why, because Muslims want live animals for ritual slaughter (8).  Fast forward to 2011, Austrian television episode titled “A Bloody Business” was aired, and viewers who watched “saw exactly how Australian cattle were treated in Indonesia, as part of our supposedly world-leading live export industry.  They saw our beast beaten, their legs and tails broken, eyes gouged, heads slapped repeatedly against concrete blocks and throats hacked at with blunt knives” (9). In October 2011, Austrian House of Representatives Andrew Wilkie introduced HB 2011 concerning “Livestock Export (Animal Welfare Conditions) in an effort to phase out live export of sheep and cattle and reform of the current system of Indonesian livestock slaughter of Austrian cattle which does not include stunning of the animal prior to slaughter.”

Now, how do you measure local food against Mr. Kenny’s “cosmopolitan global cosmovore” attempt at redistribution of the wealth? More importantly; do you know where your food comes from? What do you want on your plate, what do you want your children to eat, and what price do we really pay for redistribution of  wealth?

(1)   The Poultry Site News 11/5/09. 

(2)   The Longmont Times-Call, “Butterball cuts jobs at Longmont plant: farms.  By Bob McGovern. September 3, 2008.

(3)   Food Quality, Eye on China, Ted Agres, October/November 2011.

(4)   Food Safety News,  Test Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey, By Andrew Schnieder, November 07, 2011

(5)   Food Quality, Eye on China, Ted Agres, October/November 2011.

(6)   Martin Wissner, automotive mechanic, Mitchell 1 rep. November 18, 2011.

(7)   The Times: World News: September 5, 1996, Michael Hornsby.

(8)   Associated Press, Perth Australia, September 1996.

(9)   Austrian Four Corners Episode, “A Bloody business”, May 30, 2011.

*Drovers Cattle Network, column “Enter the Cosmovores” by Susanne Bopp, November 15, 2011.

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