I don’t normally like to use orgal PR campaigns on here, but this one I think is worth discussing.
“In less than a decade, by the year 2027 over 75% of our fruits and half of our vegetables will come from a foreign nation. Currently half our fruits and one-third of our vegetables come from foreign countries.”
This was sent to me by Robert Turner, Arden, North Carolina.
If you visit the website shown, you will find a well-thought out case for eating local. I have no real objection to a locavore philosophy. Especially peaches. And tomatoes. However, such alarmist implications can use some context. Note the excellent source article from the New York Times.
First, here is how produce imports have grown over the last few years. But when you look at value, any import trend (the blue bars) is less clear. Moreover, I am not convinced the current trade environment means you can extrapolate from this year to 2027 with any accuracy at all because of where our imports come from and who we are targeting.
Second, without imports, our choice would be greatly reduced. These are the fruits and vegetables that are over 50% imported. It also goes without saying not being able to buy produce out of season in North America would be a setback for healthy and less monotonous eating. While some food advocates urge returning our diet to seasonality, I have survived annual asparagus poisoning often enough to prefer being able to eat some often instead of a glut once a year.
I find the term foreign country in this prediction bordering on nationalist sloganeering. Here are the actual names of those nations. Note the large majority of our imports come from Canada and Latin America. I call these countries neighbors and trading partners. Buying these products from their farmers allows them to use their comparative advantages like climate and labor, just like we do for grains, proteins and especially tree nuts – which we dominate globally. In addition, policies pushing domestic only production would intensify immigration friction.
Americans are eating less produce, but this decline is largely driven by potatoes, orange juice and lettuce. Meanwhile we’re eating more variety. And although good data is hard to come by, more consumers are choosing to eat locally. However, that trend is usually near denser and wealthier populations. Much of rural America is served by dollar stores with no fresh produce. Importing fruits and vegetables is economically efficient, aids healthy eating and creates international ties that make us more, not less, secure.
John Phipps is a farmer from Chrisman, Ill., who writes humor and commentary pieces in his column "John's World," which appears regularly in Farm Journal. He is the TV host of "U.S. Farm Report." E-mail him at [email protected].