That food can spark debate might surprise you. But it does—even aside from awkward family dinner arguments and deciding on which take-out to order. Associate UTM geography professor Pierre Desrochers can attest to this in the case of the local diet, on which he co-authored a book called The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet with his wife Hiroko Shimizu in June 2012.
In their book, Desrochers and Shimizu question the principles behind the locavore movement: the idea of eating locally grown food whenever possible. The book also focuses on local eating and sustainable farming, and the attempts to correct the world’s food supply system with their use.
Desrochers has been with UTM’s Department of Geography since 2003. It’s only since his arrival at UTM that his research turned to food policy. “My wife forced me to,” he says. “I grew up in a town of 800 people. I’ve been interested in cities all my life. I never planned to write about food.”
The idea behind the book came into fruition after the pair attended a lecture in the Kaneff Centre by William Rees of the University of British Columbia, a departmental guest, biologist, and father of the ecological footprint. As Desrochers and Shimizu explain in their book, it was Rees’ claim that Japan is a “parasite” because of its dependence on imported food that inspired them to speak out against the local food movement. Desrochers went on to write a 25-page policy paper before a literary agent heard him on CBC and offered him a contract. Desrochers now teaches courses on the subject, including a second-year food and globalization course and a fourth-year seminar.
The book has received a wealth of reactions for and (more often) against its arguments.
“I expected the reactions,” he says. “I get emails from academics who say they’d never do it themselves. I’m swimming against the stream. The department puts up with me. They may disagree, but they still respect me and that’s all I can ask for.”
Desrochers invites his seminar students to review the book for an assignment, although he admits he can’t be objective on the topic. He hopes his work will show students they can disagree with professors.
“The local food movement is a distraction from real issues like food security and policy,” says Desrochers. He believes the topic is relevant to students, and wishes that they’d put less energy towards local food initiatives and more towards “less sexy” topics. He believes universities and elementary and high schools feel pressure to offer local food options to students.
“[Universities] are not food purchasers. We’re educators. When you spend more on food you spend less on other things, like a leaky roof or computers,” says Desrochers. Even so, he doesn’t think that there’s media pressure on younger generations to adopt a local approach to eating. “It’s a fad that comes back in cycles. Humans are wired that way—to root for the local team,” he argues. “We’re tribal creatures. We want to do good for the community. It’s a natural reaction.”
As for his upcoming work, Desrochers plans to expand a chapter on food security into four academic papers. He hopes to continue to remind his colleagues that the development of long-distance trade has benefited society and helped address issues such as famine.
As for his own food-buying and eating habits, Desrochers says that he buys his groceries at No Frills and other discount supermarkets, though he likes to buy steak at Costco and his wife leads their weekly pilgrimage to T&T. And, no he doesn’t buy organic. Desrochers admits that he’s a lousy cook, although when he’s not fulfilling his cleaning duties, he’s in charge of the barbeque.
“Food is not my passion,” he explains. “Most people who write about food are foodies. I do like to eat good food, but the book was not written for foodies.”
Desrochers adds that he doesn’t mind people buying local if they want to, but wishes supporters of local food wouldn’t impose the practice on people who can’t afford it.