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Lorna Sass Headshot

The Hidden Cost of Being 100% Locavore

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I went to a press event at E.A.T. on Madison Avenue a few weeks ago and had a sampling of exquisite smoked fish. The white fish--a kind of chub--was caught in the Yukon by the Yapik Eskimos and smoked at Acme Smoked Fish Corp, an old-fashioned, family-run business in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

"Wow," I thought, "this is ridiculous," and couldn't understand the point of importing fish from Alaska to be smoked in Brooklyn. The whole idea seemed frivolous and very-well-Madison Avenue.

But then I started talking with Ruth Carter, the Sales Manager of Kwik'Pak Fisheries, who explained to me that selling fish (primarily salmon) is the primary source of income for the Yupik Eskimos, a group scattered across the southwestern coast of Alaska into the Bering Sea-a group that, despite the sale of fish, still lives way below poverty level.

If fine restaurants in New York City and throughout the lower 48 were not creating a demand for the high quality salmon from this part of the world, one wonders how much worse off the Yupik would be.

This "aha" moment brought to mind my trip to witness the quinoa harvest in Ecuador about five years ago.

I was privileged to accompany the founders of Inca Organics who, several decades ago, organized a co-operative of farmers to grow organic heirloom quinoa and then created a marketing and distribution system in America for their imported product.

Much of the quinoa farming is done by Quechua women whose husbands have been forced to leave Ecuador to find work. Most of the women and children wore tattered clothes, had poor teeth, and seemed very poor and uneducated--but they would be poorer still if the U.S. weren't creating a market for this marvelous, quick-cooking seed-grain, a complete source of protein.

Eating locally grown food makes sense for many reasons, not least of which is that we need to be conscious of lowering our carbon footprint however we can.

But to be a strict locavore has consequences that may cause untold suffering to the family of man beyond the hundred-mile locavore limit.

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