Dec 21, 2009
Locavore? Foodie?

I’ve got a bone to pick with you, foodies. (Side note: Most of the sources I consulted for this column spelled it “foodie,” not “foody.”)

It’s not about who you are or what you do; it’s about the way you choose to describe yourselves.

I’ll try to explain what irks me by way of an example: I love sandwiches. I eat them all the time. I grew up making them. When I was single, I’d eat a sandwich almost every day for dinner. I still eat at Subway three or four times a week (not so much because I love Subway but because the restaurant choices near my office are a bit limited). I still remember the best subs I’ve ever had, from the U.P. Original Sub Shop in Escanaba, Mich. (which no longer exists, at least not in the version I remember). My wife, Keri, is so tired of me offering to make them for dinner that she won’t let me use the word “sandwich” anymore.

Despite what some (Keri) might think, however, there’s nothing wrong with loving sandwiches. It would only be wrong if I chose to describe myself as a “sandwichie.”

So here, in a nutshell, is my problem: I can’t think of a made-up word, or any word, that sounds sillier than foodie – and I’m tired of seeing it.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with made-up words. “Locavore” – a combination of “local” and “omnivore” (or maybe “herbivore” or “carnivore”) – also has entered the English language and looks like it’s here to stay. That’s OK with me. It’s clever, useful and has a certain ring to it – unlike foodie.

Speaking of locavores and foodies, VGN Assistant Editor Dick Lehnert wrote an interesting story on the paradoxes of “buying local.” It’s on page XX.

Among other things, the story lays out some advantages and disadvantages of “local” production. Buying local is all the rage right now – even USDA has thrown its hat in the ring with its “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” campaign – but despite all the talk, it still makes up only a tiny fraction of the entire food market.

According to a USDA report, “Emerging Market Opportunities for Small-Scale Producers,” published last April, U.S. demand for local food will rise from $4 billion in 2002 to an estimated $7 billion in 2011. That’s impressive growth, but here’s the catch: It’s still less than 1 percent of total U.S. food expenditures (which exceed $1.1 trillion).

Does that put things in perspective?

The big buyers – national distributors, brokers, large-scale cooperatives, auctions, terminal markets and government procurement programs – still make the vast majority of agricultural purchases in the United States. Most of you probably already know this.

OK, so this buy local thing is mostly hype, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of it. Selling directly to consumers will probably earn you more profits than selling to some middleman – if you have the means to do it.

In the end, you’ll do what’s best for your farm, whether it’s selling massive amounts to a big wholesale buyer or selling small amounts at a farmers’ market. If you don’t find that right niche you won’t be in business long, and all this talk about “buying local,” “food miles,” “locavores” and “foodies” will be academic.

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