Friday, August 19, 2011

Local Food, Local Business Leaders

President Obama in Guttenberg. Photo from Telegraph Herald.

I've written on this blog about the dishonesty of the food business. People who sell food lie to consumers. Consumers want the lies; it helps them to feel better about themselves.

The lies get particularly egregious when it concerns things that people can't detect with their senses. E.g. was this pig fed antibiotics during its life? Did the meat in my ham or bacon get produced indoors or outdoors? Did the farmer that sold me the meat even raise the pig?

My knowledge of how Mangalitsa pork is produced in the USA, and how it gets sold, and what people say about it has given me special insight: people lie a lot. They pretty much lie whenever it will benefit them and they think they can get away with it.

I find this phenomenon fascinating.

I was reminded of this because a guy who raises pigs for me got to see the Presidential motorcade.* The President visited his town and the press wrote about it. They wrote things that he considered misleading, and he told me about it.

I should be clear: this blog is apolitical. It is mostly about Mangalitsa pork. I'm mentioning this single incident because it provides a great opportunity to see how "local" is often a fiction, and how the press goes along with it. You can see how people desperately want to believe in "local".

So the President goes to the restaurant in Guttenberg, Iowa and met with some businessmen. The press took photos and the stories went out. The photo is from the above meeting. Here's two articles about the event - but you can find hundreds like them across the web:

Please note the word "local". You could easily read that and figure he met with Guttenberg feed and fertilizer dealers, or the guy from a nearby dairy. He must have gone to Guttenberg to meet with Guttenberg businessmen, right? Why else would you go all the way out to Guttenberg, Iowa? Guttenberg isn't the middle of nowhere, but it might as well be, if you live in Washington, DC.

"Local" businessman drives 253 miles to eat at "local" restaurant.

Well, as it turns out, the closest "local business leader" was 59 minutes away. A bunch of them were from halfway across Iowa. You can see that if you look at the map, and see where Guttenberg is in relation to the towns listed. I've put, after the towns, the travel time to Guttenberg in parentheses:
Mid-morning, the president was joined at Rausch's Cafe in Guttenberg by five Iowa business owners representing the IT and agriculture industries. At the breakfast was Michael Sexton of ManureWorks LLC in Rockwell City (3 hours 34 minutes), Joel Althoff of Infrastructure Technology Solutions in Monticello (1 hour), Kenneth Hach of Anemometry Specialists in Alta (4 hours, 22 minutes), Eric Unruh and Fern Unruh of Rolling Hills Greenhouse in West Union (59 minutes).
The closest people came from about an hour outside of Guttenberg. It wouldn't surprise me if the Guttenbergers feel slighted. If only they'd invited one token local, from 5-10 minutes away, you could use the word local without qualification.

In reality, business leaders drive halfway across the state of Iowa to meet with the president in a "local" restaurant. The press takes the photos of the meeting and the story goes out. Most readers just look at the photo and quickly forget the whole thing. Everyone is happy.

This phenomenon happens over and over again. The more you know a topic, the more you spot this phenomenon.

In my own case, I know that "local food" is a lot different than what people imagine, and that it is because want to be deceived. That's why things are this way.

My recommendation about what to eat, given the dishonesty of the food business hasn't changed: eat what tastes good. Don't pay more for food just because someone tells you they were produced in a "better" way. Only pay more for stuff that actually performs better, in some way that you can measure.

* It started with him standing by the side of the road when the President's motorcade came through. As usual, the President was protected by the Secret Service. When they drove through town in the motorcade, they had some of their guns pointed at the crowd, ready to shoot. He didn't like having guns pointed at him; he got nervous.

He's wondering if Bush's or Clinton's motorcades typically rolled with rifles pointed at spectators. He saw Bush Jr, Clinton, Bush Sr and Reagan's motorcades in Iowa, and those of Al Gore, but he never saw them pointing guns at spectators.

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