Imported Food is Elitist and a Luxury

Posted on Nov 9 2011 - 2:22am by Mike Lieberman

Mark Bittman wrote a piece for the New York Times titled Local Food is Not Elitist. It’s American.

The food industry has done a great job of making it seem like wanting or eating foods from local sources is an elitist act. I mean no one wants to be an elitist and it’s easy to dismiss that way of eating if it’s deemed so. This justifies eating cheap, processed and imported foods.

Someone once said to me that they live in Chicago and love pineapples. He asked if he was supposed to give up his values and not eat pineapples anymore?

First off that isn’t giving up a value. Living in Chicago and having access to pineapples is a luxury.

That brings me back to the piece by Bittman. Isn’t having our food imported at the expense of farm workers and the environment, elitist? Isn’t that saying, I want (insert food here) for cheap and I don’t care what it takes. Wouldn’t that be more of an elitist type attitude?

Elitism has many different meanings, but in the case of imported foods it says, “I am an American and from a dominate country. Therefore, I have the right to this food at a cheap price.”

That seems pretty elitist to me. Me wanting to support my local grower, respect my health, the environment and those that grew the food. That just seems like showing respect…not elitism.

Maybe I’m wrong.

What’s your thoughts on local food being elitist?

18 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. April November 9, 2011 at 6:29 am -

    I live in Chicago, and we do most of our shopping at the local farmer’s market. It started two years ago and is committed to having vendors who are no more than 100 miles from the market location. It’s been great. I find it much more just to shop locally, although the increased prices makes it less affordable for some folks. So I guess I would say “yes and no” to the question of whether shopping locally is elitist. The intention is certainly not elitist, but the ability to do so might be.

  2. Anonymous November 9, 2011 at 8:18 am -

    I agree 100%. I’ve given up my two favorite fruits – pineapples and mangoes – and my husband has given up his favorite – bananas – because we want to focus on eating food that benefits everyone. 

  3. Mike Lieberman November 9, 2011 at 8:38 am -

    That’s great April. Every little bit matters. I’m not saying that importing is a bad thing, but if you look at it, I think it’s more elitist than buying local food. By buying the cheap imported stuff, you are saying that it’s ok for other people and the environment to be harmed, so you can get cheap food. That seems more wrong than someone wanting to support a local business.

  4. Suzanne Riege Burke November 9, 2011 at 8:39 am -

    I absolutely agree. While I don’t yet buy all local, I would like to make my way to doing that very thing. I live in Philadelphia, where (as you know) many things don’t grow for a good chunk of the year so it can be challenging when you’ve grown accustom to certain foods. I have no room for a garden or even fire escape “garden” but I joined a CSA this year for the first time and do my best to buy other items that are locally grown or at least grown in the U.S. Not always an easy task but certainly do-able if you want it bad enough. I still have a lot to learn before I am a localvore…but I am learning. Thanks for your post, Mike! 

  5. Guest November 9, 2011 at 8:59 am -

    Hi Mike, although I agree with the overall idea of eating local I think that it is not always an option for the average family. Buying local (in farmer’s markets or local stores) might be impossible to afford for a family of 3 earning $40K a year, hence their need to buy at Walmart where they could even splurge in the occasional imported pineapple for less than it would cost to buy kale at the farmer’s market.
    As for my middle income family, we buy local when possible but we don’t feel elitist for buying imported produce from Mexico, if it’s labeled fair trade and organic, since it might have less of a carbon footprint than produce from other US States and might be helping their local economy there (preventing them to come looking for jobs here)

  6. Elizabeth Lee, MS RD November 9, 2011 at 9:52 am -

    Well said! I agree that it’s not about giving up but about making a conscious choice. In the words of Michael Pollan, “Give Some Thought to Where Your Food Comes From.” 

  7. Donald Calvin Joseph Rice November 9, 2011 at 11:09 am -

    buying local food for 3 on a $40K/year income is not impossible. it just demands making choices for what is important and what is not.  most people spend enough on cable/internet each month to make a huge difference were they to give that up and use that money for healthy food, instead. 

  8. Mike Lieberman November 9, 2011 at 6:01 pm -

    Nice. Have you read about the politics of the banana? It’s pretty crazy. Made me stop eating them instantly.

  9. Mike Lieberman November 9, 2011 at 6:02 pm -

    No need to buy all local. Every little bit matters. I used to live in Illy. Went to Drexel, then lived in Manayunk. I have some more projects and ideas that might work for you. Joining a CSA is great. Hope you enjoy. Don’t worry about being a locavore, worry about being Suzanne 😉

  10. Mike Lieberman November 9, 2011 at 6:06 pm -

    I am by no means saying that you have eat 100% local. Every little bit matters. Like Joseph said, if it’s a priority, budget can be rearranged accordingly. If not, then allocate what you can. 

    Also I think eating imports is more elitist than eating local. Local food and that from farmers markets isn’t always more expensive. If you go during the final hour or less, you’ll get crazy discounts. You’ll also know that you are supporting a system and practices that you can feel good about. When shopping at Wal-Mart there are many other implications beyond what you pay at the register that need to be factored in.

  11. Mike Lieberman November 9, 2011 at 6:06 pm -

    True dat.

  12. Spliff3 November 9, 2011 at 9:34 pm -


  13. Mike Lieberman November 10, 2011 at 7:55 am -


  14. Mike Lieberman November 15, 2011 at 4:41 pm -

    Thanks for the link. I’ve seen those arguments before and I understand them, but look at the source of the information. Places that have big business in mind. 

    Pineapples and bananas are staples in some places or they once were until other crops came in to dominate the market to be exported at a cheaper rate.

    Don’t get me wrong, by no means do I think that everyone should eat entirely local. What I do believe is that we should all do our part to eat more locally. 

  15. Carmen November 16, 2011 at 10:19 am -

    I support a family of three–myself and my two teenage sons–you know how they eat!– on under $30K a year. I do buy some organic produce and we grow some of our own produce. I also feed my guys coconut oil, free range eggs, coconut milk, as well as a little organic chicken (usually livers) and beef. We have smoothies or oatmeal at home nearly every single day.

    I refuse to shop at Walmart and I have the cheapest phone I could get ($19. mo). We have no television service, but we do stream movies at $7.99 a month. We wear a combination of thrift shop and new clothing, and we always buy new underwear, socks and shoes. I drive a late model car that I paid for with cash.I am able to feed my kids well because I make choices on where to spend my money most wisely. What the neighbors think of my choices is none of my business. I am unimpressed by designer anything. I believe that my kids’ future health is of utmost importance. I also want my grandkids to be healthy, happy human beings. 🙂

  16. Mike Lieberman November 16, 2011 at 5:36 pm -

    That’s what’s up Carmen! You are an inspiration and show that it certainly is possible. Thank you for that.

  17. Dan @ Casual Kitchen November 19, 2011 at 3:45 pm -

    Mike, I like the thoughts here. As the author of that above post from Casual Kitchen, let me just say that there’s nuance on all sides of this debate. The answers aren’t always obvious. But the point I was trying to make is that, sometimes, you can actually make a greater difference in smaller, less developed countries by buying produce from them. Not always, of course–there are exceptions to everything. And obviously, if I had a choice at my grocery store between local in-season produce and something shipped in from a wealthy country like New Zealand, it’s obvious that the local stuff will almost always be the environmentally (and economically) preferable choice.

    I just we at least have an obligation to think through the logic of what we’re doing, rather than being absolutist about it.

  18. Mike Lieberman November 20, 2011 at 7:50 am -

    Thanks for a leaving a comment Dan. I fully understand that there are 80 sides to every story. I by no means preach nor think that people should eat 100% local. It’s not feasible nor reasonable for most of us. 

    What I do think it is that we should source some of our food locally. The way that our food system is set-up is just screwed up in general. The fact that we pretty much force countries to specialize and grow one crop and then rely on us to buy it and support them doesn’t seem very fair to them either.

    It’s by no means about being absolutist. It’s about being mindful of our purchases and what goes into them beyond the sticker price.

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