On the con side of the industrialization/globalization of the food supply equation, it presents as particularly noteworthy that the hard sell attitude of the fast-food industry is self-evident all over the world. For example, as we are now deeply immersed in the 2018 Winter Olympics, MacDonald’s and Coca-Cola are two of the nine major sponsors for the Games in PyeongChang, which is a rather odd oxymoron. MacDonald’s accounts for less than 2% of the total revenue for the Olympics, but still splashed out $200 million for the four-year period leading up to the Olympics. They have been major partners with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) for the last 40 years. Prior to the 2016 Olympiad, McDonald’s built a 1,500 seat restaurant on the Rio Olympic site, the biggest in the world, and stated that they are trying to “raise brand awareness”, as did Coca-Cola. I just wonder who those people are, sitting in the stands watching the Olympics, that are unaware of the existence of MacDonald’s and Coca-Cola, absorbing the stagnant branding of these monolithic processed food corporations. My point is that aggressive advertising is deconstructing food cultures that outdate us by millennia and have been a huge part of the formation of national identities around the world. This for me is extremely disheartening. When travelling these days, in certain areas, I have noticed that it has become nearly impossible to find and immerse myself in the flavors of a nation, a sad fact that is becoming more and more apparent with each passing year. One must also keep in mind that just by calling your restaurant “Burgermeister”, your burgers do not suddenly become part of local German cuisine, even if the burger tastes wonderful!
On the pro side of the industrialization and globalization equation, in our carbon emissions-obsessed era, local food activists (“locavores”) have embraced the notion of “food miles,” i.e. the distance that food items travel from farms to consumers, as the be all and end all of the environmental impact of agricultural production. As has been repeatedly and rigorously documented in numerous life cycle assessment (LCA) studies, however, the distance traveled by food is pretty much a worthless indicator of sustainable development. Among other issues, producing food typically requires much more energy than moving it around, especially when significant amounts of heating and/or cold-protection technologies, irrigation water, fertilizers, pesticides, and other methodologies are required to grow crops in one region, but not in another. Reducing food miles typically means a greater environmental footprint, given the use of additional resources in less desirable locations. Another issue is that the distance travelled by food matters less than the mode of transportation utilized. For instance, shipping food halfway around the world on a container ship often has a smaller footprint per item carried than a short trip by car to a grocery store to buy a small quantity of these items. Very few issues are as straightforward as they might seem at first glance!