I don't dispute the claim that it can be cheap and efficient to transport food long distances. But that's about the only claim that Budiansky backs up. He does nothing to show that ignorance of economics means that "the local food movement now threatens to devolve into another one of those self-indulgent — and self-defeating — do-gooder dogmas."
How is it self-indulgent to grow your own food, or buy from people who do, or pay more for local food (even if this is a mistake)? Why, or how, would such "self-indulgence" defeat the purposes of the local food movement? I guess we have to understand its sole purpose as being to increase economic efficiency. But that isn't a plausible understanding at all. These are Birkenstock-types we're talking about, after all. They're capable of self-righteousness, but economic efficiency is not their main concern.
He continues: "Other favorite targets of sustainability advocates include the fertilizers and chemicals used in modern farming. But their share of the food system’s energy use is even lower, about 8 percent."
This looks like a promising entry in a non sequitur contest. "Hey farmer farmer, put away that DDT now, The chemicals you're using/ are a recipe for inefficiency-hee!" I don't think that's how it goes.
He ends with this:
The relative pittance of our energy budget that we spend on modern farming is one of the wisest energy investments we can make, when we honestly look at what it returns to our land, our economy, our environment and our well-being.
What the...?! Where did that come from? What is "our energy budget"? Some sum set aside to be spent on energy? There is no such thing, surely. So he must mean the money spent on running farms, including the cost of fertilizers, etc. But wouldn't that include the money spent on subsidies? Who thinks that's money well spent? And farming includes animal farming, too, which is generally not a great investment in our well-being.
I hope he got a big bribe to write this and doesn't actually either believe it or hate green-types so much that he'll say anything just to try to make them look bad. He's probably honest but confused, and I probably shouldn't write about things that make me feel like Brian Leiter, but I can't believe this kind of thing gets published in such a high profile place.