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Local 2.0

Posted by kurtwood on November 1st, 2011

I find that I have been misunderstood. Wouldn’t be such a bad thing except that I fancy myself a writer. The whole point of writing is to communicate thoughts clearly. If I am unable to convey ideas properly, then I should just go back to the barn and muck out the stalls and be done with the whole book writing thing.

The misunderstanding I am referring to is people thinking I believe in local foods as being intrinsically superior to mass produced foods. I doubt that I have ever written that or said that because I do not believe that. I believe in eating the very best foods, made in the very best ways. Oftentimes that is a small local grower / farmer / producer, but it is not necessarily always the case.

There have been two notorious cases of problems with small creameries in Washington State in the past few months. Both Sally Jackson creamery and Estrella Family Creamery were small local cheese producers. Both had trouble with the regulators for possible contaminations. Both are shut down. These are great examples of local is not necessarily better.

Would I want a strawberry in December from Chile? Not at all, I love a great, local strawberry picked from a small farm in my area. But possibly a wedge of Cheddar from Cabot Creamery in Vermont is a good bet for a cheese fix. Cabot Creamery is a fairly large producer, a factory if you will, but they make exceptional cheese.

The way that this recently came up was because I posted on Facebook encouraging friends to go to Amazon.com. Critics were outraged that as a promoter of local foods I should therefore be an advocate of their local bookstores. I like the small book stores. I shopped in them for years and still do when I am in town. I also shop on Amazon.com.

I was recently on book tour in San Francisco and did a reading at Omnivore Books in San Francisco. It was without a doubt the most amazing bookstore I have ever seen. It is tiny, maybe four hundred square feet, with a beautifully curated inventory of primarily cookbooks. From now on, whenever I am in San Francisco I will stop in there to buy a book or two.

The largest and most successful book store in Seattle sells my book. I was the second highest seller of non-fiction books at this store in the month of February just after my book was released. I packed the reading room the night of a book reading and people left because there was not enough room. They sold out of my book that night. Let me repeat that: people came from across town, parked, came to a reading and could not buy a book. I now stop in once per week to check to make sure that they have books. Twice I have showed up and there were no books in stock. I was told that they were in the basement and had just been delivered. How do books sell if there aren’t any on the shelves? I love this book store. I buy books there, but it is most frustrating as an author to stop by and to see the shelf with none of your books. This is an example of local sometimes just isn’t good enough.

Amazon is headquartered in Seattle. I have many friends and farm customers who work for Amazon. They also want my support. I think they do an amazing job. They always have my book. People can always buy it. It is cheaper than in the stores. And they link my book to others in a generally very good way. And they sell the vast majority of my books across the country.

The issue of price is a tricky one. It is similar to buying cheap food. I never advocate for buying cheap food. Something is just wrong about that. It makes for poorly managed land, poorly paid farmers and out poor health. I believe that books are different however. ‘Growing a Farmer’ that you paid $16.77 on Amazon is exactly the same book that you paid $24.95 for at the small bookstore. There may be repercussions in the publishing world because of their pricing, but the book is exactly the same.

So, I hope this clears things up a bit. Buy local if it is great. Buy not so local if they do a great job. Look for quality — quality of product if it is strawberries and quality of service if it is something like a mass produced book.