John Quiggin has an excellent post on locavores and their critics. I agree completely, and this passage is especially good:
"As far as GDP measurement is concerned, if
locavores are willing to pay $2/pound for fresh local strawberries,
while non-local strawberries sell for $1/bound, then the local variety
is worth twice as much, even if the two physically identical. A huge
part of GDP consists of intangible values llike this, created by marketing campaigns or popular perceptions."
Of course, market value isn't welfare but this is exactly right. If locavores want local goods critics have a very steep uphill battle to fight unless they want to jettison subjective utility, which I don't think is a very good idea.
To the extent that I buy local (which I would describe as a conscious but modest effort), it really has only one goal: supporting other people in my community and developing a sense of community in my own consumption patterns (I like, when I eat or use something, to know on a personal level "where it came from" and in some cases even "who it came from" - that makes me feel good). It's surprising to me for one thing how so many people can be outspoken critics of personal preferences in the way critics of locavores can be, but it's also surprising how badly they diagnose the nature of the preference. That having been said, as Quiggin points out, a lot of locavores can also benefit from learning more about exactly what their decisions imply. I have these sorts of arguments with Evan on occasion, who (at least a little while ago) always insisted to me that small scale agriculture was more efficient than large scale. Some of these things just aren't true. We need the green revolution to sustain the population. We need globalization of the food chain. Localism cannot be autarky (and it rarely is - who do you know that only buys locally? - although critics often treat them like they're one and the same). I wish some locavores would have a more balanced view of things like the green revolution. In that sense education is always a good thing.
But buying local is prevalent for one reason and only one reason: people value it.