BMW Guggenheim Lab says eat local, you wuss

I eat an apple every single day. I order them from Fresh Direct, and unless I click the ‘organic’ option I get four Granny Smith apples delivered right to my door “fresh” from Chile. Like most people, I rationalize this somehow. “My farmers market is only once a week,” I reassure myself, “and I need apples more than just once and besides, they don’t even have the tart and crisp Granny Smiths that I need and love.” As environmentally aware and responsible as I like to think I am, it didn’t even cross my mind that if a farmer in New York isn’t growing Granny Smith apples, maybe I just don’t get to eat them.

It took a trip to Peru I went on a few months ago to really put this into perspective. While being jostled around a crowded local market in Puerto Maldonado that sells everything from Jesus hologram stickers (yes, I bought a pack) to machetes to fresh food, I came upon the apple section – mountain after mountain of bright and juicy apples, stacked high above my head. And guess what I discovered after a few moments of scoping out a Granny Smith? A gigantic pile of them – fresh from Chile. That’s right, they were the same ‘brand’ of apples I get from Fresh Direct, from the exact same grower, only now I was about 4,000 miles closer to the source.

The point of this story is that with comfort comes consequences, which is precisely what the BMW Guggenheim Lab addresses in its first cycle, “Confronting Comfort.” Our demand for comfort takes a huge toll on the environment. My apple needs are just one of thousands of ways we make nature pay for our cushy lives. Everything from our 24/7 AC habits to our demand for out-of-season produce, everything comes at a price (aka the gaping hole in our ozone layer).

A quick note about the Lab: it’s a temporary, traveling “toolbox,” a space where professional designers, scientists and entrepreneurs can work side by side with locals to create site-specific solutions to problems in urban environments. It’s a pretty amazing approach, one gives insightful and socially responsible city-dwellers the chance to have a real impact on their immediate surroundings. Right now the Lab is parked on the corner of Houston and 2nd Avenue, where it will stay until October 16, 2011. From there it will travel to Berlin, Mumbai and six other cities over the course of nine years, but you can get involved even if you don’t live in New York or a major city.

Oh, and as for me, luckily Fresh Direct works with the local farm Red Jacket Orchards, which apparently is only growing stone fruit right now. But you know what? No one forced me to live in an anti-Granny Smith apple city, so I’m going to order peaches, nectarines and apricots and eat them by the crate and save Granny Smiths for my next trip to Chile.