Local food

Local food

Farmers' market] Local food (also regional food or food patriotism) or the local food movement is a "collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies - one in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption is integrated to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular place" [Feenstra, G. (2002) Creating space for sustainable food systems: lessons from the field. "Agriculture and Human Values". 19(2). 99-106.] and is considered to be a part of the broader sustainability movement. It is part of the concept of
local purchasing and local economies, a preference to buy locally produced goods and services. Those who prefer to eat locally grown/produced food sometimes call themselves "localvores" or locavores. [Roosevelt, M. (2006) The Lure of the 100-Mile Diet. "Time Magazine." Sunday June 11, 2006. Accessed at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1200783,00.html on Nov 1, 2007 at 10:35 am PDT).]

Local food systems

Local food systems are an alternative to the global corporate models where producers and consumers are separated through a chain of processors/manufacturers, shippers and retailers. With an increasing scale of industrial food systems the control of quality is increasingly decided by the middlemen while a local food system redevelops these relationships and encourage a return of quality control to the consumer and the producer respectively. These quality characteristics are not only in the product but in the method of producing. [Sonnino, R. & Marsden, T. (2006) Beyond the Divide: rethinking relationships between alternative and conventional food networks in Europe. Economic Journal of Geography. pp. 181-199.]

The development of local food systems is not only about environmental impacts but also the social and economic benefits encouraged through building local relationships. "Buying and producing locally enables accountability. Distance disables accountability." [ [http://www.alternet.org/environment/60670/?page=2 Is Eating Local the Best Choice? by David Morris ] ]

Defining a movement

During the early 20th century, the demise of the family farm and the growth of corporate farms was experienced through much of the United States. In the late 60's and early 70's with the growth of the back to the land movement there were increasing numbers of small farms selling a variety of products to local communities. Since the 70's the increase of multi-national food companies has increased the size of not only farms but the overall food system. During this same time period, a slow and steady movement of farmers and consumers building relationships and changing purchasing habits occurred and is still occurring.

The concept is often related to the slogan "Think globally, act"locally"", common in green politics. Those supporting development of a local food economy consider that since food is needed by everyone, everywhere, every day, a small change in the way it is produced and marketed will have a great effect on health, the ecosystem and preservation of cultural diversity. They say shopping decisions favoring local food consumption directly affect the well-being of people, improve local economies and may be more ecologically sound.

Pioneering and influential work in the area of local economies was done by noted economist E. F. Schumacher.

"Local food networks" include community gardens, food co-ops, Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), farmers' markets, and seed savers groups. The principal distinction between these systems and other agrifood systems is the spatial dimension. Local food networks have been described as"community-based agriculture" (e.g. Pimbert, et al., 2001), "direct agricultural markets" [Hinrichs, C.C. (2000) Embeddedness and local food systems: notes on two types of direct agricultural markets. "Journal of Rural Studies", 16 (3), 295-303.] , and "localist agriculture" (Hines, et al., 2000). The terms "network" and "system" are sometimes used interchangeably, but there appears to be a preference for "network".

Definitions of "local"

The definition of "local" or "regional" is flexible and is different depending on the person in question. Some local business with specific retail and production focuses, such as cheese, may take a larger view of what is 'local' while a local farm may see the area with in a day's driving as local (since this is where they can efficiently move their products to. Some see "local" asbeing a very small area (typically, the size of a city and itssurroundings), others suggest the ecoregion or bioregion size, while others refer to the borders of their nation or state.

Some proponents of "local food" consider that the term "local" haslittle to do with distance or with the size of a "local" area. Forexample, some see the American state of Texas as being "local", although it is much larger than some European countries. In this case, transporting a foodproduct across Texas could involve a longer distance than that betweennorthern and southern European countries. It is also argued thatnational borders should not be used to define what is local. Forexample, a cheese produced in Alsace is likely to be more"local" to German people in Frankfurt, than to French people in Marseille.

The concept of "local" is also seen in terms of ecology, where food production is considered from the perspective of a basic ecological unit defined by its climate, soil, watershed, species and local agrisystems, a unit also called an ecoregion or a foodshed. The concept of the foodshed is similar to that of a watershed; it is an area where food is grown and eaten. The size of the foodshed varies depending on the availability of year round foods and the variety of foods grown and processed. In a way, replacing the term 'water' with 'food' reconnects food with nature. "The term "foodshed" thus becomes a unifying and organizing metaphor for conceptual development that starts from a premise of the unity of place and people, of nature and society." [ [http://www.cias.wisc.edu/foodshed/pubsntools/comingin.htm Coming Into the Foodshed. "Agriculture and Human Values" 13:3 (Summer): 33-42, 1996.] Accessed on Nov 5, at 10:42pm CST]

Where local food is determined by the distance it has traveled, the wholesale distribution system can confuse the calculations. Fresh food that is grown very near to where it will be purchased, may still travel hundreds of miles out of the area through the industrial system before arriving back at a local store. This is seen as a labeling issue by local food advocates, who suggest that, at least in the case of fresh food, consumers should be able to see exactly how far each food item has traveled.

Often, products are grown in one area and processed in another, which may cause complications in the purchasing of local foods. In the international wine industry, much "bulk wine" is shipped to other regions or continents, to be blended with wine from other locales. It may even be marketed quite misleadingly as a product of the bottling country. This is in direct opposition to both the concept of "local food" and the concept of terroir.


A locavore is someone who eats food grown or produced locally or within a certain radius such as 50, 100, or 150 miles. The locavore movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to produce their own food, with the argument that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locally grown food is an environmentally friendly means of obtaining food, since supermarkets that import their food use more fossil fuels and non-renewable resources.

"Locavore" was coined by Jessica Prentice from the San Francisco Bay Area on the occasion of World Environment Day 2005 to describe and promote the practice of eating a diet consisting of food harvested from within an area most commonly bound by a 100 mile radius. "Localvore" is sometimes also used.

The New Oxford American Dictionary chose locavore, a person who seeks out locally produced food, as its word of the year 2007. [cite news |first=Kim |last=Severson |title=A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss |work=The New York Times |date=22 July 2008 |url=http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/22/dining/22local.html?ref=us |accessdate= 2008-08-04] The local foods movement is gaining momentum as people discover that the best-tasting and most sustainable choices are foods that are fresh, seasonal, and grown close to home. Some locavores draw inspiration from the The 100-Mile Diet or from advocates of local eating like Barbara Kingsolver whose book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle chronicles her family's attempts to eat locally. Others just follow their taste buds to farmers' markets, community supported agriculture programs, and community gardens.


"Local food" is, by definition, food locally grown. Many local food proponents tend to equate it with food produced by local independent farmers, while equating non-local food with food produced and transformed by large agribusiness. They may support resisting globalization of food by pressing for policy changes and choosing to buy local food. They may also follow the practice of the boycott or buycott.

Non-local food is often seen as a result of corporate management policies, heavy subsidies, poor animal welfare, lack of care for the environment, and poor working conditions. This limited interpretation is likely due to the fact that the organic movement is largely responsible for renewed public interest in local and regional markets. Those subscribing to this interpretation often insist on buying food directly from local family farms, through direct channels such as farmers' markets, food cooperatives and community-supported agriculture plans. For many, local food is interpreted as unprocessed food, to be transformed by the consumer or local shop rather than by the food industry. As such, local food (as opposed to global food) reduces or eliminates the costs of transport, processing, packaging, and advertising.

As large corporations and supermarket distribution increasingly dominate the organic food market, the concept of local food, and sometimes 'sustainable food', is increasingly being used by independent farmers, food activists, and aware consumers to refine the definition of organic food and organic agriculture. By this measure, food that is certified organic but not grown locally is viewed as possibly "less organic" or not of the same overall quality or benefit, as locally grown organic products.Some consumers see the general advantages of "organic" as also invested in "locally grown", therefore local food "not" grown "organically" may trump generically "organic" in purchase decisions. Also, because local food tends to be fresh (or minimally processed, such as cheese and milk), as opposed to processed food, the bias against processed food is often at least implicit in the local food argument. The marketing phrase, "fresh, local, organic", summarizes these arguments.

Impacts of local food systems

Food quality

Another effect is the increase in food quality and taste. Locally grown fresh food is consumed almost immediately after harvest, so it is sold fresher and usually riper (e.g. picked at peak maturity, as it would be from a home garden). Also, the need for chemical preservatives and irradiation to artificially extend shelf-life is reduced or eliminated.


Additionally, preserving or renewing regional foodways, including unique localized production practices, indigenous knowledge, agricultural landscapes, and local/regional landraces of crops or livestock that may be rare or otherwise endangered. It is increasingly being tied to the movement to preserve farmland (farming) in areas where development pressures threaten these landscapes.

Polyculture and sustainable farming

A major impact of local food systems is to encourage
multiple cropping, i.e. growing multiple species and a wide variety of crops at the same time and same place, as opposed to the prevalent commercial practice of large-scale, single-crop monoculture.

With a higher demand for a variety of agricultural products, farmers are more likely to diversify their production, thereby making it easier to farm in a sustainable way. For example, winter intercropping (e.g. coverage of leguminous crops during winter) and crop rotation reduces pest pressure, and also the use of pesticides. Also, in an animal/crop multiculture system, the on-farm byproducts like manure and crop residues are used to replace chemical fertilizers, while on-farm produced silage and leguminous crops feed the cattle instead of imported soya. Manure and residues being considered as by-products rather than waste, will havereduced effects on the environment, and reduction in soya import is likely to be economically interesting for the farmer, as well as more secure (because of a decrease of market dependence on outside inputs).

In a polycultural agroecosystem, there is usually a more efficient use of labour as each crop has a different cycle of culture, hence different time of intensive care, minimization of risk (lesser effect of extreme weather as one crop can compensate for another), reduction of insect and disease incidence (diseases are usually crop specific), maximization of results with low levels of technology (intensive monoculture cropping often involves very high-technology material and sometimes the use of genetically modified seeds). Multiculture also seeks to preserve indigenous biodiversity.

Local economies

Local food production strengthens local economies by protecting small farms, local jobs, and local shops, thereby increasing food security.

One example of an effort in this direction is
community-supported agriculture (CSA), where consumers purchase advance shares in a local farmer's annual production, and pick up their shares, usually weekly, from communal distribution points. In effect, CSA members become active participants in local farming, by providing up-front cash to finance seasonal expenses, sharing in the risks and rewards of the growing conditions, and taking part in the distribution system. Some CSA set-ups require members to contribute a certain amount of labor, in a form of cooperative venture.

The popular resurgence of farmers markets in many parts of the world, including Europe and North America (from 1,755 in 1994 to 4,385 in 2006 in the U.S.) [ USDA Agricultural Marketing Services (2006). Farmers Market Growth. http://www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/farmersmarketgrowth.htm accessed on Dec 6, 2006 at 1044:pm PST ] , contributes to local economies. They are traditional in many societies, bringing together local food and craft producers for the convenience of local consumers. Today, some urban farmers markets are large-scale enterprises, attracting tens of thousands on a market day, and vendors are not always "local". However, the majority of markets are still built around local farmers.

Another at present small but notable trend is local food as part of a barter system. In localized economies, where a variety of common goods and services are provided by individuals and businesses within the immediate community (as opposed to by outlets and branches of large corporations), a direct of exchange of values is quite feasible. Some CSA projects, for example, trade services or labor for food. Particularly in the developed nations, the move away from local food to agribusiness over the last 100 years has had a profound socioeconomic effect, by redistributing populations into urban areas, and concentrating ownership of land and capital. In addition, the traditional farming skill set, which by necessity included a diverse range of knowledge and abilities required to manage a farm, has given way to new generations of specialists. When farming for local consumption was a cornerstone of local economies, the farmer was an integral, leading member of the community, a far different position from today. Support for local food is seen by some as a way to rediscover valuable community structures, values and perspectives.

Cost to consumer

Critics also say that local food tends to be more expensive to the consumer than food bought without regard to provenance and could never provide the variety currently available (such as having summer vegetables available in winter, or having kinds of food available which can not be locally produced due to soil,climate or labor conditions).

However, proponents claim that the lower price of
commodified food (which is sometimes called "cheap food") is often due to a variety of governmental
subsidies, including direct ones such as price supports,direct payments or tax breaks, and indirect ones such as subsidiesfor trucking via road infrastructure investment, and often does nottake into account the true cost of theproduct. They further indicate that buying local food does notnecessarily mean giving up all food coming from distant ecoregions,but rather favoring local foods when available. They also point out that local foods often represent "more" variety, not less, as obscure local delicacies (including wild foods) are rediscovered, and as more types of produce (varieties or indeed species) are grown in the garden or allotment, types that would not be acceptable in the supermarket-driven food chain.

A study published in the May, 2008 issue of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, suggests that the average supermarket shopper is willing to pay a premium price for locally produced foods. The study also showed that shoppers at farm markets are willing to pay almost twice as much extra as retail grocery shoppers for the same locally produced foods. In 2005, the researchers surveyed shoppers at 17 Midwestern locations, including seven retail grocery stores, six on-site farm markets and four farmers’ markets hosting sellers from multiple farms. The researchers used data from 477 surveys. [ [http://newswise.com/articles/view/541406/ Newswise: Shoppers Willing to Pay Premium for Locally Grown Food] Retrieved on June 15, 2008.]

Effect on exporting countries

Some critics argue that by convincing consumers in developed nations not to buy food produced in the third world, the local food movement damages the economy of third world nations, which often rely heavily on food exports and cash crops.

Environmental impact

Critics of the local food movement point out that transport is only one component of the total environmental impact of food production and consumption. In fact, any environmental assessment of food that consumers buy needs to take into account how the food has been produced and what energy is used in its production. For example, it is likely to be more environmentally friendly for tomatoes to be grown in Spain and transported to the UK than for the same tomatoes to be grown in greenhouses in the UK requiring electricity to light and heat them. The solutions to this though would be either using low impact energy sources on the greenhouses, such a solar, geothermal or wind, or to switch to eating seasonally.

A study by Lincoln University of Christchurch, New Zealand challenges claims about food miles by comparing total energy used in food production in Europe and New Zealand, taking into account energy used to ship the food to Europe for consumers [ [http://www.regsw.org.uk/content/industryreports/viewitem.aspx?artID=4624 Food Miles: Comparative Energy/Emissions Performance of New Zealand’s Agriculture Industry] ]

New Zealand has greater production efficiency in many food commodities compared to the UK. For example New Zealand agriculture tends to apply less fertilizers (which require large amounts of energy to produce and cause significantCO2 emissions) and animals are able to graze year round outside eating grass instead large quantities of brought-in feed such as concentrates. In the case of dairy and sheep meat production NZ is by far more energy efficient even including the transport cost than the UK, twice as efficient in the case of dairy, and four times as efficient in case of sheep meat. In the case of apples NZ is more energy efficient even though the energy embodied in capital items and other inputs data was not available for the UK.

An August 6, 2007 article in "The New York Times" gave examples of how eating locally grown food sometimes causes an increase, instead of a decrease, in the carbon footprint. As one example, the article stated, "... lamb raised on New Zealand’s clover-choked pastures and shipped 11,000 miles by boat to Britain produced 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton while British lamb produced 6,280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton, in part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed. In other words, it is four times more energy-efficient for Londoners to buy lamb imported from the other side of the world than to buy it from a producer in their backyard." [ [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/06/opinion/06mcwilliams.html?_r=1&oref=slogin Food That Travels Well] , The New York Times, August 6, 2007]

According to a study by engineers Christopher Weber and H. Scott Matthews of Carnegie Mellon University, of all the greenhouse gases emitted by the food industry, only 4% comes from transporting the food from producers to retailers. The study also concluded that adopting a vegetarian diet, even if the vegetarian food is transported over very long distances, does far more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, than does eating a locally grown diet. [ [http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0602-ucsc_liaw_food_miles.html Food miles are less important to environment than food choices, study concludes] , Jane Liaw, special to mongabay.comJune 2, 2008]

See also

* "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"
* Bioregionalism
* Community-based economics
* Farm to fork
* Farm to School
* Food miles
* Gandhi's "Principles of Swadeshi"
* Localism (politics)
* Low carbon diet
* Permaculture
* Slow Food
* Sustainable agriculture
* Ark of Taste


External links

* [http://www.cias.wisc.edu/foodshed/pubsntools/tasting.htm Tasting Food, Tasting Sustainability: Defining the Attributes of an Alternative Food System With Competent, Ordinary People.] Human Organization 59:2 (July): 177-186
* [http://www.thelfd.com The Local Food Directory, an online directory of local food producers in the UK]
* [http://www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner Local Food Radio - Deconstructing Dinner]
* [http://www.ecovian.com Ecovian] Resource for finding restaurants & grocery stores selling local food in the US
* [http://www.locallygrown.net LocallyGrown.net -- Hybrid Internet/physical farmers markets throughout the US & Canada]
* [http://www.localfairtrade.org/ Local Fair Trade Network]
* [http://www.localfood.org.uk/ f3 - making local and sustainable food happen]
* [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article3294448.ece Why long-haul food may be greener than local food with low air-miles]

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