- Understanding Sustainability
- Wholistic Approach
- Principles of Sustainable Foods
- Local Foods
- Authentic Foods
Demand for Local Foods
What is behind the indisputable interest and growing market demand for local foods? How can this market be defined? What is at its core? It has many interpretations, which suit different interests. Many want to jump on the bandwagon that seems to be gaining speed all the time.
What does local mean? There are a few things that need to be clarified. First, interpretations of what the term local mean range from an immediate neighbourhood to whole regions of a country. It depends on who sees benefits in marketing or promoting any given perspective. The most common interpenetration of the local range of foods has been popularized by the concept of the "100 mile diet". It is also often called the foodshed of a city. In general, the closer food is consumed to its production site, the more local it is. The ultimate local food is produced and consumed within a household; on a farm, an acreage or even at an urban location. At ARSAN we are understand local foods as being within city foodsheds. But we are also committed to revitalization of the most local way of food production at individual households.
The biggest challenge for all involved and supporting the local food movement lies, not surprisingly, in the framing of this relatively new social and market phenomenon that is now even called the local food movement. The name implies that an increasing number of consumers want to pay extra, often high premiums for the locality of foods as this supports local economy; local farmers, processors and retailers. But even brief consideration of what this shift of consumers perception is about offers a quite different perspective:
Local food demand is not about local!
Why people are looking and wanting to buy local foods? Clearly, they do because the mainstream foods and particularly supermarkets cannot deliver expected food qualities that are increasingly sought by consumers. But what can consumers do if they are not satisfied with the mainstream offer? Where can they go? The only alternative food sources are those offered by various local, independent providers such as local farmers, local artisan food shops, restaurants that serve locally sourced meals, etc. The common denominator for all of them is their local presence. But is that the reason why consumers want to support them and pay premium prices? Many people in the local food movement wish to believe that but this doesn't seem to be the case.
The notion that this new social phenomenon is framed as the demand for local supply suits very well mainstream food interests, as they help confuse the picture and divert attention from the mainstream foods systemic problems. It allows big food companies, particularly food supermarkets, to present themselves as supporters of the local and avoid exposure of the real shift in consumer demand that is about moving away from supermarket foods.
Support for local food producers and the advantage of having direct contact with them is, indeed, a viable part of the larger picture of why people want to buy and pay extra for local foods. However, this demand for local foods can be best described as a demand for sustainable foods. These, by their definition (see Principles of Sustainable Foods) must be local to be sustainable but not all local foods can be considered sustainable. Different aspects of food sustainability are behind the demand for local foods. That is why at ARSAN we are committed to the development of a sustainable local food system. If it is sustainable, then it must local. The reverse is not true.
What are these food qualities that consumers are seeking in local foods and cannot find in the mainstream? They vary widely and cover a wide range of attributes: taste, freshness, nutritional qualities that only come from rich soils and pastured livestock, absence of residual chemicals used in industrial agriculture such as pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and hormones, foods that are not processed and reformulated through industrial methods, foods without a long list of industrial ingredients, etc. That list of characteristics associated with food also include consumer concerns about effect of mainstream foods on environment, climate change and water depletion. It goes further to cover animal welfare and social justice for affected farmers, farm workers and small food entrepreneurs. Shift of some consumers away from mainstream foods may be also driven by reluctance to support large food corporations with their food purchases. And then, indeed, the demand also includes support for local distributed economy and local farmers and small food entrepreneurs. Overall, this broad market phenomenon labeled as demand for local foods is in its essence the demand for sustainable foods.
When there is a strong general trend away from mainstream towards sustainable foods it doesn't mean that there is a clearly defined group of consumers for whom all these qualities are important and that their importance is the same all the time. That may vary widely from one consumer to another, and even from one day to another ranging from totally irrelevant to most vital. Yet, it must be hard to deny that
Demand for local foods is the demand for food qualities that consumers cannot find in supermarkets