“Think globally, act locally,” long the maxim for successful politics stressing a preference for all things local, is emerging as a global trend. Consumers are looking for locally-sourced produce and are interested in regional foods and tradition. For some, the “local” label is becoming a stronger buying criterion than “organic”.
Among other things, the propensity for all things local indicates consumer anxieties. In the political arena, it expresses a local outlook seeking to return to traditional regional and ethnic communities, and in culture there is a growing revival of local music, old dialects and languages.
Why are local products desirable?
In a world that has become globally linked, and often somewhat confusing, a search for a regional and local identity is emerging. The desire for traceable products is a by-product of a never-ending series of food scandals, and it comes alongside a growing ethical outlook that embraces organic food production, ethical consumption and a concern for animal welfare. Moreover, the benefits of local, fresh, organic and good quality food have been promoted by chefs in the media, by food writers and bloggers as well as environmental groups;
The word ‘Locavore’ was chosen by the New Oxford American Dictionary as its word of the year for 2007. Locavores are defined as people who maintain a small carbon footprint by eating locally-produced food, emphasising freshness, taste and purity of food produce as well as taking care of the local environment;
Local produce is believed to ensure higher nutritional values when compared with imported produce that has suffered from lengthy transport times. The sincere concern for reducing one’s carbon footprint is coupled with the personal reassurance of not buying products made in distant countries under exploitative circumstances;
A study compiled for the Open University in 2012, entitled “It tastes better because . . . consumer understandings of UK farmers’ market food” found that consumers were drawn to these markets because of the “producer’s passion and commitment to producing high quality food [and] an emphasis on small scale production, where…techniques and recipes are often traditional and local, relying on time-honoured knowledge and skills”. Others said the food was more appealing because it wasn’t mass produced, so they trusted it more, and considered it higher quality produce.
How does local consumption work in practice?
One of the hubs of the local shopping trend is the farmers’ market, ubiquitous in western towns and cities since the 1990s. Another source of local food is farm shops – knowing the hen who laid your eggs is quite the new status symbol. A backlash to growing worries about supermarket food, they are the places where consumers buy directly from trusted producers;
An indicator for the love of all things local is the number of people who grow their own food. The “Container Gardening and Vertical Gardening” site on Facebook counts 21,685 members, and UK container growing expert Mark Ridsdill Smith’s idea of “vertical veg”, growing your own vegetables in small spaces, is spreading at lightning speed;
In the German state of Bavaria, many supermarkets carry a brand called “Unser Land” (Our Country) with food products priced above average. The network of 11 rural districts was founded in 2004 with the aim of supporting regional plants, livestock and farmers;
According to US government data, there are now 456,000 “beginning farmers”, defined as those with less than a decade’s experience. The BBC noted that “The trend seems most noticeable in the northeast and in California, possibly due to flourishing ‘eat local’ movements and the growth of farmers’ markets in both of these areas”;
US website trianglelocalista.com “supports and promotes independent, locally-owned/operated retailers, businesses, restaurants, farmers markets, community supported agriculture, co-op markets, parks, arts, music, and culture, in the Greater Triangle area of North Carolina in the USA“. It has close to 2,000 likes on its Facebook page;
Website VIVmag reports on the efforts of two young entrepreneurs, Manal Abushmais and Aya Shaban, founders of artisanal jam makers, Namliyeh, who “wanted to create a shop that promotes sustainable living, which is simple and inspiring”. They try to source ingredients as directly as possible, featuring produce that is grown both locally and naturally. “The fruit and vegetables do not need to travel very far, bypassing middlemen and transportation, meaning that the farmer receives full retail value of his harvest, instead of only a fraction”;
The global preference for local foods has also caught up with Indian consumers who are increasingly buying and eating more produce from local sellers, transported from farms to markets within a short time period. “Go local has suddenly become the slogan of the health police”, reported India Today magazine. “Forget about imported figs and almonds – the humble guava has far more nutrients than the imported fruits”;
Despite the crisis, a growing number of affluent Spanish consumers are becoming interested in the origin of their food. As an example, a market called La Buena Vida (“The Good Life”) has been selling artisanal, green and locally sourced food in Madrid since 2013. “It’s not about being green or a particular ideology. It’s about knowing where your food comes from and striking a fair bargain between producers and consumers,” said organiser María Álvarez in an interview with El País newspaper.
How are brands responding to the local trend?
In response to all these concerns, a growing number of food producers are making their products more traceable. For example, Balfegó, which supplies fish to restaurants, has a smartphone app that allows clients to check the origin of its products;
The media are picking up on the interest in regional food by offering recipes from regional cuisines. Most TV stations have programmes seeing chefs sent on trips to the countryside where traditional recipes are revived;
Outside the food arena, brands are picking up on the attraction of local aspects. In Brazil, car manufacturer Chevrolet launched a number of models that are custom designed for different regions. For example, it launched the Agile Rico in Rio de Janeiro. The name alludes to local surfer Rico de Souza, who is very popular in the city. Nestlé is another example of a brand with a regional focus. In 2011, it launched “Shade, summer, Nestlé and fresh water,” a campaign to celebrate 90 years of the company in Brazil. It featured bottles with motifs from the northeast of Brazil that are only available in that part of the country;
Founded in March 2012, Mexicanitos Al Grito is a children’s apparel brand which aims to teach Mexican children to be proud of their heritage. Raw materials for the garments are locally sourced, and all manufacturing processes take place domestically. Apparel features traditional Mexican characters, along with patriotic slogans such as “In Mexico, the sun shines for everyone.” For every item sold, MXN 5 is donated to a children’s charity;
September 2012 saw the UK-based Raspberry Pi Foundation announce that it had moved production of its single-board computers from China to Wales. Sony’s manufacturing facility in Pencoed is handling production of Raspberry Pi’s credit card-sized computers, which retail at £16. The computers display a logo reading ‘Made in the UK’.
Uncompromising search for quality or simply nostalgia?
Before food became industrialised and products were manufactured globally, all consumption was local. Many food bloggers and food writers are now looking back nostalgically to an imagined idyllic past, recreating “Granny’s recipes”, local specialities that are believed lost. Italian Easter celebrations are unthinkable without traditional regional specialities, German foodies are elbow-deep in flour making the regional pasta variation “spaetzle”, in Austria Auntie’s handwritten recipes are scoured for “hascheeknödl” recipes (mince-meat dumplings), Indian food bloggers are exchanging recipes for traditional Konkani Chana Dal and US bloggers are hunting for Mum’s recipe for perfect Southern coleslaw;
A new generation of baristas are leading a “coffee revolution” in Ireland, the Irish Times claims. The article noted that micro-roasteries such as Roasted Brown in Dublin were “a rapidly expanding cottage industry, with a philosophy that centres on “A certain traditionalism: wide-smiled hospitality, locally-sourced food and an emphasis on sociability and community. It’s a thoroughly modern village mentality”.
Blogger Daniel H. on breadcakesandale.wordpress.com says that “Anyone who’s read my blog before will know I’m an advocate of local produce. And a big fan of real beer. For me, local plus beer means Harvey & Son Ltd (aka Harveys of Lewes) – a traditional brewery that is a mere 800 metres as the crow flies from my house in Lewes, East Sussex”. The brewery uses “local rain that’s been filtered through the rocks over the past 30 years. Locally grown hops and barley for their malt are the main other ingredients”, and most of their beer is consumed within 60 miles of the brewery. Head brewer Miles Jenner claims that “ubiquity diminishes the product”;
Austrian blogger, kuechentanz.blogspot.at, considers the delivery of local produce to her doorstep “a little piece of quality of life”. As well as seasonal vegetables and fruit, the delivery includes fish freshly fished from the river Danube, local cheeses and breads and home-made preserves;
An article in UK newspaper The Guardian quotes “legendary London greengrocer Andreas Georghiou” as saying: “You can have an English strawberry that tastes like water because it’s not a particularly good one, and then you get a French gariguette strawberry that is consistent and amazingly sweet. So it’s not just about provenance, it’s about the specific product”.
Is local always better or is it just a passing fad?
In his book “Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly”, James E. McWilliams challenges conventional views, cutting through myth and misinformation. While he shows respect to “civic-minded foodies [who] want to build locavore safe havens”, he makes the case for the imported tomato that is more energy-efficient than a local greenhouse-grown tomato, or for farm-raised freshwater fish that may soon be the most sustainable source of protein;
Many critics of the craze for all things local argue that some vegetables, such as peppers and apples, improve with age and do not suffer from transport. They also point to foodies who will happily use lemons, oranges, bananas or exotic spices which cannot be grown locally;
Brands will happily drop the emphasis on local products once consumers stop demanding it or object to the higher prices. Greengrocer Gheorghiu finds that for traders who are ‘just going to do seasonal’, it’s often more of a marketing gimmick than their own beliefs;
Finally, Jay Rayner, food critic at UK Sunday paper, the Observer, looked at how a sustainable food chain might look in the future and concluded that local, seasonal produce couldn’t be a solution but will necessarily remain a middle-class lifestyle choice.