Digest bites: Locavorism

This sounds kind of ominous – what exactly is locavorism? It’s not, in fact it’s more of a free-spirited way of eating. Defined in San Francisco a decade ago by chef Jessica Prentice, it refers to sourcing your food locally, and is cited under the assumption that it was grown less than 100 miles to its point of purchase. Those that subscribe to this way of shopping and eating are called locavores, and it is closely aligned with the slow food movement.

So it’s about keeping your local businesses ticking over? Partly, but mainly it’s thought of as a panacea to spiking food prices and food security, not to mention promoting the sustainability of eating home-grown produce. Farmers markets are a great place to start, as is growing your own food, or shopping via community food growing projects. It serves to give the individual satisfaction in the knowledge of where the food has come from, virtually from ‘around the corner’ compared with the thousands of miles imported produce must travel to land on supermarket shelves.

But can this kind of behaviour make a difference? The movement has been subject to a lot of criticism by those trying to disprove its good intentions, and most notably that its sustainability credentials are not as green as people think.

A 2011 Freakonomics podcast argued that for a truly locavore system to be employed, estimates based on US agriculture would find that: “corn acreage increases 27% or 22 million acres, and soybean acres increase 18% or 14 million acres. Fertiliser use would increase at least 35% for corn, and 54% for soybeans, while fuel use would climb 23% and 34%, for corn and soybeans, respectively. Chemical demand would grow 23% and 20% for the two crops, respectively.”

Ouch, that doesn’t look great. It’s frankly a back of the envelope calculation, but another critique from home turf is “‘Green’ eggs and ham? The myth of sustainable meat and the danger of the local”, which scathingly suggests: “[Locavores] engage in the construction of ―a literary pastoral a desire to return to a nonexistent past, which falsely romanticises the ideals of a local based lifestyle.” New Zealand lamb is often cited as a case in point for sustainable production versus food miles, but debunked here.

So what is it good for then? Social capital is a strong contender for benefiting from locavores, as it allows for a relationship and rapport to build between the client and the retailer – something which can so easily determine the success of a local business. Plus the fact you’re always shopping for what’s in season, giving you a great appreciation of British produce through the year.

Greater community involvement and engagement in the area in which you live can bring about awareness and change. Local growing has the capacity to address delivering healthy organic produce to communities with limited access to such a range, but production would have to be significantly upscaled to truly mitigate a food security issue.

Where can I get some tips on all this local stuff? The blogosphere is your friend. With the popular community largely American (seen by the development of the new Locavore app in the US), you might not get advice on where to shop for your local area, but we did come across some UK bloggers, movers and shakers including Rowan Williams‘ recent foray into the world of shopping in her local area, Kensal Rise, and Love a Locavore – a catering business run by Alice Bamford.


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