Just Food Project: Local Food Movement
Remember the “100 Mile Diet” trend that gained traction over a decade ago? Since then the local food movement has exploded, transitioning from a niche foodie idea to a mainstream concept. Purchasing and growing local food is championed as a sustainable solution to offer consumers fresh, seasonal produce, while preserving small farmers' livelihoods in the face of large corporations. But who does this local food movement leave out? Who can afford to purchase local goods? Is local food synonymous with organic and ecologically sound practices? This module will guide learners to think critically about the local food movement, who it benefits and excludes, and its potential to transform the food system.
Key Themes: Agriculture, Husbandries & Fisheries; Class, Built Food Environment, Food Governance, Food Movements, Policy and Planning, Local Food, Social Movements
- Identify the origins of the local food movement and the institutions that continue to drive the movement.
- Critically evaluate one’s own role and privilege as a potential participant in the local food movement in relation to barriers that may prevent others from participating.
- Compare and contrast the local food movement with at least one other movement (Indigenous Food Sovereignty, sustainability, labour movements) based on each movement’s drivers, goals, strategies, institutions, and tactics.
What makes a movement?
From where did there arise a need for a local food movement? Social movements can be defined as “purposeful, organized groups striving to work towards a common goal”, and they can develop in response to a societal dysfunction or problem. More explicitly, social movements arise due to differences in power, that is, groups begin to work towards redistributing or reclaiming this power.
Movement Theory seeks to understand the ways in which members of a movement participate in their communities and networks. In the 1960s and 70s this academic field focused on resource mobilization and political framing of social movements. Increasingly, however, New Social Movement Theory revolves around defining new frameworks to analyze movements with, including the impact of social movements on political and daily life. New social movement theory is a more applicable framework for analyzing the local food movement, as it can help to understand how this consumer-driven movement can lead to value shifts and food systems transformation.
Origins of the Local Food Movement
The local food movement arose as a response to the globalized, industrial food system—citizens wanted to reclaim power over their food system. The local food movement is considered a type of alternative food movement (AFM); AFMs strive to imagine a food system separate from the corporation-dominated regime in order to increase environmental sustainability and connection between producers and consumers, as well as the connection between consumers and their food. The local food movement’s goal differs slightly, as it believes that the most effective way to achieve this is by reducing the distance from “farm to plate”. Local food is “a social movement, a diet, and an economic strategy”, but the local food movement can shift the focus away from more complicated issues, such as “equity, citizenship, place-building, and sustainability”, by portraying itself as a silver bullet solution. Some of the reported benefits of the local food movement include better-supported farmers, protected local farmland, increased regional food security, improved nutrition, enhanced sense of community and self, and preserved biodiversity. However, there are both benefits and challenges to localized food systems as food systems issues are very complex.
Local Food Movement Institutions
The local food movement differs from other social movements as it is a predominantly consumer-driven movement. Key institutions of the local food movement include efforts to increase direct marketing between consumers and producers, such as farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Urban Agriculture, and increased farm-to-table/institution/school options at restaurants, hospitals, and schools. However, these consumer choices influence policy, as evidenced by the prevalence of municipal food policy councils and the inclusion of local food as a priority in many regional food strategies and local, provincial, and federal policy documents. Scholars struggle to determine if this manner of politicization of consumption is actually a movement—can these individual choices truly constitute collective action?
Consumer choices are the local food movement's most popular expression of dissent from the mainstream food system, but its activism and organizing does extend beyond consumer choices. On the other hand, other institutions and actors help support local food too, even if their primary goals are not related to advancing the local food movement, such as the BC Food Systems Network which supports linking “people all over the province involved in community-level action related to food” and the Working Group on Indigneous Food Sovereignty, which holds space for Indigenous Food Sovereignty at multiple levels.
Local food is a viable alternative to the “global, big, conventional, environmentally degrading food systems” that lack a sense of place. However, Dupuis and Goodman assert that it is necessary to critique the rise of the local food movement to ensure that it contributes to a democratic food system and does not lead to solutions that ignore the politics of place, reproducing social injustices and inequities. The following critiques of the local food movement have been outlined by various activists and scholars.
- Definition of ‘local’: The definition of ‘local’ has no agreed-upon meaning, but can be used to refer to food that “is grown, processed, sold, and consumed within the same local area (ranging from local community-scale to provincial-scale)”. Local does not inherently mean more sustainable, or working towards a noble goal, as any particular manifestation of local food discourse leads us to wherever those in power want it to lead to. In addition, any usage of the term ‘local’ is geographically situated, and also contains colonial implications about who has a relationship to the land.
- Elitist: The “Locavore emphasis” privileges the individual and emphasizes consumption but does not bring attention to an individual’s other roles. This elitist emphasis encourages consumers to vote with their dollar but fails to recognize that the marketplace is not a democracy; each person’s vote does not hold the same weight and power. This has contributed to the widening food gap, as supermarkets have left the poor in cities, establishing a food system for the wealthy in the suburbs of higher quality since the wealthy will pay more.
- Whiteness of the Local Food Movement: Alternative food institutions, such as CSAs and farmers' markets, are coded as white. Practically, this means that there is a disproportionate representation of white people as shoppers and vendors in these spaces (especially as farmers' markets often are not in communities of colour), as well as a disproportionate representation of white people involved in the governance and advancement of local food systems (i.e., on food policy councils). On a deeper level, there is lack of awareness for how these spaces may alienate and oppress non-white peoples. Often, proponents of local food systems deny the whiteness of these systems and erase the awareness of these differences. Other movements have also been under scrutiny for their lack of intersectionality: for example, the feminist movement or labour movements.
- Sustainability: Consumers often choose local foods because they prioritize freshness, supporting the local economy, and value knowing where their food comes from, and because they assume that if it is locally produced, it will also be environmentally sustainable. Often, this association is unfounded. The very corporations that the local food movement is opposed to have now co-opted the term “local” (see DeLind’s critique of the Walmart emphasis and Helman’s video about eating local) by branding conventionally produced foods (such as crops produced by monocultures but within a specific range) as “local”. This contributes to the erasure of other aspects of sustainability, including economic, social, and cultural sustainability.
- Economic structure: Many of the local food initiatives, such as farmers' markets and CSAs, still operate within the dominant economic structure that continues to reproduce social and economic inequities in the food system. Furthermore, farmers are also paying too much money to participate in these markets; this patchwork solution will not serve to give economic power to local producers while working within the neoliberal system.
Other Related Movements
The Local Food Movement shares some values, origins, and tactics with other social movements, but it also has competing goals and outcomes. The compare and contrast activity will have you dive into a comparison of the local food movement with one of these others.
- Campus Food Movement
- Sustainable Food Movement/Alternative Food Movement
- Indigenous Food Sovereignty
- Labour Movements
- Feminist Movement
“Success” of the Local Food Movement
Measuring the success of a social movement can be challenging—obviously, the local food movement has failed if their goal is to convert everyone to locavores who shop solely at farmers' markets. However, movements can be analyzed through looking at their ability to contribute new ideas to society. It can be argued that the local food movement has done just that in the last 20 to 30 years. The concepts of purchasing local food, knowing local producers, and finding the source of one’s food have become widespread, and as values, these have permeated into society at municipal and regional policy levels. But what is the movement's potential for transforming the food system and reaching its larger goals? The local food movement is currently decentralized as various actors and institutions throughout the food system work to contribute to advancing the goals of increasing local food. The inherent problem arises when the activities and institutions of the local food movement get conflated or misconstrued as inherently just or equitable due to simplistic perceptions of local food as being the best option. Local food is not inherently good or bad, but the outcomes are dependent on the motives and means of those who are pursuing those initiatives.
The purpose of this module is not to deter you from reaching out to farmers, thinking about where your food comes from, or caring about the environmental impact of your food. It is to push your boundaries and have you think critically about what institutions and structures those choices advance and why they came to be in the first place. In contrast, the food justice movement aims to transform the food system to support “communities exercising their right to grow, sell, and eat fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally appropriate, and locally-grown foods" and extends to an Indigenous paradigm to gather, hunt, fish, hold protocol/ceremony around traditional foods” (Module 1: Food Justice Primer). But if the local food movement only promotes this ability for certain privileged communities, what good is it doing?
The activities in this module will encourage you to dive into your own local food movement and its capacity for transformative change, as well as how you can be a part of this change.
- Alternative Food Networks: AFNs are associations of food producers, distributors, and retailers (including institutions and restaurants) that have intentionally positioned themselves outside of the mainstream, commercial, and industrial food system. These include organic farmers, those involved in locally sourced food, Fair Trade certifiers and distributors, and other specialized market goods purveyors that emphasize ethical consumption through various means including farmers' markets, cooperatives, and other less common sites. Products from these networks are increasingly being sold by more mainstream commercial retailers.
- Class: Refers to peoples' relative positions in the distribution of goods including land, property, money, housing, and division of labour, and refers to processes of further social differentiation based on these positions; these differentiations are both caused by and are a cause of power relations.
- Indigenous Food Sovereignty Movement (IFSM): The IFSM is a worldwide movement with an end goal of achieving food security. This movement seeks to address the systemic issues influencing Indigenous peoples' access to appropriate foods and relies on “cultural mobilization and the maintenance of multi-millennial cultural harvesting strategies and practices” to influence policy. See Module 2: Agriculture as a Colonial Project for more information.
- Local Food Movement: The local food movement is broadly defined as the movement of people who choose to eat food that is grown, harvested, foraged, caught, hunted, and processed close to where it is purchased. Over the past two decades, the movement has gained significant traction, from the naming of the term “locavore” as Oxford’s “Term of the Year” in 2007 to local eating becoming a policy priority at multiple government levels.
- Organic Agriculture: Farming based on principles that seek to minimize environmental degradation to agricultural ecosystems by restricting artificial inputs, including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically engineered components. Instead, organic principles emphasize crop rotation, natural manure, and compost, among other techniques, to restore these nutrients.
- Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs): CSAs are a distribution method directly connecting producers to consumers. Consumers buy a “share” of a farm at the beginning of the season and receive a weekly box of fresh vegetables and/or fruit (sometimes with add-ons such as eggs, meat, dairy, or flowers depending on the region) throughout the growing season. This model allows farmers access to early-season capital and a stable market, and consumers receive fresh seasonal goods. It is often used by organic farms or farms transitioning to organic certification. While often coded as white, CSAs were first conceptualized by Booker T. Whatley (Black author, horticulturist, and professor) in the United States in the 1970s, while similar models were developed in Japan and Europe in tandem.
- Race: Race is a political construction created to concentrate power among those construed as white and legitimize dominance over non-white people. Race is a made-up social construct, not a biological fact. Racial categorization schemes were invented by scientists to support worldviews that viewed some groups of people as superior and some as inferior. (For more content on race and food, see Module 3: Diasporic Foodways and Module 4: Migrant Labour.)
- Social Movement: Social movements are the organized efforts of individuals, communities, or organizations to reach societal goals and, in general, act outside of the defined state and economic spheres.
- Urban Agriculture: Urban agriculture includes the production and harvesting of agricultural products, including fruits, vegetables, and livestock for sale or consumption within and around cities. Urban agriculture can include community gardening, urban farming, hobby beekeeping, backyard hen keeping, and edible landscaping, depending on the urban areas' context, season, and resources.
- Whiteness: Whiteness is the false universalization of social norms and culture (including white supremacist ideology) associated with white people as if they were proper for society as a whole. This can be implicit such as is common in farmers' markets, or explicit, as in white supremacist organizations. ‘White’ can be understood as a “position in a racialized social structure”, it influences access to resources, and it would have no meaning outside of a racialized social structure.
- White Privilege: The unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits, and choices bestowed upon people solely because they are classified as white. Generally, white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it. Examples of privilege might be: ‘I can walk around a department store without being followed'; ‘I can come to a meeting late and not have my lateness attributed to my race'; ‘I can turn on the television or look to the front page and see people of my ethnic and racial background represented."
Facilitator note: These are provided as guidance for instructors and facilitators to mix and match as they seek to fulfil the learning outcomes. Times indicated are an estimate—facilitators should use their judgement to determine when to move things along and when to tease out certain topics based on their own learning goals.
|Activity||Estimated Time||Associated Learning Outcomes||Activity Notes|
|Pre-Activity: Group Guidelines||30 min||Define your role as facilitator and clarify the group’s expectations of you and each other, as well as foster a safe, respectful, and effective learning environment for participants.|
|Activity 1: Reading Discussion||45 min||1. Identify the origins of the local food movement and the institutions that continue to drive the movement.
2. Critically evaluate one’s own role and privilege as potential participants in the local food movement in relation to barriers that may prevent others from participating.
3. Compare and contrast the LFM with at least one other movement (Indigenous Food Sovereignty, sustainability, labour movements) based on each movement’s drivers, goals, strategies, and tactics.
|This activity provides background reading and sample discussion activity to go through the readings. Choose one reading for each learning outcome. Assign the readings before class and offer prompts to encourage in-class discussions. Conduct an in-class discussion to debrief the reading and background material.|
|Activity 2: Ethnography: Farmers Market Visit||1h outside of class time
30 min in-class discussion
|2. Critically evaluate one’s own role and privilege as potential participant in the local food movement in relation to barriers that may prevent others from participating.||Encourage participants to engage with their local food system, encouraging them to visit a farmers’ market and analyze it with a critical eye.
Note: This activity is to be completed outside of class by having participants visit a farmers market; in-class discussion and debrief follows.
|Activity 3: Farmers Market or the Food Bank?||20-30 min||2. Critically evaluate one’s own role and privilege as potential participant in the local food movement in relation to barriers that may prevent others from participating.||Examine and analyze how consumer-based movements operate under the influence of many factors affecting consumer food choices. This activity is best conducted in person using tokens to represent income.|
|Activity 4: Map the Food Movement on Campus||45-70 min||1. Identify the origins of the local food movement and the institutions that continue to drive the movement.
2. Critically evaluate one’s own role and privilege as potential participant in the local food movement in relation to barriers that may prevent others from participating.
|Building off of existing resources, explore what the food system on campus looks like and how it contributes to the food movement. Map the key players (institutions, services, clubs, etc.) of the campus food system and identify how they contribute to the growing food movement. Note: This activity can also be modified for contexts outside of academic institutions.|
|Activity 5: Compare and Contrast||45 min||2. Critically evaluate one’s own role and privilege as potential participant in the local food movement in relation to barriers that may prevent others from participating.
3. Compare and contrast the LFM with at least one other movement (Indigenous Food Sovereignty, sustainability, labour movements) based on each movement’s drivers, goals, strategies, and tactics.
|Compare and contrast the local food movement with another social movement that deals with issues regarding food security and food sovereignty.
This activity will delve into these questions: How do these movements differ in their composition, goals and tactics? What opportunities are there for synergies and working together?
|Activity 6: Food Policy Brief||30 min||1. Identify the origins of the local food movement and the institutions that continue to drive the movement.||Develop advocacy skills needed to write a policy brief on a topic connected to local food.|
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