Locavorism: A Passing Trend or Lasting Benefit?
I had never heard the term “locavore” before coming to Berea College in 2010. I have been interested in localism and sustainability for quite some time, but I didn’t realize the local food movement had established its own descriptive term. The locavore movement presents an opportunity for people to reexamine how they live their lives; are people comfortable buying food from halfway around the country or the world? Do people place value on the security of knowing who grows their food? Locavorism’s relatively small-scale success so far has come by appealing to people’s ecological values, and presenting what looks like a viable alternative to highly industrial food systems that make up the majority of food production today. The locavore movement has a good deal of substance, but the movement’s lasting potential is threatened with narrow and rigid goals.
Personally, I find “locavore” to be a limiting term. From my experience growing up in Nevada City, California, many people are interested in localizing their lives far beyond the food they eat. In lieu of the volatility and inconsistency of the U.S. economy, people are attempting to regain control over their finances and banks by joining institutions such as credit unions, which promise more local control and input compared to national corporate banks. It is possible that my perspective is slightly biased having grown up in an area with very independent individuals who seem to constantly investigate new possibilities of engaging in transactions with others. However, it is apparent that more businesses and institutions are succeeding based on their commitment to local ownership and transactions. Daniel F. Agan Jr., President of the Massachusetts Credit Union League, recently explained, “Credit union growth is being fueled by their commitment to the local community.” [i]
Despite the passion and claims of some, I do not believe the locavore or local movement in general will expand primarily because of environmental concerns. People’s environmental concern will play a role in it, but I have my doubts that environmentalism alone will lead to a sustainable route of localism. People have different ideas of what constitutes environmental sustainability and how to achieve those goals. Very few would state that the heart of the environmental movement comes down to the food that we choose to eat. Locavorism can play a major part in environmental awareness and concern, but environmental issues stretch beyond whether we buy our food from the farmer down the street or from farmers in South America. In other words, you are likely some form of an environmentalist if you are a locavore, but you do not have to be a locavore to be an environmentalist. Locavores will limit the potential of local food expansion if they publicize the movement largely on environmental grounds, because there are numerous other environmental movements competing for attention and support from the very same crowd.
Economic influences and preferences drive individual decisions more than anything else. People vote with their dollars and naturally support businesses and systems they value over other current options. For example, just because Wal-Mart offers the cheapest produce doesn’t mean that people won’t support a local farmer for a few extra dollars; if it is fresh, locally grown produce people value, they are probably willing to dish out some extra cash if necessary. Every action comes down to the personal value people place on something. This is what the movement of locavorism must publicize if they want to send a sustainable and lasting message to people. Preserving the environment is great, but if locavores can show people that they can preserve the environment and maybe save a few bucks by supporting local agriculture, the movement will have a much higher likelihood of sticking around for the long haul. If you don’t appeal to the economic interests of people, your movement will have a very difficult time sticking.
Through continuing economic difficulties, the desire for self-sufficiency will be the primary driving force behind increased local focus. This local focus won’t be based solely upon environmental or ethical values; it will simply be the practical and efficient thing to do. If the economy is seriously in the doldrums, it is sensible to buy food from a local farmer rather than rely on the global food market. The global food market faces many risks and variables in a healthy economy, but those risks are amplified in times of economic and environmental hardship. With a rapidly expanding national debt, steady monetary devaluation, and increased bureaucracy and centralization, I personally am not optimistic about the future of the U.S. economy and believe serious economic pain is ahead. People are forced to become creative and solve problems in new ways during an economic pinch, and this turning point will magnify the opportunities and benefits of localism.
A shift to localism will not happen overnight. It will slowly expand as people and communities tinker with different ideas (such as grocery store co-ops, credit unions, or local agriculture) and find alternative ways to efficiently provide needed services on a local level. People will recognize the importance of control and flexibility in food that comes on a local scale. Today, people are increasingly vulnerable to weather conditions on large-scale farms; freezes in Mexico this winter “damaged such crops as tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers, leading to shortages and price increases.”[ii] Within the spiritual cooperative community, Ananda, in which I spent my life growing up, community members are constantly starting small projects sparked with individual creativity and interest (such as raising goats, chickens, or bees). Localism and community lifestyle will find a place in “mainstream” thought as people begin to directly experience the benefits of engaging in certain operations, businesses, and projects on a local level.
Locavorism is a subset, not the cause of, localism. So long as locavores bundle the larger goal of localism within their movement, it will be a movement that can last for generations. Harsh economic times will push people to explore local alternatives and possibilities, particularly in areas such as finance and agriculture (two key components of a successful and flexible local economy). Locavorism will expand both indirectly and directly due to this exploration of localism; some will purposefully change their diet to eat a majority of local food, others will simply start eating homegrown food as local agriculture systems become more common and successful. Shaky economic conditions on a national (or even international) scale will prove to be the greatest jumpstart to the localism movement.
[i] “Credit unions note clear trend of growth.” Stabile, Lori. The Republican. 13 Feb. 2011.
[ii] “Freezing weather knocks ‘T’ out of BLTs.” Karp, Gregory. Chicago Breaking Business. 15 Feb. 2011.