What is a locavore and should anybody be one?

  • Published on May 14th, 2009

FritosThe earnest, sandal-wearing, next-generation hippy label: locavore, has recently become big news in the USA, not because of any sudden policy swing or discovery that local is best, but because the massive Frito-Lay company is ‘claiming’ that its potato chips are local produce ie fit for locavores to eat.

Now there are a number of questions relating to this advertising campaign, not least of which is how you define locavore: is it somebody who only eats food grown fifty miles from their home, fifteen miles, five blocks? But setting that one aside, another key question is how a national company like Frito-Lay can claim, let alone prove, local production. The route they are taking is pretty blunt: five farmers will appear in five advertisements, shown in five different states, each saying that they grow potatoes that Frito-Lay then turns into ‘local’ chips. Of course, each state gets to see only its own local advert, not the other four, which could rather spoil the impression …

Frito-Lay isn’t making clear how transparent its supply chain is, where the frying oil comes from, for example, or whether potatoes are shipped from one state to another if there are production shortages. But all of that could be sorted out with adequate labelling, a proper supply chain audit and some decent environmental auditing. The locavore term, coined around 2005, is anyway, open to much interpretation.

Defining local eating

There’s a much bigger question. Locavore, means, to most of its adherents, a meaningful choice to buy locally grown food in an attempt to reject industrial scale farming, chemical and input reliance and factory farming of animals. And all of those are things that, by and large, could be improved upon in the modern age, both in terms of ethics and efficiency.

A sustainable world needs trade

But this ignores something fundamental. If we don’t buy imported foods, especially those from countries reliant on agriculture for their international position and the ability to use strong currencies like the Euro and dollar to trade for pharmaceuticals, oil and other essentials, we destabilise some of the most fragile parts of our planet and condemn many small farmers to penury or starvation.

Angola’s fruit producers rely on western markets, as, currently, do Kenya’s flower farmers. Obviously it would be better if all countries could stand alone, but just as American and Europe import petroleum, these countries have to import many products, and without the trade in foodstuffs, they have nothing to use to pay for their needs.

Locavore eating can be fun, it can be highly educational, and it helps local economies, but we’ve all seen recently that economies are interlinked and stand or fall together – if we all became locavores, the world would be a less stable and less interlinked planet, as well as a more boring place to eat.

Frito and other snacks courtesy of franckdethier at Flickr under a creative commons licence

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