Buying Local: Is it style over substance?

image via Hotpoint


Howdy neighbor.

Multinational conglomerates— especially those best known for corporate steamrolling— are touting their locavore cred:

Lay’s potato chips is running a series of television commercials featuring five of the farmers/suppliers who bring the simple happiness of farm life to big cities across America— including one whose ‘local farm’ covers 17,000 acres in 11 states.

McDonalds billboards trumpet locally-sourced french fries that are from here, for you; although the company admits that it hasn’t actually changed its buying practices and, of course, “participation and duration may vary.”

Amid a sea of Asian-made goods and industrial foods, Walmart is bringing Georgia peaches to its Atlanta supercenters and draping the produce sections with heritage agriculture banners.

Plucking the low-hanging fruit of the sustainability movement.

Local food claims are not regulated; in fact there isn’t even a legal definition of local. Locally-grown, locally-owned, locally processed, or maybe just locally-packed; it’s all fair game for misuse and abuse.

Corporate lip service is a lot simpler and less costly than actual sustainability practices.

Locavores are horrified. They argue that the corporate co-opting of local ignores the movement’s intellectual underpinnings. Local is a bit of short-hand, a proxy for the more complicated issues of food safety, fair treatment of employees, humane treatment of animals, and lower carbon emissions.

Spinning the local angle for marketing purposes has been dubbed ‘local-washing.’ As whitewashing, the practice of glossing over misdeeds through perfunctory cleanups, had morphed into greenwashing–iffy marketing claims of environmental friendliness; now we have the sheen of civic virtue applied to localism.

Local-washing is _________ [perverse, ironic, evil, ingenious].

You can fill in the blank.

Local-washing in pictures: Grist presents a slideshow of  the most egregious offenders.


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8 Responses to Buying Local: Is it style over substance?

  1. Pingback: Food Miles | Gigabiting

  2. This is an issue near and dear to my heart. I agree with all the above comments. It’s tricky–I’m a huge advocate of eating local and using spices/herbs (which tend to not be local). Bottom line: use the spices to do 20 different things with the 30 lbs. of CSA zucchini that floods you during the summer! What makes me sad is the fact that our society has evolved in such a way that choosing good food requires an exercise in research and intellectual analysis.

  3. Labeling stuff local is all of the words you described and more. Big companies do what they need to do to get our attention- if we want local, they say it’s local. Is it wrong? Sure, but not much more wrong than what they were doing before. It is just part of keeping us, the consumers, interested. And making those actually committed to local work harder in promoting their cause.

  4. Janice says:

    I doubt that many Lay’s customers are thinking about the sourcing of the potatoes as they are scarfing down the salt and fat- not that I am knocking chips, but i know sustainability issues aren’t top of my list when I am indulging in junky, empty calories.

  5. Thanks for the heads-up! No, I wouldn’t have even imagined that Lays would try to imply that if we eat their potato chips, whose primary calories come from an oil that’s been distilled at (most likely) a NON local processing plant, then sent to a Lays processing plant to have (possibly) somewhat local potatoes dipped into it, before being shipped to the warehouse, to the grocery store, to our home kitchen, and finally, into our mouths with a carbon footprint too big to even fit into that mouth… THAT’s “Buying Local”?!

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  7. Janice says:

    Absolutely, it cheapens the local designation. One can only hope that the corporate efforts will help introduce the concept to a broader audience. There is also a certain validation of the reach of the issue- we can assume that there was plenty of marketing research before these companies put their media dollars into the local campaign.

  8. christine says:

    Local-washing is all of those adjectives that you listed, but it degrades the the idea of supporting small farmers and local economies. My biggest beef is that people who are uneducated about the local food movement believe that they are supporting it by purchasing something that Walmart claims is “local”. It’s a shame.

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