February 22, 2010
Is the flurry of interest in locally grown, locally raised and locally processed food just a passing fad? Not likely — the food sector is a long way from meeting the wants of locavores.
I’ve heard all the arguments downplaying the trend towards local: Price trumps all, consumers don’t care enough, it’s just another niche market, and it’s too expensive to retool our bulk anonymous export-oriented commodity infrastructure.
These are real hurdles. But doubters underestimate the vigour of the locavore movement in North America and fail to appreciate what is driving consumers who are attracted to local food.
For locavores, it’s about wants, not needs. It’s not about putting food on the table and while nutrition plays a role, it does not dominate. Locavores would like to drive their status as “customers” into the background and be recognized as participants — very important participants in the food chain. Locavores seek authenticity, connection and participation. They are eaters.
Second, the vast majority of locavores bring a very simple agenda to the food marketplace: all things being equal: “I will choose the local product.” At the same time the reasons for choosing local are very diverse.
When you survey eaters on the benefits of buying locally grown, the list of responses is long. They want to support the local economy and family farmers. They’re concerned about the environment and preserving the countryside. They want low cost and value, but also believe local food is healthier, safer and tastes better.
The fact that locavore interests are easily met and very diverse guarantees that the locavore movement has depth and will not fade.
Finally, locavores are not hunters and gatherers. Ask locavores what needs to be done to make it more likely that they will buy locally grown food. The top answer for the overwhelming majority is: “I will buy more locally grown food, if my retailer offered more local food.”
Local food’s popularity has soared even though it’s not easy to access from your local supermarket.
Great strides have been made in meeting the wants of locavores. But we still have a long way to go.
Elbert van Donkersgoed
This commentary was first published as a CBC Commentary, February 22, 2010.