Local food is food that is produced within a short distance of where it is consumed, often accompanied by a social structure and supply chain different from the large-scale supermarket system. The idea is that multiple initiatives contribute to the shaping of a more cohesive and resilient local food system.
The agrifood literature has long pointed out to the problem of distanciation in the conventional food industry. Indeed, the physical distance that separates where food is produced to where it is consumed, even within the same country, has increased due to the numerous intermediaries that structure the different steps of food chain.
But also, there is an increasing cognitive disconnect from consumers regarding how ‘good food’ is produced and a widening moral gap regarding the responsibilities of the various actors along the food chain to ensure ethical standards and realize values associated with sustainable food.
Developing diverse short food supply chains
As a response to this problem, agrifood scholars have advocated the need for an enhanced resocialization and relocalisation of food practices. This is done for instance through the development of diverse short food supply chains, and by emphasizing shared meanings and values of food for producers and consumers alike. These multiple initiatives contribute to the shaping of a more cohesive and resilient local food system.
Local does not necessarily mean better food
However, it is important to keep a critical eye on these new developments. Being local does not de fact mean ‘better’ or more sustainable food. To avoid the ‘local food trap’, it is thus important that such food transactions are based on trust, quality and reciprocity.
Another tricky issue relating to ‘local food’ is that it is difficult to draw a clearcut geographical limit, for instance a 50 or 100km distance, for what can be considered ‘local’. Hence, this means that it is up to the actors themselves to create and negotiate their own understanding of what they consider as being local. This is in line with recent studies acknowledging that assessing the sustainability of local food practices is highly context dependent, i.e. formed by a place’s social, economic, institutional and geographical characteristics.