“Local” jumps the shark

Co-opetition, not competition: With its brand-new ad campaign touting the “local” potato farmers that grow its spuds, Frito-Lay is the latest big company to try and exploit consumers’ newfound food consciousness in pursuit of market share. Processors like ConAgra are citing eaters’ concerns over food safety and food miles, and a desire for more traceability in their latest marketing campaigns. And Big Farma is getting into the act, too, reports Kim Severson, by playing to Americans’ protectionist impulses: “We don’t think the argument should be about the size of the farm,” says a Virginia Farm Bureau rep. “It should be, ‘Do you know the farmer and where is the farmer
from?’ You can have good and bad actors in any size farm.” (New York Times) Nice try. But local is just one of the elements of SOLE food: the question we ask is, Do you know the farmer and is he/she
farming sustainably? Show us some large-scale, organic or “beyond
organic” diversified farms with ethical animal-welfare and labor practices, and we’ll gladly patronize them.

3 Responsesto ““Local” jumps the shark”

  1. Kara says:

    Frito Lay just did a huge advertising section in National Geographic magazine and I was slightly impressed by what they are doing environmentally-speaking as far as a big corporation goes.  It seems that maybe they are aware that that direction is the future.  Not sure that they are motivated by good works, but I think they realize that this is cost-effective.  Clever marketing, yes, but they really are working to reduce water use and their sun chips are made with 100% solar energy.    Yeah, the “local potatoes” are complete green-washing, but the reality is that big corporations like this will be with us for a long time and they deserve credit for some of the things they are doing.  Not sure my diet needs Fritos though!

  2. Tom Karst says:

    Perhaps I’m going over plowed ground here, but…..

    Just throwing this question out there..Do you think small, local
    growers should be required to comply with the same regulations and
    expectations of commerical growers/shippers? Should they be exempt
    from Congressional food safety reform legislation/traceability compliance, etc
    Why or why not?

    Tom Karst
    The Packer

  3. Elanor says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for asking. I imagine the Ethicurean contributors may have a variety of viewpoints on this one, but I’m happy to offer my two cents: I don’t think either uniform food safety regulations or exemption is the answer. Food safety can and should be a pre-competitive issue, with basic, common-sense standards followed by everyone and more stringent regulation targeting the most risky products and processes. I could imagine a scenario in which farms doing only direct marketing were exempt because the market is so small and the products are identity-preserved, but if smaller growers want to scale up to sell to institutions and wholesalers, then they will probably have to (and are already being asked to) show compliance with some sort of food safety standard. It is incumbent upon those of us who want to see them succeed to participate in designing appropriate food safety guidance and/or regulation.

    I discuss the issues with current industry-led standards here and here and talk about food safety/small farms issues in this post. I also offered the following thoughts in the comments section, which kind of sum up my thoughts:

    I think what I’m trying to suggest is 1) that food safety regulations are coming down the pike whether we like it or not, between attempts to make a national Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, mandate the Good Agricultural Practices, or pass one of the food safety bills that’s been introduced in Congress. The chance that local/small scale/organic/direct marketed food is going to be exempt from that discussion is highly unlikely and there are reasons why we should take a seat at the table – namely, because if we do then we can influence the process, and if we don’t we risk either having a one-size-fits-all policy foisted upon us, or having Big Ag use food safety competitively against us with consumers. And 2) there are good models of scale-appropriate, common-sense food safety guidelines for small farms being developed by the groups I mentioned [MOFGA, NOFA, CAFF, Appalachian Harvest], by Cornell’s GAPs program and others, and those can serve as the basis for a proactive, alternative proposal coming from our side, if we choose to engage in the policymaking process.

    Thanks again for checking in.