Ed Harris, a postgrad researcher at the Institute for Geography in the University of Edinburgh, is making some really interesting inquiries into the role of local foods in alternative food networks. As he puts it:
‘Alternative food networks’ is a term used to describe the wide range of food production-consumption options which are presented as alternatives to ‘conventional’ food networks – globalized agri-food businesses.
Localization of food systems is often advocated as a way to reestablish connections between producers and consumers, and as a way to achieve specific social and environmental goals. Advocates of local food systems often state that:
- Eating locally reduces the food miles (and therefore carbon emissions) of food
- Eating locally will support the local economy and help reconnect consumers with the producers of their food
A local food system is often represented as intrinsically ‘good’, compared to a conventional globalized food system which is ‘bad’.
It is this idea of the ‘local’ as automatically ‘good’ or ‘better than the non-local’ that this research examines. [emphasis added] (here)
As part of his research, Ed is interviewing people involved in Scotland’s local and alternative food networks, ranging from “consumer-activist groups engaging with eating locally, through small-scale producers on local farms, to community groups working to improve access to local food.”
I find his research fascinating, and look forward to hearing about his results. I also appreciate his sensitivity towards the perception of local foods as something just for the elite. As he says,
It is important that local food systems are socially inclusive, and do not simply operate alongside conventional food systems as an alternative for those with the means to buy into them. It is also important that we do not jump towards local produce to reduce food miles without recognising the effect that seasonality and energy-use in production can also have on the carbon emissions related to food. (here)
In addition to his on-going research project, Ed also has a well-maintained and informative blog, which covers local foods, policy, and news in both the US and UK, with an intellectual bent. Don’t miss the weekly local food news round-up! Some of my recent favorite posts:
A summary of how much food is wasted in the UK annually. It’s really a shocking amount.
Are GM foods the Answer to the Global Food Crisis? A thoughtful analysis of the possibility of using genetically modified crops to increase yields.
A look at an awesome project by UW-Madison undergrads who made an online map of foods within 100 miles of Madison, Wisconsin.
Go check it out!