As big as fish

Anna’s posts on ConAgra reminded me of a article from a couple weeks back on supermarkets hijacking “local”:

Sales of “local” foods and drinks are up 30% at Tesco, 41% at Asda. “Local” is as big as fish now, says Asda. The store is “very proud” to be stocking 6,500 “local” lines.

“Local” badly needs those inverted commas. It is yet another of those homely epithets – like “natural”, “fresh” and “farmhouse” – that the food industry takes and abuses as it pleases. Asda’s spokesperson was asked to define the term by BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today yesterday – “Something that is relevant to the customer in that particular store,” he said.

Well that’s a rather broad definition. Who knew we were being good little locavores buying California wine in London? What’s a few thousand miles when it’s relevant to this particular customer?

And then I came across this today:

“But locally grown is a denomination whose meaning is incorruptible. Sparing the transportation fuel, packaging and unhealthy additives is a compelling part of the story, but the plot goes well beyond that. Local food is a handshake deal in a community gathering place. It involves farmers with first names, who show up week after week. It means an open-door policy on the fields, where neighborhood buyers are welcome to come have a look , and pick their food from the vine.” Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver

Local: incorruptible, 2007; “as big as fish”, meaningles, 2009.

Perhaps I’m being naive, but I think it’s encouraging that “local” went from hallowed to hollow in such a short period of time. And if the big supermarket chains want to plaster local this and local that signs around their stores, well, that can only help to raise awareness of the issue. If it resonates with people, then they can start seeking out actual local goods, and not just those deemed “local” by their local multinational food conglomerate.

Or maybe I should blame that optimism on my just-back-from-holiday glow.



One response to “As big as fish

  1. The perversion of ‘local’ isn’t local to the UK. The oldest ‘farmer’s market’ in Washington, DC – a 5-minute walk from me, sells a lot of produce from Washington’s wholesale market and its national/international sources. Only on weekends can you find predominantly local harvests, and even they supplement their own with out-of-season or tropical produce. They don’t sell inside the venerable Eastern Market (in DC an 1870s buiding is a historic treasure), but line up their trucks on the street. They are better than the chain stores but still disappointing.

    The farmer coops are more reliable, though with the usual caveats: not picture-perfect specimens, you take what they have that week…tomatoes, turnips, unindentifiable greens…

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