Local food movements clash with globalization trends

Walking through the produce section of your preferred grocery, you may decide to buy some apples, but where did those apples come from?  Were they grown locally in Georgia’s apple capital Ellijay?  Or, as is more likely the case, were they grown and harvested somewhere else, somewhere 2,600 miles away?

The world’s food systems have become increasingly globalized over the past decades; with more companies producing food on a mass scale, we as a society have seemingly gotten farther away from our food than ever before.  However, local food trends are growing across the nation, allowing local farms and food movements to flourish.

As the old adage goes; an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but in today’s food market, getting that apple requires more process than is seen by the consumer.  As is the case with all produce, apples do not grow year-round, nor do they grow well in every state’s climate.  According to USDA statistics from 2000, slightly less than 50 percent of all apple production in the U.S. occurs over 2600 miles away from Georgia; in Washington State. Apples are only a minor example of the scale of production and shipping required to get consumers the foods they demand.

Availability of many types of food depends on season.  With processed foods, production and manufacturing factors play a larger role in where food comes from. 

Kansas is the nation’s largest producer of wheat, but the process that takes it from wheat to bread is a long one with many different stops on the way.  In the process of bread-making alone, the supply chain, or the chain of production necessary for today’s bread-production system, relies on yeast production, sugar production, wheat production and processing, and countless other variables tied together by shipping lanes; all to get a loaf of sliced bread from the field to the dinner table. 

Just as the trend towards the globalization of food grows, so does the movement towards local, organically produced foods. 

In Athens alone there are a multitude of options when looking for local or organic foods.  When it comes to organic food, every supermarket around town carries a selection of organic produce, with specialty stores like Earth Fare and Trader Joe’s offering an even wider selection.  There are even more options for organic and local food with the influx of local farm cooperatives and farmer’s markets that have come to Athens in recent years.  The Athens Farmers Market will come together on the sidewalk around City Hall twice a week beginning in April, offering locally grown and organic produce at good prices to the residents of the downtown area.  The Daily Groceries Co-op and Athens Locally Grown are two programs that allow interested parties to buy a membership or ownership of the organization in exchange for fresh organic and local produce.  Farm 255 is yet another example of the power of the local food movement as a restaurant that is fueled entirely by Athens-area farms.

Recent legislation introduced by Representative Keisha Waites (D) of Georgia’s 60thdistrict will provide an avenue and incentives for Georgia schools and school districts to purchase foods and other products from Georgia farms.  This bill, introduced into the Georgia House of Representatives, would signify a large step forward for the local food movement, as well as a huge helping hand to local farms around the State.  While still in its infancy now, this bill proposes the creation of a farm-to-school program that would facilitate and promote the sale of Georgia grown farm products to the school districts around Georgia, providing a ray of hope for local farms and local food movements in the state.

Even with local and organic food options being more available than ever, people find it difficult to go out of their way to buy food, and because this idea of global food has become the norm, people seldom make efforts to purchase locally. 

Supermarkets have been extremely popular for decades, offering one-stop shopping and competitive prices.  Wal-Mart provides 18 percent of the country’s groceries annually, but sometimes struggles to provide local and organic food to its shoppers.  In 2006 however, the company released that it had doubled sales in organic foods, and in 2008 outlined a plan to sell more local foods, planning to reach 9 percent local produce by 2015.  According to Jim Prevor, a produce industry analyst and editor of the blog Popular Pundit, one of the biggest problems that companies like Wal-Mart have in regard to the sale of organic and local foods is due to scale. 

“They just couldn’t find operations with sufficient quantity to supply them,” said Prevor in an interview with Tom Philpott for Mother Jones.  Companies as large as Wal-Mart need to be able to purchase extremely large quantities of produce from farms, and these smaller organic farms are not able to keep up with supply. 

While any effects of the globalization of our food systems may not seem immediately apparent, they have affected our lives in ways that we may not be able to see on a daily basis. 

Colleen O’Brian Cherry is an assistant research scientist at the Center for Global Health in the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia.  She has recently completed research on the culinary and cultural practices of groups in Southern Arizona, centered on how changing environments impact the health and well being of the population. 

Her research has shown, among other things, that a breakdown in traditional food gathering and preparation practices has had a negative impact on culture and cultural tradition as well as a negative effect on health and wellness for the populations studied.  The findings of this research carry implications not only for the area that was being studied, but as she explained it, the health and nutrition practices of our country as a whole.  

“The globalization of food can be a huge factor in nutrition,” said Cherry. “Even in rural areas, the [traditional] diet has been replaced by the typical American diet. We have grown distant from our food sources; everything is so packaged and processed, and half of the stuff on your dinner plate is from thousands and thousands of miles away.”

With processed and junk foods more available than ever, they become harder for the average consumer to stay away from. 

For all of progress that the local food movements have made around the country, the movement toward more globalized food systems still progresses, begging the question; which trend is more powerful? 

J. Scott Angle, the Dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia, seemed to believe that industrial agriculture is only growing. 

“We’ve had a doubling in the number of students enrolled in our programs in the last 7 years,” said Angle.  He mentioned that while programs like Agribusiness, the most popular program in CAES, are growing exponentially, more non-traditional and less-popular programs like food science are growing as well.  Indeed, the farming industry is doing well, offering more jobs than almost any other field, as well as the recorded 2nd highest salary for graduates right out of college. 

While this does not necessarily mean that the local food movement is in danger, it does not bode well for the future of smaller, less commercial farming initiatives. If there is hope for the independent farmer, it seems that it may come from education.

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