Local food in the US

The local food movement has become increasingly popular in the United States over the past thirty years. In 1980, when the first Whole Foods Market opened, there were under a dozen “natural” grocery stores in the United States; there are now over 250 locations of that chain alone.[i] This, along with many other grocery chains, caters to a market seeking natural, organic and local food. These stores model themselves after farmers’ markets, feeling that this is a good model for sustainability since most of their sources use organic methods of growing. By some standards, “locavors,” as participants in this movement are affectionately know, may be seen as a technological digression; however, this way of life is beneficial to many areas of a society. The local food movement lends itself well to a structural functionalist social model because it was a means to accommodate the social and political environment of the 1970s in America. A cultural ecologist may also interpret “localvorism” as a way to re-assimilate into environmentally friendly practices.

Structural functionalism attempts to explain how society keeps its balance during periods of change and unrest. Through this lens, the local food movement can be seen as a fundamental part of the sustainability movement that emerged in the 1970s, when humanity started to realize the negative impact that it has on the environment. The negative effects of using pesticides and growth hormones were fairly self-evident; however, shipping foods across continents has its harmful effects too. Air pollution (caused by gases emitted by the vehicles used to transport of foods) and the ecological effects of monoculture on an area are major environmental concerns as they contribute to global warming and soil degradation. In and of themselves, sustainability and environmental consciousness are supposed to benefit the society’s physical and emotional health, but eating locally also serves to stimulate the local economy and to educate local people on farming practices. Without local farms, people generally do not know how food is grown. Although this knowledge is not necessary for society to function, it helps people to gain a broad appreciation and to understand how other methods of farming may be potentially hazardous to the ecology of and area. “Locavorism” also helps us, as anthropologists, to see the social hierarchies existing today, which are primarily economically based. Locally grown foods cost more because they are often grown organically on family-owned farms; these methods have higher start-up costs and they are more susceptible to their environments (i.e. insect-destruction). Higher prices make local food a commodity that is not accessible to people of lower economic classes; therefore, eating locally is symbolic of high economic standing in America. Taking this into consideration, we see that the local food movement serves to accentuate and “preserve the social structure.”[ii]

Cultural ecology focuses on interpreting cultural practices as a means of adapting to the present environment.  The local food movement is a response to the environmental problems that we caused through our careless or under-informed practices, particularly the ones involved in food production. Upon realizing their imminent demise if they continued in their ways, people began to try to live their lives differently in the hopes of salvaging the environment. Although many people see eating locally as a reversion to “a simpler time”, it is because people are now making a conscious effort to buy food this way, whereas they had no choice to do otherwise in the past.

This entry was posted in Food Essay (2010). Bookmark the permalink.

71 Responses to Local food in the US

  1. Robin Fiore says:

    I thought it was very interesting that you brought up the fact that in our current society eating locally grown food is a sign of high economic standing. It seems to me that this is exactly the opposite of what it used to be. When development first begins foreign foods and products are prized as evidence that you are modern. An example of this is the pringles can that Professor McGranahan mentioned, and the cookies that the little girl in Nepal said represented modernity. To these people, “western” foods with their flashy packaging represent that you are successful and modern. As our society reaches a peak of modernity, we seek to go back to eating local foods. As soon as foods that aren’t local are available to everyone, including those of low economic standing, they lose their appeal as a sign of success and modernity. Now the more expensive local foods are sought after.

    • Everett Warner says:

      This is exactly what I thought of while reading this essay. It’s so weird how in undeveloped regions local food is cheap and undervalued while imported food is much more expensive and seen as a commodity. And in a developed region the local food is expensive and highly valued while imported food is not valued as much. Why are they the complete opposite of each other.
      Another interesting part of this essay was how the Structural Functionalist saw this modern change towards valuing the local food as a solution to the many environmental factors. So by switching to a more environmentally friendly farming practice the prices go up and the value goes up as well. This is very interesting because it seems that whatever is priced higher and harder to produce is simply valued more. Simply because Boulders local organic food is more expensive, you are viewed as wealthy by purchasing it. Why is this?

      • Jodye Whitesell says:

        I had the same reaction to reading this essay and I think you bring up an interesting point here with the use of the word “imported.” Certainly imported is the opposite of local, but something about the return to locally-grown food seems to me to be more in opposition to manufactured food. I think there is still a high value placed on imported food (French cheese, Swiss Chocolate, South American coffee, etc.). Values in our society tend to rank imported goods at the top of the social scale (a Parisian coat makes a much bigger economic statement than a locally-woven coat). Arguably, local goods make a different social statement than imported ones (a “back to the roots” stand in society), but imported foods still hold a high market value in developed American culture. I think the very term “imported” brings an interesting third dynamic into this discussion because of its unique rank. Do we care if imported goods are mass manufactured or made grown by smaller, local companies in the region? What does this do to their value? Does cheese made in a French-equivalent of a Lucerne factory rank with American factory products or is it still elevated because of its foreign nature? Where does it fit on the imported-local-manufactured hierarchy?

      • Stephen Fleming says:

        I noticed a lot of similarities with the points you made in your comment but when a Whole Foods first came to my town the only people who went there were richer families. And since there was barely any organic farms the prices were hyped up. So when someone said they went to Whole Foods they would be made fun of for being “snobs” (now I am not still that way and people that shop there now are revered). Now since times have changed shopping at local food markets and whole foods helps the small farming families and organic farms. And now there are more organic farms so prices have go down. Continuing the chain.

    • stephanie ahlgrain says:

      I also thought about the connection between local food growing and the idea of development. While the people of the United States and other wealthy nations are generally considered to be better off than those in poorer, less developed countries, I think food is one way that this is not the case. People in less developed countries usually make their own food or buy it in local markets without thinking of this as being more health or desirable because it’s just the only option they have. Foods that are more natural have higher nutritional value, so people that are often labeled “less developed” are sometimes in better health. (This is assuming people still believe that processed foods equal high status, which is becoming less popular) This trend makes me think of the question is it really the U.S. with our materialistic, capitalist, non-family oriented society that is really better off? Is it us that is truly the model society or does this local food trend signal that we are becoming more like the countries we consider to be poor?

      • Logan Lynch says:

        While I do agree with most of what you are saying, eating locally, organically grown food is healthier, it does not necessarily mean that poor countries whose only option is to eat local food are healthier. Generally, in these countries, they eat their own, local food, but a majority of the time their local food is very limited, and people only get a small amount of the nutrition that they actually need. In Afghanistan, even for those who have plenty of money to buy food, they are extremely unhealthy. They only have access to certain food groups. As a result, one of the biggest delicacies in Afghanistan is fat, something that Americans have plenty of, and (generally) find revolting to eat plain, Afghans love, due to the simple fact that their bodies absolutely need it to keep functioning.

      • Kathryn Pitman says:

        I wanted to add to Stephanie’s connection of development with local growing food practices..
        Often times these less developed nations are actually the suppliers of this organic food that developed nations are consuming. Tie this in with the idea of globalization and the negative consequences that may follow, these poorer nations are stuck in a cycle in which they must supply the wealthy nations with whatever commodity, but they must do so at the wealthy nation’s demand and price. If they don’t then the developed nation can easily go elsewhere and find what they are looking for at the price they want. This puts these less developed nations in a position in which their is practically no room for economic gain. This kind of stems away from the essay topic, in a way, but it is something that was on my mind from Stephanie’s comment

    • Alex McNa says:

      I think it is important to bring the concept of practice theory into this discussion. Processed foods, microwaveable meals, eating out; all of these ideas are habitus for the majority of citizens in the United States. Via our countries social structures and norms, we have consented to a hegemonic system that rewards us through low costs of cheap and many times low quality food. Obviously we have the agency to make other choices, but these choices are the minority. We live in a capitalist society where the less available is “worth more” even though its benefits far outweigh alternatives. In other words, the “other” choice always is a higher cost because it is less available, and in many cases must charge a higher price to make a profit.

      These same ideas carry over to less “developed” nations. Their practice theory makes self sustainable practice the norms because as we have been reading in “Invitations of Love” those are the concepts the government, i.e. social structures and institutions of Nepal, seeks to promote in its citizens. “Nepalies are farmers”, they are “hard workers” They to have the agency to make different choices but because they are less available they are more highly valued and cost more.

      In both “developed” and “less developed” countries their approach to nutrition and food is by and large a social reproduction of the social structures, institutions, and habitus already available to them. Choosing to make alternative choices is what brings about social transformation, whether for better or for worse. Are there any consequences of social transformation here in the U.S. for reverting back to locally grown foods? What about for developing nations refusing to “modernize” there food and production?

      • Morgan Piper says:

        In response to what you were saying, I believe that there are definitely economic repercussions for both American’s who are trying to eat locally grown food, but also for the people living in the countries where America used to buy fruit and coffee and things like that. While it is true that American’s are still buying these products, the rate at which we are buying them has greatly decrease. I don’t believe this has anything to do with the price of the locally grown food or an sort of economic issue, but instead I believe that more and more American’s are beginning to buy locally grown food because it is a new trend. Many people are striving to live a healthier lifestyle, so they are buying for fruits and veggies and trying to consume less processed foods, but while they are doing this environmentalists are pushing grocery stores and natural stores to stock locally grown fruits and veggies. This is then forcing the people who are trying to become more healthy to buy the locally grown food and then once they taste the difference between the local food and the imported food they generally jump on the bandwagon as well.

  2. Alex Bayer says:

    Being a strong advocate for community supported agriculture, what might a symbolic anthropologist say about this practice of buying locally? What does it represent to the rest of the world?

    • Katie Legge says:

      I think that the new emphasis on locally grown food actually is a symbol of high socioeconomic status. I feel like peoples choice to eat food that is less environmentally hazordous and preceived to be more healthy shows that we have more options than most when it comes to our food. In some cultures, local food is all that they have, so “western” food is desrieable, and in some parts of america, particularly in the south, where there is are lower socioeconomic conditions and “western” pre-packaged foods are all that is available and fresh foods. Making the eco-friendly option may show to other people, that you live in an area where there is an abundance of foods and in many varieties. It is the choice to eat local over imported that shows high socioeconomic status.

      • Alexis Bell says:

        I have to agree with the idea that eating locally grown foods is a sign of high socioeconomic status. Not only are locally grown foods and vegetables more expensive, but even fresh fruit and vegetables are more expensive than stuff that comes frozen or in a can. For people living on food stamps, even fresh fruit can be beyond their means.

        Bringing up microwavable food offers an interesting question for feminist anthropologists. As women moved into the workforce after the fifties and TV dinner, and then the microwaveable meal became more important. As we spend more and more time working as Americans, we have less and less time to prepare good meals, and rely on easy to prepare meals. This might also be something for a marxists anthropologist, because people who are working more than one job have even less time, and again the lower class in America is forced into eating prepackaged meals that may not be good for them.

    • Ariane Robertson says:

      I think that would depend on what you mean by the rest of the world. To everyone locally in America buying locally grown foods and carrying them around in a reusable bag has become a very significant status symbol. Because these foods are often more expensive they are coveted amongst people seeking a way to display their wealth. As Katie says, to someone in another part of the world this would probably be just the average way to obtain food. This reminds me of Dr. McGranahan’s story about the soap she made as gifts for people in Nepal. She said they wanted only modern looking, industrial soap because that showed them to be affluent. As people have mentioned earlier, people in societies like that probably would prefer food to be processed and individually packaged to show how progressive and industrial they were.

      • Rebecca Oliver says:

        I think what you said about “buying locally grown foods and carrying them around in a reusable bag has become a very significant status symbol” is a very interesting point. This whole idea could easily be tied into the whole “go green” fad. While this trend is a good thing that encourages reusable energy and other tips to help preserve our world, the fact that it is a trend makes for a very interesting standpoint on agency. There are many people that I have come across who wear go green shirts and shop at whole foods, but when it really comes down to it, they don’t know anything about the environment or even seem to care. The trend is a good start, but only when people actually start caring by themselves, will there really be an environmental movement. I think eating locally in our society definitely ties into that concept.

    • Logan Lynch says:

      I think that a symbolic anthropologist would look at buying locally not as a symbol of socioeconomic status, but as a person interested in health, fitness, and body image. Many health and fitness advocates eat organically and strongly encourage others interested in their health and body image to do so as well. As far as the rest of the world, it would depend on the culture. Europeans for the most part all buy locally anyways, it’s something they would never think twice about, they don’t have giant supermarkets, but rather small markets for individual things, fruits, bread, meat, etc. The only processed foods really in other parts of the world are American fast food chains, such as McDonald’s, which, interestingly enough, are much healthier than their American counterparts.

      • celia anderson says:

        I agree with Logan in that the buying local symbolizes a person not just interested in a higher socioeconomic standpoint. I still think that there are many people who will shop at whole foods because of the status but that does not always concern local food. Many products sold at whole foods and other natural groceries are still products of a heavily farm factory and monocropped system. Therefore when you go away from that notion and just look at “local” you realize there is a different meaning. I think that when i buy local to me it means that i am supporting small businesses and this symbolizes my desire to help maintain the life of smaller businesses such as little farms around boulder.

  3. Kate Barry says:

    I completely agree with the fact that eating locally is better for the environment. The problem however for most people (at least poor college students) is that eating locally tends to be more expensive. Buying produce from stores like Whole Foods is much more expensive than shopping at Kings Soopers for the most part. It is frustrating to know that the carbon footprint of imported food is much greater. I would gladly choose locally grown food vs. imported food. If we could manage to bring down the prices, it would make a huge impact on the environment.

    • Veronica Vang says:

      I agree with what you are say. In addition, to what you have mentioned of poor college students not affording to buy locally grown food rather than imported food, other people from poor communities [low income families] suffer the same situation. Many of the low-income families can’t afford to buy local food because it is expensive so they rather go to Wal-Mart.

      Thus, I also agree with your comment that if the prices for local food decreased, more people would start buying locally grown food rather than imported because locally grown food seems healthier.

    • Erica Edelberg says:


      I think you make a great point about people of certain economic standings being unable to afford locally grown food. Considering that the “Green Movement” is pushing so much for everybody to help make our environment better, it is paradoxical that the majority of people can’t afford to help do so. Something will undoubtedly have to change socially in order to enact change environmentally.

      I think this also goes for the prices of healthy food. Americans are always so worried about the problem of obesity, yet the cheapest food is the most fattening, and all natural foods like those at Whole Foods are incredibly overpriced.

      Eating foods that are better for you and better for the environment should not be limited to those with an excess of money!

      • Hilary I. says:

        How much of Whole Foods’ product is grown locally? The majority of their items are packaged and not grown on farms (obviously some things can’t physically be grown on farms). But they are also a corporation. Their stores are not confined to one local area but are now nation-wide. And why is it that “organic” food is priced so high? You can buy a regular banana for $.19 at Target, or go to Whole Foods and buy an “organic” one for easily 3 or 4 times that amount. Sure, when it’s something that cheap it doesn’t matter, but it does add up and that goes for nearly everything in the store. There is a reason my family calls Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck,” because that’s what it takes to shop there.

      • Hilary I. says:

        How much of Whole Foods’ product is grown locally? The majority of their items are packaged and not grown on farms (obviously some things can’t physically be grown on farms). But they are also a corporation. Their stores are not confined to one local area but are now nation-wide. And why is it that “organic” food is priced so high? You can buy a regular banana for $.19 at Target, or go to Whole Foods and buy an “organic” one for easily 3 or 4 times that amount. The banana itself is just as healthy whether you buy it from Target or from Whole Foods. Sure, when it’s something that cheap it doesn’t matter, but it does add up and that goes for nearly everything in the store. There is a reason my family calls Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck,” because that’s what it takes to shop there.

    • celia anderson says:

      I too prefer to eat local when i can because i know how much it lowers my own environmental footprint. I have found though that there are ways in which to make the costs affordable. For example there are farm shares all around boulder where you can sign up to pay a flat rate ( around 25 dollars a week) for a certain amount of time and then every week you get the most local fresh produce available that you paid for to be apart of the program. You are offering support to small farms and the ability for them to get larger and more affordable over time. If that still seems unaffordable you can go in on a share with a few friends and will have enough fruits and veggies to last the week. here is one good website i found that are now signing people up for the 2011 year. http://www.angelfire.com/oh2/boulderbeltcsa/csa.html

    • Hannah Limov says:

      As both Veronica and Erica have been saying, it is fascinating how although buying and eating local is deemed more environmentally friendly, we as Americans find it the more expensive action to take. Although a seemingly simple choice (either buy local for more money, or buy non-local for less money), these two factors seem to come to head when looking at them in context of both Ecological and Marxist Anthropology. Such great points about how our eating habits in this country are a result of conflict between both our desire for greater social recognition of buying local and supporting the environment, as well as the need to buy cheap food due to social class. In spite of the potential market change of buying local, it is interesting to look at how globalized our food market has become. As Hilary said below, bananas at Target can cost $0.19, even in the off season. With this consistency in food access, it will be interesting to see which side eventually wins out, our desire for social gain and ecological safety, or our desire for cheaper, always accessible food? In a globalized market of today, this will be an interesting story to be played out.

  4. sean kelly says:

    When you state that locally grown food preserves the social structure, because it is expensive and some people can’t afford, creating economic separation . This may be true in places like Boulder were a CSA membership can be hundreds of dollars a month. However many places don’t have acres of open space and free land to grow food on. The majority of locally produced food around the country are now coming from urban farms. That are started or at less highly supported by poor or immigrant populations. Most if not all of the food grown is then returned to the locals. The increase of urban farms (and therefore localvorism), to me seems more of social transformation. Poor urban communities that are separated from supermarkets and rely on fast food joints, now have local options that don’t break the bank.

  5. Bryan Daino says:

    I think that you brought up some good key points about this topic. I support the local farming community because it invests money back into the community. When living on a budget whole foods is a lot more expensive then going to any of the other food places. Although the food at whole foods is a better product, people living on a budget are more concerned about feeding themselves over the quality. I also think that in large cities like NYC it would be hard to find locally produced food just because theirs not many places to produce it, so they would have to ship it in. What would a symbolic anthropologist say about this topic? Or even post structuralist anthropologist? In Europe are people buying locally produced food or shipping it in from other locations?

  6. Halle Bennett says:

    What’s very interesting about today’s global economy is that produce grown in other parts of the world is often cheaper than locally grown produce. For example, most of today’s onions are grown in China and, sadly, its cheaper to buy onions from China even including transportation costs. We need to make a conscious effort to eat more locally grown food which may cost more- but hasn’t been exposed to pollutants and actually tastes better.

    • Lauren says:

      Modernization comes in all forms. For the US this now consists of us not growing our own food but instead shipping in it from other countries so we can use the space for something else. This is also evidence of modernization since we get our food for cheaper prices than what we can grow in our own nation.

  7. Mackenzie Clarkson says:

    It’s also interesting to think about where food lies in overall spending trends. I have seen some statistics that report Americans now spend less than 10% of their yearly income on food, which indicates a significant decrease in its importance in the household. I’m a huge supporter of local foods, but I’m an even bigger advocate for its accessibility. Local foods and places like Whole Foods have a huge stigma for lower income families since they represent a certain snobbery that is associated with the upper class. I think what really needs to be changed is the value that we place on healthy foods and the importance of eating well, and the best place for this change is to begin is with the little ones who drive their parents’ spending.

  8. Irina Vagner says:

    I agree with everyone supporting local foods on how good it is for you,the environment and community. However, there is also a negative side to the problem, which also can be viewed by the Cultural Ecologists. It is nutrition.
    We are somewhat lucky living in somewhat warm CO, we can grow a whole variety of veggies and fruits, sometimes year around. But people living in cold places cannot rely on local food all of the time, unfortunately. Those areas are capable of growing certain fruits and veggies only during summer, and for the rest of the year they would have to be stored, and the majority of the harvest has to be consumed before they go bad. The foods enriched with most vitamins are fruits such as apricots, cantaloupes and avocados, which either do not grow in the cold environment, or cannot be kept year round. So, the local populations would not be getting the right nutrients, if consumed local products only. Thus, they would be malnourished, and would not have the right capabilities to live in extreme environments.
    It is all to say that besides high costs there are other drawbacks of eating locally..

    • Lila Zwonitzer says:

      I agree with this. I find that eating locally has an extremely positive impact on us from an economic and community standpoint, when you look at it from an agricultural standpoint, it is hard to achieve full nutrition from eating solely local foods. Different nutrients exist in different foods–not all of which can be achieved in one environment. The soil in different parts of this country produces different nutrients and is better for some crops rather than others. It is good to eat locally as much as you can–but even more important to make sure that you are gaining the proper nutrients from what you eat. If that means you have to branch outside the local sphere (which it will) that is just fine.

  9. Hilary I. says:

    I think that the focus on buying locally does not solely relate to food. There are many small businesses that are locally owned and are trying to send the same message as the local food vendors. The slogan “Buy Local” can apply to everything. it may also be an effort to get our economy in our local areas back on track (begin locally and then build up to fix the national economy is one way of thinking about helping the economy).

    You do make a good argument that buying locally grown foods is an attempt to help our environment. With all the buzz about global warming our society is trying to “go green” and one way of doing that is by supporting locally grown foods: many don’t use pesticides and they don’t have to ship products as far.

  10. KaliTown says:

    I think it is important to make a more clear distinction between locally grown items and those one might purchase at a Whole Foods. The most glaring difference is that Whole Foods is (although a pretty responsible one) a corporation; although they do sell locally produced goods and employees are often very knowledgeable and truthful about where all the products come from, not everything is local. The other difference is a bit more subtle and it involves trust. In discussing local foods the buzz word “organic” is often used because many closely associate it with the health of foods and absence of harmful toxins and pesticides used in commercial agriculture. How can we know that something is organic, truthfully. When we buy organic in a place like Whole Foods we are trusting a symbol, one we have been culturally conditioned to believe means “this food was grown without pesticides (its not really this definitive) and is healthy for you.” Ecolabeling is a political process used to increase the value not just of agricultural commodities, but of others as well. The problem is, that many of the institutions we trust to label things correctly (even the USDA) are also politically influenced and it is hard to know how effective and truthful their standards are because there is no regulatory mechanism to hold them accountable. This is why buying local food is different, instead of relying on a sticker with a symbol on it, the farmer that grew your food is handing it to you. This more intimate exchange places more value on trust and quality than the purchase of any organic produce in a store. You know where you got your food, you know who gave it to you, and that person can easily be directly held accountable for quality (which motivates them to maintain high standards preemptively).

  11. Megan Long says:

    I am a strong proponent in buying locally. My mom has instilled this into my belief system. I come from a small town in Northern California. We have an adorable downtown, but with a huge mall on the outskirts of our town and many strip malls being built up, the little boutiques downtown don’t have much of a chance. This is the same situation with food being sold in my town. Every weekend we have a farmers market where local farmers sell their products. Our town has been really great about shopping their rather than Safeway for one day! by supporting the local farmers you are not only supporting their individual farm, but your community in a whole. To preserve the family farms is to preserve what America was built on, and personally I think this is something we should hold on to. Especially when we see today how corporations have taken over America and are now spreading across the world. In the process of doing this they are wiping out families who have been farming on a certain area of land for generations. We have allowed corporations to take over every part of our daily lives, so we cannot let it take over every part of the agricultural business too. I really enjoyed this topic, great essay.

    • Hannah Limov says:

      Megan, I loved your response! I am from a small mining town in NorCal as well, and so am in relatively the same position where the big box supermarkets are taking over the localized economy and culture. I think this is why I found the essay so interesting, particularly from the two perspectives, Structural Functionalism and Ecological Anthropology. Not sure if your town is like mine, but in the recent years we have had a huge push back to a localized economy and culture, even aside from the just the food industry. It has been interesting that in spite of the national failing economy, smaller towns like ours are reacting by looking even more inward and relying even more on the local people. It was so great to read this essay, and then read your comment, and realize just how hard it may be for town and cities across the country to revert back to this kind of culture, even in the face of a more globalized world, both economically and culturally. I really enjoyed this essay, and it was great to see greater empowerment and recognition given to small-town cultures who strive to retain their slowly dying culture, starting with the food industry.

  12. Adam Sammakia says:

    The interesting aspect in all of this is the use of local foods as a status symbol. Eating locally can never become a widespread practice until it is not seen as something special but is seen as something that is necessary. Ways this could happen include the price of locally grown foods decreasing, the price of corporate foods increasing, or an impending environmental need to make a local shift. As long as eating locally remains something which means something outside of getting one’s food (like belonging to certain sub-cultures and statuses) it will never take over corporate food. The only way this can happen is it eating local becomes naturalized and becomes the normal thing to do because of the reasons I mentioned above.

    • Mackenzie Clarkson says:

      I completely agree with you on this. The only possible way that eating local will become more than just a passing fad, is if it becomes more accessible both socially and economically. As it stands, local food is nothing more than snobbery. A good example of local attempting a new audience is that show/project of Jamie Oliver’s. He is going to some of the most obese populations in the United States and trying to educate people about healthy food, starting with the kids and the school system. Though this show is still a little out of reach (since Jamie Oliver is British and all. And we all know how some Americans feel about those Brits…hah. Just kidding, but seriously), it is at least making an attempt to hit the mainstream. Obviously the project didn’t radically change anything, but it did make some progress and I think that is exactly how the transition must happen, slowly with effort.

  13. Kaitlyn Clure says:

    I fully believe and advocate that people should eat healthier, and try to eat organic. Also, I believe it is essential that people try not to eat pesticides and other growth hormones. You stated, “The negative effects of using pesticides and growth hormones were fairly self-evident; however, shipping foods across continents has its harmful effects too.” This subject had never really crossed my mind. I thought you brining up the point of how the food got where it does, like for example Whole Foods Market, or other places, is something that never crosses people’s minds. They just believe that food is at the grocery stores, not worrying about the damaging effects on the environment of how it got there. It really made me think about trying to use local farmers and growers rather than high end grocery stores like King Soopers or Safeway. Well done!

  14. Kylee Smith says:

    Your analysis of the role of socio-economics to be a determining factor for whether a person will buy local produce or not is very interesting. After watching the documentary Food Inc. I became very conscious of the food I was purchasing. I did not want to support the large corporate slaughterhouses or eat modified produce. The price difference is stressful! My suggestion for people who are limited by a food budget is to join a community garden, where seasonal produce always tastes the best!

    I also agree with your point that the local food movement will help with our society’s environmental issues. It will educate consumers about the plants and animals we live because of, and the environment they need to survive. By living off of nature we feel connected to it, and have a greater sense of urgency to protect and save it.

  15. Joseph DeMoor says:

    really enjoyed this paper.
    I thought of a few things, one is who is able to eat locally grown “farmers market” type food? Usually not inner city lower class people, this is a broad stereotype of course, but what I’m getting at is that its hard for a very large portion of the population of the US to eat locally grown foods. I think it would be great to revert to ancient forms of gathering food, where you only ate what was in season for a particular area.
    Sometimes I wonder about eating certain foods in certain places, for instance sea food in Colorado… how fresh can it really be? We must be aware of what past human groups have done, the mistakes they have made in regards to the environment (examople: the Maya), otherwise we are dooooomed.

  16. Michaela Clinton says:

    I think its interesting that it is viewed as a positive thing that we are reverting back to locally grown foods, which cost more and show social status, which is also something that is looked down upon. On one hand it is more beneficial to the environment to be buying locally and doing things to conserve energy, but most of the time, in order to do these things it is more expensive. Since most of the population is not of the upper tier financially, it is often too expensive for them to participate. It is interesting that these positive practices are beneficial towards the environment, but could also be seen as an agent of making the social stratificatoin in society even greater.

  17. Rachel Nussbaum says:

    I would be interested to examine local food in the United States with a Marxist approach. Since Marxist Anthropology is interested in class and materialism, it might see the purchasing of local food as a display of the upper class. Furthermore, local food is typically more expensive than food found at supermarkets, Walmart, etc. For this reason, people who are able to purchase pricey food from Whole Foods might be categorized as the wealthy upper class with dispensable money. Even though this purchasing upper class might have good intentions, it is definitely a way to display wealth as well as a successful lifestyle.

    • miarizzo says:


      I really like your response as I was thinking this same thing while reading the essay. In the documentary “Food Inc.” there is a family that talked about wanting to eat healthy and provide their children with healthy meals. I recall the mother saying that in addition to not having the money to buy fresh produce she wouldn’t have the time to prepare the food for her family either because of all of the events in their days that take up so much time.

  18. laine smith says:

    I think this topic is a great example of how society naturalizes certain aspects. The idea that we don’t know how, where or with what our food grows from is shocking. Its perfectly normal in our society to go to a restaurant, have a slab of beef put on your table and not wonder where it came from, how it was raised, treated and killed. Is it really even beef? Who knows. If the majority of people knew how the majority of food was grown and treated, I don’t think we would be living with the same conditions of food we do today. My point being, an average american doesn’t even question it. Its unconscious thought to bite into a hamburger and think “yum, cow is good” without really thinking about the process behind it.

  19. Alexis Bell says:

    I think this topic brings up an interesting question for cultural ecologists, and that is how people perceive the use of resources. I heard a report a year or so ago about roses in England. If you went to a flower shop to buy roses some had roses that had been grown in Africa and shipped to England, while others had locally grown roses. However, it actually took more energy to grow the local roses because of what it took to maintain a proper greenhouse to provide roses year round. The roses from Africa did have shipping energy costs associated with them, but that was actually lower.

    A cultural ecologist might want to look at the forces in society that cause us to want things year round. Most Americans have very little idea of seasonal fruits and vegetables, unless they are associated with a holiday.

    An applied anthropologist might look at this issue, and try to change our eating practices so that we adjust our diets according to the season, not simply eat food grown locally.

  20. Forrest Jensen says:

    Like many posts above, i believe you raise an interesting point about social hierarchies when it comes to purchasing locally. Although its nice that we can diminish our carbon footprint, support the local economy, and generally eat healthier by purchasing locally grown foods, the bottom line is it is often less convenient for most people. In my hometown which is considered to be very agriculturally productive it was much harder to get “locally” grown goods. Unless you lived in the rural outskirts of town buying locally grown foods meant driving an extra thirty minutes or waiting for farmers market every thursday. Sometimes i wondered how “local” locally grown food actually is. Perhaps applied anthropology could attempt to tackle the problem of geographical and financial convenience when it comes to locally grown food in towns like mine still living in the dark ages without Whole Foods Markets within miles of eachother. I also wonder whether this “concientious choice,” which really isn’t a choice at all for the low income population, is really an effort to promote environmentally friendly practices and higher quality foods. To me its seems equally plausible that what is in vogue, is that which is harder to obtain financially, just as a heavier figure is favored in countries where food is scarce. It is also very probable that environmentally friendly is in vogue, which makes me wonder if this is really a concern for the globe, rather than a concern for one’s identity. I am all for educating people on where their food comes from, but there is something to be said about social dynamics when item A from the other side of the world, is less expensive than item B from the other side of town.

  21. Paige Block says:

    The structural functionalist perspective is a great way to approach the local food industry. At this day and time, higher socioeconomic status and knowledge is prevalent in places that support such a progressive industry. While we have discovered the health benefits of eating healthily, consuming better food rid of pesticides and hormones, locally grown products are put on this pedestal, thus resulting in higher prices. It’s most unfortunate that because we lost sight of the organic approach to food a long time ago, reverting back to that all natural way is of much higher cost. Relating back to the balance of society through times of change, it may make economic sense to keep these foods at such high prices, but at what point do we make our health a priority? We have to find a place where those of lower socioeconomic status can have a chance at a healthier lifestyle, making locally grown foods a bigger industry in America.

  22. Hayden Griggs says:

    I think it would be interesting to analyze Whole Foods as a chain in terms of Marxist Anthropology. As a chain, Whole Foods caters to those “hippie” types, those who see a benefit in organic foods and farming. Yet the simple fact is that it is extremely expensive to shop at Whole Foods. In a world in which the healthiest food is most expensive, how does the average american hope to keep up? The recent “obesity epidemic” is evidence of this; it is quite simply easier and more cost effective to dine on fast food in America. Fast food chain outlets not only outnumber stores like Whole Foods, Sprouts, and The Farmers Marketplace immeasurably, but a precooked meal can be bought for next to nothing at a McDonalds or a Burger King. Further, fast food chains are so competative on this end that they are constantly reducing those already insanely low prices in an effort to gain an edge over competitors. A Marxist perspective, one which analyzes the social and economic stratification of societies, would see a continuity of practice in regard to Organic Vs. convenience diets. Money plays an enormous role in what people eat, and it is far easier to eat unhealthily than healthily in todays America. Should todays economy continue its downward spiral, theres a good chance that companies like Whole Foods will see a continuing reduction in its profits.

  23. miarizzo says:

    I really love this essay. You make a great point when you talk about the local food being a sign of high economic standing because that’s exactly what you see when you look at places that have that fresh produce available to them.

  24. QT says:

    Intuitively and as it was hundreds of years ago, people would associate being overweight to be a characteristic of the wealthy because they have the means to feed themselves whatever foods they want and crave. While the other half is scraping by perhaps on stale bread and watery soup. However, this is not the case in the U.S. The wealthy here are often slim and fit, while it is the poor that are overweight. The reason for this is because the poor are reduced to fast food and other unhealthy processed foods, while the affluent can afford to buy locally or go to places like Whole Foods , as mentioned in several others’ comments, to buy produce (and even better organic produce). I do agree with your interpretation of structural-functionalists’ and cultural ecologists’ view on the subject, but the recent local food craze has so many layers that would be very intriguing to explore with various other anthropological theories. One being in particular a Marxist Anthropologist’s view on the underlying class stratification involved with buying locally. As mentioned in a few other posts, the documentary, Food Inc., portrayed a family going to the supermarket and found the produce there beyond their financial capabilities. They wanted to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for their children’s diet, but it was so much cheaper and filling to buy a fast food meal versus a few peaches. Furthermore, would a Symbolic Anthropologist see going to Whole Foods as a symbol of environmental and dietary consciousness or could they see it as a public performance of affluence. Perhaps, it could be both. The rich or middle class are usually more educated and aware of what things benefit their health and have the resources to partake, so on a conscious level they will buy local foods because they realize it is healthier. The flaunting of their wealth though can perhaps be either conscious or unconscious. Either way, this is a trend that has a lot of underlying meanings in terms of class, environment, and culture.

    • Ben Perkins says:

      I agree that shopping at such markets such as Whole Foods is a status symbol. I find it very interesting that people still choose to shop at whole foods regardless if there are more local and cheaper options available. For example, Los Angeles has dozens of farmers markets happening every day of the week, yet people still choose to go for the more mainstream and sometimes more expensive markets, turning down their chance of buying food directly from the farmer. Could the cause of this be primarily for a the status symbol of shopping at whole foods?
      I would have liked a little more about what cultural ecologist would say about this topic. I believe a cultural ecologist would also look at the differences of local markets across the nation. California produces more than 200 crops and is the agricultural power house of the U.S. Farmers markets and local farming is a huge aspect of California’s culture, economy, and politics. This must be very different from a state like Minnesota where it gets extremely cold and only produces crops such as flour, sweet corn and green peas. Local foods are more abundant in California, year round, as a place like Minnesota only produces a number of crops for only a portion of the year.

  25. Amanda Kim says:

    More likely, the burgeoning local-food movement is making the whole “Whole Foods” situation at an uneasy level. After all, a multinational chain can’t promote a “buy local” philosophy without being self-defeating, meaning that just about any chain can slap the word “organic” or “locally grown” to its fresh products while displaying some way of promising of its promotion of its philosophy, such as displaying pictures of happy local-state farmers … not to sound mean.

    Of course, the whole social movement in regarding about food is based on social and environmental ethics. People buy organic food because they believe that it’s better for them and maybe a small percentage of those people are doing it for environmental causes. All things being equal, food grown without pesticides is healthier for you. But American populism chafes against the notion of good health for those who can afford it. Have you ever compared the prices to local and/or organic goods to non-local and/or non-organic foods? Would you rather purchase a pound of oranges for $1.28 or the labeled locally/organically grown oranges for $3.78? I may be exaggerating on the price but I’m sure you get the idea that if buying food grown without chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers has been elevated to a status-conscious lifestyle choice, it could also be transformed into a bare-bones commodity purchase. Those who can afford it can afford and those who can’t afford it, well … they can’t afford these so called “local and organic foods” that’s supposedly healthy for them, according to what each individual in society has claimed.

    This essay really makes you think … GREAT JOB!!

  26. Dana Melby says:

    One topic that is continually coming up in this discussion is how expensive locally grown produce is. I come to from an area where agriculture is a major part of economic viability and when you by produce in season this is not a problem. I think the real problem with produce prices is that people want strawberries in January and so whether or not they are organically grown is negated when they have to be shipped from somewhere far beyond what is considered local. Real change won’t come about until people accept that they can’t claim environmental friendliness just because their blood oranges are organically grown and bought at Whole Foods. That means nothing when they are shipped thousands of miles. However despite my own qualms I thought this was a well constructed essay that touches on issues that we all face when deciding what is best to buy.

  27. kelcy schamehorn says:

    this is a very good point of view to bring up because i too also have a hard time with people buying all their groceries from places like Whole Foods saying that they are being environmentally friendly and supporting local farmers. In reality, as you said, Whole Foods still supplies produce from all over, and not in all cases are you getting what you pay for.
    Another thing about the local food concept is that people have these perceptions that paying more for your food, especially when it has “all natural” or “organic” on the label, that they are eating healthier foods and again, supporting local farmers. These are also false ideologies about organically grown produce because the government has put no regulations on what can be considered organic or all natural. for all we know, we could be paying more for something that is even less healthy for our bodies than the regular priced items. It is a sad concept to see that only higher status and wealthy families are able to afford local farmed goods, because if we were all able to help out and virtually end all market based grocery stores, than our overall health, well-being, and lives would be much better.

  28. sam johnson says:

    Great essay! Ironically, a cultural ecologist would argue that the use of pesticides and herbicides serves the same cultural purpose as the ‘localvore’ movement. Both are responses to our interactions with the surrounding environment. Also, a quick side note, “The negative effects of using pesticides and growth hormones were fairly self-evident…” I would say that it took tremendous effort, advocacy and social action to convince the public that these things were harmful, as exemplified by this video of public DDT application: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQzx2ZyaSbw

    People like Rachel Carson played a large role in that paradigm shift during the 60s and 70s, this shows that it takes agentive action and advocacy to shift cultural practices.

    • Casey Shea says:

      In response to your 2nd comment, about the “tremendous effort, advocacy […] to convince the public that these things were harmful”; that’s a very good point to consider. Something that many students forget is that we live in a very privileged sub-set of society. It’s easy to blame the lack of knowledge about health practices on the past, or on people in “3rd world” countries. We forget that there are plenty of people in our own backyard (well, maybe not so much in Boulder…), or at least in the US, that don’t know how harmful some of the foods they eat are. There are massive ad campaigns put out by fast-food companies to push upon people the notion that the foods they sell are “healthy” and well-balanced. Look no further than Taco Bell’s “Drive-Thru Diet” menu.

      Besides, good cheese come from happy cows.
      And happy cows don’t come from feed lots.

  29. storegrove says:

    I wonder what an anthopologist of modernity would have to say about this topic.
    In this current age of health awareness and increasing social stigmas against all things unhealthy, are we as Americans equating these trends to inevitable progression or actively striving to make it seem as so? Or is this recent upstart of health fanaticism influenced by other factors besides cultural standards alone?

  30. Tim Baker says:

    This is a really interesting essay that makes many good points and has a topic that is very pertinent to Boulder. The increase in people buying locally grown food over the past few decades has lead to many significant changes in society. I like that you used the cultural ecology theoretical approach to explain the local food movement. It really applies to this topic. You also did a good job explaining it through structural functionalism by mentioning all of the environmental effects that are caused by agriculture in general and how people are trying to minimize these effects. Overall, I thought that this was a very good essay.

  31. Zoe Anderson Edenfield says:

    Kiernan, I like what you portrayed in this essay, especially about the social hierarchies relating to it. I think something that could develop out of these ideas could take a form using Symbolic/Interpretive Anthropology. For example, what exactly does buying local foods represent in society? You spoke of how higher classes were really the only ones who could afford to do this, but is it eating locally grown foods only economically represented on the social hierarchy? Would society interpret buyers of locally grown produce as perhaps more intellectual, “classier” maybe? Are people who buy local foods resented by the average American because they perhaps seem to think more of themselves by buying food that could be considered “health conscious”? I feel like all of these questions would have interesting answers that perhaps a symbolic anthropologist could reveal.

    • Tess Porter says:

      I feel like eating locally could be a symbol of modernity. The “green movement” is promoted by TV and News networks, as well as Politicians — sources which report the new and modern to people. Based on new findings about chemicals in food and the negative effects of pollution on our planet, they incite people to be smart, make a change, and “go green”. Choosing to eat locally shows a connection to a modern movement that important sources in our society support.

  32. Adam Sammakia says:

    I think it is important to recognize the ways in which meaning is ascribed to certain items across cultures which is the most interesting aspect that this paper brought up. V villages and places of the world that have only gotten access to appliances like the microwave recently likely view them much differently than people do in cultures (like cultures in the U.S.)

    In cultures that have only recently begun to have things like the microwave it is much more likely that it would be seen as a status symbol. I suspect that in places of the world such as this, when people are entertaining guests that are trying to impress they might serve something cooked in the microwave in order to show off that they have one.

    In many cultures in the U.S. however, owning and using a microwave seems to have become a source of shame. I can remember one instance in which my mother explained to some people who were at her house that she only used the microwave to heat soups soups that she cooked. She had to legitimize the fact that she owned a microwave by mentioning that she only uses it with food that she herself cooks. She would definitely never serve guests food cooked in the microwave for fear that she appear lazy and tasteless.

    It is hard to understand how something like owning and using microwave can represent such different things in different cultural contexts. I think that best way to explain this example of cultural variation is that when something is rare, people tend to feel that there respect and power come along with having it. When something is commonplace and there are other less common alternatives to the function that it provides, it requires explaining. My mother might be embarrassed of her microwave the same was a mother in rural Southeast Asia might be embarrassed of an old wood stove.

  33. Kathryn Pitman says:

    I certainly had the same reaction as Kelcy and Dana to this topic. The whole idea of buying local, I think, can be separated from “eating organic.” Buying local from farmers markets or co-ops, such as the one on the Hill, does not mean spending an entire paycheck on a week’s worth of food. However, buying organic foods from mega corporations, such as Whole Foods, often times can break the bank. The ideology behind the consumerism of each is similar, in my opinion, and both vendors symbolize much the same thing for the consumer. Whether or not the commodity is local or imported by a corporation, the cultural capital being gained by both the locavore and the Whole Foodie is comparable under the health/environmentally conscious trend that is on the rise in the US.

  34. Molly Small says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article but whenever I hear about a store like whole foods or buying from a locals farmers market I have to stop and think. For me, it is a little upsetting that only those will a decent income can afford to partake in supporting the local farmers and the local economy. If you are working a minimum wage job and paying your own bills it is nearly impossible to buy such commodities. You also talked slightly about the education standpoint. I think that elementary schools should really talk more about local farming and local industry in general. You learn the big scope your whole life but I think buying local foods can go hand in hand with a sense of pride for your hometown. In an ideal world everyone would be able to afford such nice foods and thus be able to help out their neighbors. The question now is how do we obtain said ideal world?

  35. Alexandra says:

    I thought that this was a very intriguing essay. One comment that particularly caught my eye was when Kiernan made the observation that, “Higher prices make local food a commodity that is not accessible to people of lower economic classes; therefore, eating locally is symbolic of high economic standing in America.” After considering this statement, I would have to agree that this is a true statement. Personally whenever I have been in an organic food market, the prices are significantly higher than those prices in a regular supermarket. I understand that the prices are higher because the food products are healthier and grown and handled a different way. In realizing this I thought that it was great to relate this topic to cultural ecology. Organic food absolutely has a lot to do with the world around us and environment we live in. If the environment we live in is polluted and not capable of growing organic foods this would make the choice we have to buy organic foods no longer available. It takes an entire societies effort to make the production of these foods possible!

  36. Joe Zimmermann says:

    If this essay interests people as much as it does me, I highly recommend that you go read Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. One of his tenets in that book is that organic foods are growing into an industrial format (monocropping, long transportation times). In light of these facts do you think it would be better to eat foods that are locally grown and non organic or organic and industrially produced?

  37. Brenna Hokanson says:

    I think it would be interesting to explore this topic from the perspective of a cultural Marxist. I think that there is a substantial difference in the social status of the clientele of Whole Foods compared to, say, King Soopers. This social hierarchy is primarily a function of an individual’s ability to pay substantially more for “better” food (better for your body, but more pertinently better for your social ranking).

  38. Brian Ruddle says:

    I like how you mentioned the negative ecological concequences that our plannet faces from transporting food all over the world. however, I feel that however strong the sustainablilty movement here in the U.S is, globilization will demend the return to large farms, with little regard for locality. As the world population is increasing to it’s carring capacity, there will no doubt be more cases of sivere hunger in underdeveloped places such as Africa, and some parts of Asia. It would be very interesting to see how an anthropologest of globilization would view the return to local food sources in the U.S, in how it affects humanitarian efforts across the world.

  39. Katie Carbaugh says:

    “…the local food movement can be seen as a fundamental part of the sustainability movement that emerged in the 1970s”

    The above quote made me wonder about which practices will become fundamental in as the future approaches and how we can smoothly make a cultural shift as taking care of the earth (and therefore locality) becomes increasingly important. Though I agree that the local food movement really took off in the 1970’s, it’s interesting to brainstorm what will have to happen to our culture very soon. For example, 30 or 40 years from now, the earth will most likely been in greater danger. Therefore, according to the theories of the structural-functionalists, environmentally-friendly practices could be of primary importance to cultures around the world. New mediums of obtaining local fare such as restaurants, grocery stores, and distributors means that more people in a society will have careers involving obtaining food in a healthy, careful way. I also believe it likely that society will place immense pressure on people to be environmentally friendly. A person’s moral compass will be judged by how conscientious they are of food purchased. If one has a job in the local food industry, they could be seen as being “above” an individual who does not in the social order. However, by adopting these practices, it may help make local food a priority to all people. I would truly be interested in hearing predictions of how our world will change on a cultural level from a structural-functionalist anthropologist who studies how a culture obtains food and what the shift in societal values is when subsistence practices must undergo change. I think that having background knowledge of how people’s lives are impacted from significant changes in the food system and how these changes enforce the continuation of appropriate practices to obtain food will allow for an appropriate prediction of the future. Food is an absolute necessity. We must always obtain it. It is unenviable that the environment is undergoing significant changes. Therefore, we can use anthropological knowledge to prepare for the unexpected cultural shifts which will occur during periods of environmental catastrophe and understand how we might already begin to make the necessary cultural changes. If we use history and anthropological data to begin the process of cultural change now by focusing even more on the importance of local food, our views on how to define truly local, how we can make sure to obtain locally grown foods, and how our livelihoods fit into the picture will undergo a transformation for the better and make the impending, global-wide changes easier to adapt to and understand.

  40. Brian Cortese says:

    Another important point is that organic food is healthier. With obesity on the rise faster than ever, I think people are eating more organic food for this reason. While people care about the environment, I think this comes second to their health. Organic food is healthier and has less chemicals and artificial ingredients. This alone makes it worth checking out.

  41. Pingback: Using Social Media to Teach Theory to Undergraduate Students | Savage Minds

  42. Jon Mastman says:

    Very good points were made in this essay! Though it is correct that these stores promoting local products are new and they may be reminiscent of yester-year when Grandma and Grandpa would buy their produce at the market in town, it is new in the fact that the prices of local and organic items are often more expensive. The end product might be healthier but at the end of the day, Americans want slim waistlines, not wallets.

Comments are closed.