We all know about carnivores and herbivores. Now there are ‘Locavores’ – people who choose to eat locally produced food. Match the headings to the paragraphs!
Since Oxford University Press proclaimed “locavore” the 2007 word of the year, the local food scene has exploded in communities around the world. But while it may be tempting to stereotype locavores as wealthy hippie liberals, research shows that locavorism is a consumer ideology with beliefs that cut across class, politics, age and gender.
Not only do people like to eat local, locavorism comes complete with a set of strongly held core values and beliefs. Notably, locavores support local food communities wherever they happen to be. A locavore on vacation in Orlando might venture out to taste one of Florida’s many locally grown tropical fruits such as papaya. And somewhat unexpectedly, research shows that locavores do not care whether local foods are sold by large corporate retailers, so long as the “local” claim can be trusted. It’s the localness that matters most. Locavores want all of their food, even boring granola, to be locally sourced. And these aren’t just gourmet foodies with sophisticated palettes.
Given the importance of “local” to locavores, what it means matters. But the definition can vary. Some might think of local foods as those produced within one’s city, state or region. Others might focus solely on the physical distance between production and consumption. Both perspectives are valid and are manifest in the food industry. For the purposes of farm lending programs, the federal government defines a food as local if it hasn’t moved more than 400 miles from where it was grown. Yet most consumers tend to think of local as within 100 miles or their state’s borders.
Overall, research has shown that locavorism isn’t a simple preference. It is a strongly held ideology, akin to politics or religion, that predicts what people eat, where they shop and how they respond to food advertisements. Locavorism can’t be explained by simple demographic variables. To test this, researchers aggregated the data from six studies into one dataset comprising 1,261 consumers and examined correlations between locavorism and the demographic measures they collected, such as age, gender and political orientation. They found only weak correlations. In other words, locavores are their own tribe.
Most food in America is still grown by a handful of very large farms. In fact, 4 percent of farms account for two-thirds of all food sales. Yet there is growing interest in the small-scale, niche farms that sell direct-to-consumer, a sector whose sales grew 61 percent from 2008 to 2012. Around the same time, the number of farmers’ markets jumped from under 3,000 in 2006 to more than 8,000 in 2014. Even more impressive, from 2007 to 2014 there was a 430 percent increase in “farm to school” programs that aim to educate kids about food nutrition and serve locally sourced food in kids’ meals. Put another way, the U.S. may be raising a nation of locavores who will continue to reshape how Americans shop for and eat food.