Meet the foodies who are changing the way Americans eat
Posted by admin on 11th July 2018
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As residents of idyllic Eugene, Oregon, with its culture of local food, we might be forgiven for assuming all Americans are “locavores.”

The rich volcanic and glacial soil deposits of the Willamette Valley are irrigated by a splendid river system and tilled by farmers who raise everything from goats to hazelnuts. These farmers make Oregon the seventh-best state in terms of the availability and consumption of local foods, well ahead of neighboring California and Washington. The people of Oregon have access to an exceptional variety of local foods and take great pride in eating local, to the point that the comedy series “Portlandia” made a sketch about it.

And Oregonians aren’t alone. Since Oxford University Press proclaimed “locavore” the 2007 word of the year, the local food scene has exploded in communities around the world. Chefs cited locally sourced foods as the top menu trend of 2016, and local food sales are expected to nearly double from 2014 to 2019, topping US$20 billion.

While it may be tempting to stereotype locavores as wealthy hippie liberals, as consumer researchers we wanted to dig deeper. Our research shows that locavorism is a consumer ideology with beliefs that cut across class, politics, age and gender.

The Willamette Valley’s rich soil deposits have helped foster a deep culture of local foods.
AP Photo/Joseph B. Frazier

Taste vs. belief

These aren’t just people who 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, our 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.

Chefs like Gerard Nebesky, shown here at the Eat Real Festival in Oakland, California, increasingly emphasize local products in their cooking.
AP Photo/Tony Avelar

The meaning of ‘local’

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. The variety of definitions may be why characters in a “Portlandia” sketch opted not to take a restaurant’s word and instead visited a farm to verify a chicken’s localness.

In fact, deception can be an unfortunate issue within the sector, with some sellers outright lying about the origin of their foods. Yet because locavores are ideologically driven, they tend to root out the hucksters. Locavores’ increased tendency to call a farm to express gratitude for ingredients in a restaurant meal makes deceit difficult to sustain.

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