When Local Makes it Big
So I like to talk about local foods on this blog. When I use the term, I am thinking in my head of something like… oh, I don’t know, food that comes from Kent County. Maybe if I were to stretch it I would include food from the Western Shore- maybe all the way to Virginia, maybe as far as PA, but that’s really pushing it. I can get most of what I need from a pretty compact area.
But now the Frito-Lay company is marketing their foods as local. That’s right. The massive national conglomerate that brings you junk food galore is claiming that their potato chips are local- at least in the areas that are more or less adjacent to their processing plants.
Back up for just a second. My brain quite literally balks at this concept. Frito-Lay- a division of Pepsi, which is actually an international corporation- is making claims of locality?
It makes a certain amount of sense. People want to know where their food is from, especially as issues of food security become more prevalent in the news, as well as more and more press in regards to the numerous benefits of the local food movement. Big companies are going to want a piece of the market, just as they did with the organic label (as the article points out). But as a result, the organic label has been worn so thin it means next to nothing. Almost anything can be labeled organic. And now, it seems, the same will be done with local- a term that seems so straight-forward it’s hard to imagine any way in which it could be co-opted.
But let’s think this through. If, in some places in the country, Frito-Lay buys potatoes from farmer’s within a relatively local radius of their plant, this is at least preventing them buying potatoes from the other side of the country, shipping them to their plant, and then distributing them nationally. This article says nothing about whether the chips from a certain plant are also distributed locally, but regardless, matching local farmers to local plants is a step in the right direction, right?
Yes, it’s better than shipping potatoes back and forth all over the country, as frequently occurs with other products. Frito-Lay has also banned the use of genetically engineered corn and potatoes in their products, and that may be an even greater step toward sustainability. But can their products be rightfully called local? There are a few missing pieces- whether the chips are distributed locally, for example, or if the chips from one particular plant are still sent all over the country, whether the ads are only displayed locally or not. Not to mention the simple fact that Frito-Lay has plants all over the country, and most of them only produce a few of their many products, which then have to be shipped over terribly long distances…
It makes you wonder, certainly. As the article eventually articulates, local, in the minds of most people, not only means local (regional), but small-scale. “Local” seems to imply some sort of added value aside from the mere distance between the buyer and the grower. However, this isn’t inherent to the term, and I think when we’re talking about what we value in our food it’s important to be as specific as possible, and not presume that when we say “local” or even “organic” anyone will have the faintest idea what we mean. I know for me, the best part of buying local (from within Kent County) is that I’ve met the farmers face to face, and usually have a nice little chat every Saturday morning at the market. I doubt I could do this with any of the farmers who grow for Frito-Lay.
As a point of interest, according to wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frito_Lay) the Frito company started in 1932 producing 10 lbs of chips per day, in the owner’s kitchen. I’m going to take a stab and guess that these were, in fact, locally distributed.
22 June 2009
When Local Makes it Big