Alternative food movements are organisations and practices aiming to create a more personal connection to food and its production by creating more environmentally and economically sustainable systems in the modern world. According to Professors Liz Grauerholz and Nicole Owens of UCF, movements surrounding food consumption and production have grown primarily as a response to food production systems that have become increasingly industrialized and standardized since the mid-twentieth century. When food production shifted from mostly small, family owned operations to large, corporatized farm factories motivated by proﬁt, concerns were naturally raised about health, animal rights and the environmental impact. It is around these issues that alternative food movements have emerged over the past several decades.
A Short History
One can argue that the first and most widely practised food movements are the various religious beliefs surrounding food consumption. For instance, the dietary laws of Halal in Islam and Kashrut in Judaism restrict the foods that the faithful are permitted to eat and specify how food must be prepared. The oldest known instances of vegetarianism were practised in ancient India, especially among the Hindus and Jains. Later records show that small population groups in ancient Greece and Egypt adopted some dietary habits similar to vegetarianism. Buddhist sources indicate the establishment of the principle of nonviolence toward animals as a religious rule as early as the 6th century BC. In Europe, vegetarianism emerged as a concept from ethical philosophical motivations during the early modern period and gained traction in the early 19th century. The Vegetarian Society of the UK was established in 1847.Today, individuals who transition to join the numerous food production and food consumption movements that have emerged in recent years usually cite concerns about health, animal welfare, and the environment. Now, let’s begin to take a short look at a few of these food movements, starting with the Local Food movement, which started as a reaction to a shift in the federal law in the 70’s.
The Local Food Movement
Although what eating locally means differs depending on the country you’re in, most scientists accept that local food means “minimizing the distance between production and consumption, especially in relation to the modern mainstream food system”.The global food economy usually makes products travel very long distances before reaching the consumer. As an alternative, within the frame of the local food movement, products by local and small scale operations are sold directly to retail customers outside of the mass distribution system. The Local Food movement prefers local, seasonal products over exotic and durable foods. The aim of the Local Food movement is to connect producers and consumers located in the same region, to create and sustain more self-reliant food networks; support local economies and to improve the environment. This movement has created and nurtured new connections between producers and consumers, between the people and the land. It is safe to say it is playing a big role in reshaping the social, economic, and physical landscapes of many communities in Europe and in the USA.
There are two main types of local food distribution: direct-to-consumer (the farmer sells directly to the consumer) and retail/foodservice (the farmer sells to restaurants, shops, schools, organizations etc).The Local Food movement has its origins mostly in environmental concerns. Local food initiatives often support sustainable and organic farming practices. While the beginnings of the movement can be traced to the desire to eat healthier and to prevent farmland loss, the majority of local buyers today list their reasons as freshness, the wish to know where the products came from, and supporting the local economy.Increased freshness, taste, variety, and nutritional value are just some of the benefits from buying your food locally. Farmers who sell to the customer directly keep a greater part of the value-added costs typically charged by large companies. Buying directly from food producers at farmers’ markets or online, helps preserve small businesses and sustain rural communities. Additionally, in order to cut down on fossil fuel consumption, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, it is important to reduce the distance our food travels. Supporting local food helps preserve bio-diversity, jobs, and food security in the event of natural disasters or conflict. The food is more nutritious, it is fresher and less processed, the less it has travelled. This means that food safety risks are also reduced. Buying directly from local producers, whether it be online or at markets, gives the customer a stronger sense of trust and community. Asking questions about pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, hormones and animal treatment increases the likelihood of making healthier food choices and leads to better production practices in general.It is important not to confuse locality foods and local food. As Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist Roslynn Brain McCann points out, locality foods have a brand associated with one locality or region but often source out nationally and/or internationally. Always look at product origin first if you are hoping to support local business.