Sunday 20 April 2008

Is the Local movement simply a new version of Protectionism?

Image from The Food Project:

I have been thinking about local food a fair bit recently. And it is very hard to argue with the fact that local food is better. Oliver Rowe's food and restaurant demonstrate this brilliantly.

Riverford Farm also does a great job of showcasing the idea of local food being superior to food from far away. Not long ago it was fashionable to serve air freighted peas from Kenya out of season. Now this would result in people making their excuses and leaving. Or worse still calling Greenpeace to dob you in for crimes against the environment.

Now I love local food. The idea of terrior is fascinating. And has been around since the first Frenchman ate a decent mouthful of food. It gives food a story. It gives you a physical connection to where your grub has come from. Quite often it means you personally know the producer or the trader involved. It also means you support the local economy/community.

But when you look at it this way, isn't the local food movement simply a locally sourced, sugar coated version of protectionism?

Image from

Championing local food is a clever way of getting around the thorny and politically charged issue of protectionism. In a climate where we have a free trade agreement in the EU it helps to look after our own by raising demand for local food rather than limiting supply from abroad. Clever, touchy feely stuff. It also stops the domino effect and protectionsit arms race that would kick off where we able to slap tarifs and duty charges on foreign food.

We've all grown acustomed to being able to buy fancy foreign food at Tesco and would find it very strange if we were only allowed to buy local food. It would limit our choice and we would all complain bitterly. So the emotional route in via touchy feely protectionism is far more powerful.

It's an interesting subject that I am just beginning to get my head around. If I was doing a PHD I'd love to explore this area in more depth. I like the idea of flipping the idea over and getting into it from the other direction - if that doesn't sound too dodgy.

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