The change in the way that we eat happened gradually; the change from local farms to factory farms didn’t happen overnight. Today, most of our food comes from very far away.
For a lot of us, we simply kept on buying and consuming food from local stores, irrespective of the source of the food. A small handful of people, however, have been very vocal about this change and have worked hard to keep food production local. These voices, coupled with the advances in social media outlets, began to shape the conversation and create a community.
The concept of producing and procuring food at the local level goes back to the Localism Movement. Those who subscribed to it wanted to keep production from becoming centralized, with the goal being that each local unit can benefit from both the production and consumption of a product or service. Community gardens, farmer’s markets, and farm shares are all examples of localism’s influence on food production.
Orly Munzing founded Strolling of the Heifers in an effort to bring attention to the plight of local Vermont farmers. The event not only brought attention to the local economy, but grew in magnitude – in 2002 Strolling of the Heifers was a one day event, and by 2013 it became a week long affair and was rated one of 2013’s top 10 summer festivals. Orly’s dedication escalated local food from a niche movement to something that is well within the public conscience.
Similiary, Carlo Petrini saw a local problem that he wanted to bring to worldwide attention; a new McDonald’s being built just outside the Spanish Steps in Rome spurred Petrini to start the Slow Food Movement. Slow Food is a movement which looks to keep the characteristics of food, such as production, consumption, flavor, and varieties, local and decentralized. Slow food has grown a simple manifesto in 1986 to having 100,000 members across 15 countries in 2011. Furthermore, the movement has spawned the opening of a university of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, which confers undergraduate and graduate degrees in food science. The success of the university has spawned similar programs in the US.
Today, social media allows local communities to communicate and organize. Before social media, producers such as farmers and activists had to actively push their message. Now social media now allows consumers to speak directly to the producers to create a pull effect. More and more consumers are looking for fresh and local options, and farmers are responding. As such, food localism is becoming both accepted and mainstream.