?Locavore? has just been chosen word of the year by the respected Oxford English Dictionary; the media celebrate hometown farmers; Foodland Ontario runs splashy ads urging us to take the road less travelled.
It looks like we're all one big happy local family.
When does the push-back come? How will the empire strike back?
Be patient. Silence is to be expected when conventional trends depend on forces that run silent, run deep. The food system is dominated by some of the most powerful corporations in the world. They can wait out fads, counting on gigantic infrastructure to force upstarts to their knees.
The Ontario government can blow millions of taxpayer dollars on Foodland Ontario ads, but that flash in the pan is only about fruits and veggies, a small portion of food expenditures. Meanwhile, the same taxpayer unknowingly funds the Ontario Food Terminal, which doesn't identify, let alone spotlight or feature, Ontario-grown fruits and veg.
Why should Big Food swat at a little political showmanship for the home team, only to get dragged into a local food fight that draws attention to the billions in government subsidies that support a globalized food system?
So it's refreshing that the Guelph-based George Morris Centre, which calls itself "an independent agri-food think tank" is so upfront about trying to take a bite out of local.
Late last month, the centre ran a think piece: Local Food - The Untold Story. There is no untold juicy scandal or insider gossip, it turns out. The only untold story is author Martin Gooch's view that local will never get out of the special-interest section of the supermarket reserved for cranberries before Christmas and fiddleheads in spring.
Local is no alternative for farmers, who must continue to rely on exporting, says Gooch.
Here we have it - a preview of strategies that will be used to marginalize what many are calling the local food "movement," the word for a force that goes beyond surface market trends and aims at thoroughgoing social and environmental change.
Gooch refers to local food as a "theology" and suggests that its advocates are "false prophets who attempt to say that local food is a panacea for the industry's ills."
Universities and other institutions boosting local food are dissed as airheads. "Take consumers out of their home environment, place them in a group of passionately ideological peers, or in an environment where experience is as or more important than the food itself, and their reasons for choosing one food over another change," he claims. Down, pit bull, down.
But his core argument sheds light on how new trends and movements get sidelined.
Food from a small local family farm may seem charming in a cafeteria, Gooch concedes, but it doesn't stand a chance against the 800-pound supermarket Godzilla controlled by three chains that account for 78 per cent of food sales in Canada.
There, price and continuous supply of standardized goods are the law. In the more advanced British retail market, supermarkets feature local food as a "high-profile destination category," a lure for shoppers with expensive tastes.
But even the best of the Brit supermarkets can't cope with the complexity of hundreds and thousands of local farm suppliers, he says. The one-person order desk is pivotal to the streamlined efficiency of bulk-priced retail.
It's a chilling reminder that supermarkets displaced real farmers' markets, that they operate on entirely different efficiencies and that they constitute the major structural barrier to local food trends. The residents' choice is never likely to be the President's Choice.
Gooch's article, shaped by agribusiness think-tanking, makes no reference to the major efficiencies of local food, such as the multiplier effect of rounded communities. That's a public efficiency, not a private one, and so is of little interest to Gooch.
Gooch inadvertently identifies another possible public benefit when he puts down the localista claim that local food is more enviro since it travels fewer miles and uses less fuel. He points out, correctly in my view, that bigger energy savings are available through sustainable farming methods - grass-fed rather than grain-fed livestock, for example - than through reductions of "food mileage" in and of itself.
That reality points toward the need to couple local with sustainable when public policy is being discussed, a point that Gooch stays far away from.
For Gooch, the function of local is as a "nice add-on" for special meals. A little maple ice cream after your Mennonite turkey? Local suppliers should get hip to "detailed insights into the meal occasion that best suit the specific products, and adapt their marketing plans accordingly," he writes.
In that way, local becomes a "nice to have" that can "capture some added value when the opportunity allows."
Of course, what gets captured in that nice-to-have scenario is a reorientation of the local food movement away from robust local economies.
A case study of how this gets done can be seen in the organic segment of today's food industry, which is less and less about counterculture and alternatives.
The same could happen to local.