Locavorism: Where Local Meets National
Green Consumption Practices and Locavorism
In 2007, the Oxford American Dictionary named “Locavore“ its word of the year, two years after the term had first been coined in San Francisco, California (Cohen, 288). Locavore is applied to individuals who partake in “Green Consumption” by making a deliberate choice to exclusively or primarily purchase and consume food grown or raised locally, generally within a 100-mile radius. “Locavorism” or “The Local Food Movement,” while initially found in San Francisco, has since become popularized nationally, particularly in states like New York, California, Oregon and Washington, as restaurants and individual consumers strive to live by the Locavore ethos.
Locavorism is one of many forms of Green Consumption as promoted by “The Green Movement” that has begun to circulate the nation. The term Green Consumption can be understood as a practice through which individuals feel both responsible for and empowered to deal with risks to both their own personal health and that of the environment (Connoly and Prothero, 141). Participants of Green Consumerism feel they have not only the ability, but also the obligation to act to address local, national and global environmental issues (Connoly and Prothero, 141). Through Green Consumption individuals are encouraged to educate themselves about the need for a symbiotic relationship between society and the environment and to share this knowledge with their community (Johnston, pg. 294). The aim is for individuals to better address the social and ecological problems that our society faces today as a result of the corrupt and damaged food industry. Green Consumption is a form of “Ethical Consumption” that, “is not a simple set of rules for eating, but can be understood as an overarching cultural discourse with numerous instantiations – organic, fair trade, cruelty-free, sustainable, local and so forth – as well as an organizing logic linking individual commodity consumption with social and environmental transformation” (Johnston, pg. 295). While Locavorism is one subset of Green Consumption it actually incorporates many different facets of ethical consumption. For instance, when shopping locally you are purchasing produce from small local merchants at neighborhood farmers markets. Therefore these farmers most likely a) do not use toxic pesticides, b) sell seasonal product, c) most likely use perennial and sustainable farming techniques and d) do not contribute to pollution by traveling long distances.
The question of whether Locavorism can be designated a subculture or social movement is key as it contains qualities of both. T.V. Reed defines a Social Movement in The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle as “the unauthorized, unofficial, anti-institutional, collective action of ordinary citizens trying to change their world…” (Reed, xii) which is very much in line with Locavorism. However, Reed also emphasizes the relationship between movements and culture and I believe his notion of “movements in culture” and “movement cultures” (Reed, 296) are particularly applicable to Locavorism and its cultural definition in society. Movements in Culture is described as “the processes by which movements emerge from, and return to, broad culture contexts” (Reed, 296). Movement Cultures is the “general meaning making patterns that develop among participants in the subculture formed by a given movement” (Reed, 296). These specifications are directly applicable to Locavorism and the Green Movement as local communities have formed out of individual shared desires to create change for the health of individuals and the environment. In fact, the diffusion of the Locavore ethos back into mainstream culture can be argued as a central goal of the Local Food Movement. However, one problem that has arisen along with this diffusion is that much of the original philosophy becomes lost in the face of corporate desire for profit in this new “niche market.”
Popular 2013 Natural and Organic Brands
While initially a practice that resided firmly outside of mainstream culture Locavorism and Green Consumption as a general practice has since been re-appropriated for hegemonic purposes that are sometimes inconsistent with the central ethos of the movements. While there is a strong foundation of ethical consumption discourse created by the green movement itself there are also “powerful economic actors [who] are well positioned to dominate public discourse on ethical consumption, and position their perspectives as universal standards that all citizens should live up to” (Johnston, pg. 296). Marketers and businesses have become increasingly interested in understanding the consumer logic behind ethical consumption, as the presence and profitability of green markets and the like have increased in recent years. From a corporate marketing perspective, ethical discourse has centered on niche products such as organic produce, non-GMO and fair trade products – limiting the discourse and understanding of ethical consumption as these corporate powers control the flow of information. As a result of much of this re-appropriation, many forms of green consumption have become categorized as “elite social practices” that are seen as being reserved for the privileged, affluent and educated (Johnston, pg. 293). This representation simultaneously lessens the ability of the movement and subculture to spread, while inhibiting its credibility as a viable and valuable direction for the nations food industry.
Media Representations of Locavorism
The power that these corporate and government actors have over the ethical consumption discourse pertaining to Locavorsim and Green Consumerism strongly affects the manner in which they are understood in society. As Todd Gitlin discusses in his text The Whole World is Watching, the media’s representation of social movements can shape the public perception of the movement and even influence the manner in which said movement or subculture continues to develop and spread in society. Two media representations of The Local Food Movement that are interesting to examine when considering the effects of media representation are the documentary In Organic We Trust and the episode “Farm” from the original IFC Sitcom Portlandia. Each of these media representations frames the narrative in a different way as they attempt to convey particular messages about Locavorism, both as a subculture and as a social movement.
Watch “In Organic We Trust” on Amazon Prime:
“In Organic We Trust” is a documentary that examines the “Organic” trend that has become increasingly popular across the United States as consumers are willing to pay more for what they believe is healthier for them and the environment. The director and writer of the documentary, Kip Pastor attempts to answer questions around the label “Organic” in an endeavor to determine whether the benefits are as high as advertising would clearly like us to believe. Through a series of interviews with individuals such as small farm owners, farmers, USDA employees, and scholars, Pastor comes to determine that the certified Organic brand may not be as environmentally or health conscious as it is made to appear. As the documentary progresses Pastor, along with the viewer, realizes that the USDA brand label “Organic” has little to do with the philosophy of Organic as outlined by farmers and other members of the green consumption community. Moreover, many of the items marketed as “natural” and “organic” are not any healthier than the non-organic and non-natural items and are not made using environmentally friendly or sustainable procedures. In the end Pastor determines that large corporations have re-appropriated the term organic to garner niche market profits and have compromised the philosophy of organic. Ultimately, Pastor concludes that organic is not the answer to finding healthful and sustainable produce and livestock. It is at this point in the documentary that Locavorism and the Local Food Movement are introduced as a viable alternative to mainstream “organics” and a way to take care of ones personal health, the local community and the environment. When considering the message of this documentary is it important to consider the means through which Pastor attempts to represent Locavorism and the affects this representation may have on public perception.
When examining In Organic We Trust we must consider Bill Nichols Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. According to Nichols there are three main modes through which reality is constructed in documentary representation: the expository, the observational and the interactive (Nichols, 34). In Organic We Trust can be argued as a combination of both the expository and the interactive. In the expository mode and In Organic We Trust, the text addresses the viewer directly through narration, in order to advance its argument. Furthermore, interviews are added to add a tone of authority and to serve as evidence for the films’ message (Nichols, 34). The expository mode is further demonstrated by the structuring of the interviews within the flow of the film, as the interviewees’ statements are utilized to support the logic of Pastor’s claims at each stage of the documentary. Many of these interviews are structured so that the interviewee responds to questions unheard by the viewer, while other interviews highlight Pastor’s direct involvement.
It is through these latter interviews that we can also view In Organic We Trust as being constructed with the “interactive mode,” where the filmmaker actively participates. In this mode the filmmaker gets involved in ways that the audience can see, such as Pastor performing face-to-face interviews and constantly being shown exploring various locals such as government buildings, Locavore communities, farms and farmers markets. Throughout the film Pastor positions himself along with the viewer, as a somewhat unknowledgeable individual who is interested in learning more about the U.S. food system and sustainability. Through this positioning he interacts with individuals in the film in a way that the viewer can relate to. However, unlike other interactive films, the hierarchy of the films discourse (Nichols, 47) positions the interviewer Pastor on a lower level as he is illustrated as wanting to be educated by his interviewees. In this way the voice of authority is attributed to the “‘witness-centered’ voice of testimony” (Nichols, 48). Kip Pastor is situated so that his own allegiances are clear as he is positioned as somewhat of an observer, but more as a “meta-participant,” who is “actively engaged with other participants but also engaged in constructing an argument and a [specific] perspective” (Nichols, 50). As with a typical expository documentary, In Organic We Trust builds the viewers needs for a “solution” to a problem, and provides that resolution at the end of the documentary with the introduction of Locavorism.
In Organic We Trust reveals the “Bounded Independence” experienced by the Green Consumption Movement as exemplified through the public perception of Organic. “Bounded Independence” is a form of independence that is contained within the hegemonic structure of society (Gitlin, 12) and utilized to create profit for the hegemonic powers as opposed to the movement itself. Bounded Independence allows for a “dissention outlet” for the “rebellious public” as the government and the media selects aspects of the movement that appeal to the hegemonic structure and attempt to stifle or delegitimize those that do not. However, In Organic We Trust attempts to break free of this bounded independence and redefine Green Consumption according to its original philosophy. In this way Pastor attempts to wrest the discourse away from the mainstream media and return it to Locavores and other active participants of the Green Movement. While In Organic We Trust provides a professional or clinical perspective in the hopes of educating their viewers there are other representations to be considered.
Watch Portlandia, Season 1, Episode 1, Farm on YouTube:
Portlandia approaches Locavorism from an entertainment perspective as opposed to an educational one. However, this does not mean that this episode does not influence viewers’ opinions of Locavorism and Green Consumerism. The Portlandia, Season 1, Episode 1, “Farm” is set in Portland, Oregon and follows a young couple, Peter and Nance, on a dinner date. In this episode Peter and Nance go to great lengths to make sure their restaurant order is humane and environmentally ethical. They are depicted questioning their server to great lengths about the origins and treatment of the chicken on the menu. They ask if the chicken was local, what the chicken ate, how the chicken spent his days, if the chicken had friends, how many acres the chicken had to roam free etcetera. Once they get the exact location of the chicken farm, they decide to quickly pop over before ordering. Upon arriving at the chicken farm Peter and Nance are met by women who speak in soothing voices, as their leader Aliki, stands handsomely in the distance surrounded by women and children in peasant clothing. After being shown around the farm and making Aliki’s acquaintance Peter and Nance become entranced by Aliki and end up staying on the farm as his wives. The episode jumps forward five years, showing all the wives at the deathbed of their leader Aliki as he says his farewell. Upon Aliki’s death Peter and Nance awake from a trance and are horrified by the realization that they had joined a cult. They leave the farm and return to the restaurant to finally enjoy their meal. The episode ends with Peter and Nance inquiring after the salmon’s background.
When examining this Portlandia episode one must consider the manner in which the plot of “Farm” is framed by the director and the effect this has on the representation of Locavorism. According to Gitlin’s text The Whole World is Watching, there are a number of framing devices that the mainstream media typically uses to represent social movements known as “Deprecatory Themes.” The episodes treatment of Locavorism and Green Consumption in general illustrates many of these deprecatory framing devices. The first framing device that should be noted is the trivialization of the movement as their ethos is made light of. The episode does this by depicting Peter and Nance as silly as they ask questions such as whether the chicken had friends and wanting to know what kind of people were raising “Colin.” This is also done through the waitress, who explains the chickens’ name and heritage in a serious manner and states that the chicken had been fed “a diet of sheep’s’ milk, soy and hazelnuts.” These examples also go along with the framing device of marginalization and a disparagement of numbers and effectiveness that attempt to show the movements members – Peter and Nance – as unrepresentative, frivolous and unproductive. These devices are revealed through the depiction of Peter and Nance as extreme and out of touch and through the cultish and strange representation of the local chicken farm. There is no emphasis on the benefits of or positive aspects of the ethos behind the questions they ask, only a focus on the absurdity. These instances also contribute to the deprecatory devices of an emphasis on “over the top” symbolism and a distraction from rational arguments as the episode focuses on the stereotype of a hippie cult and overly concerned yuppies, while making fun of their beliefs and concerns. In this way the mainstream media trivializes the importance of Locavorism, and the Green Consumption Movement as they attempt to contain and subdue the “negative” effects the counter-culture may have on the hegemonic structure of society.
The use of these framing devices in “Farm” is also interesting to consider in relation to Stuart Hall‘s concept of the Ideological Effect of the media, which addresses the media’s response to cultural shifts. Hall argues that the media works to ‘progressively [colonize] the cultural and ideological sphere (Hebdige, 85) by containing and framing movements such as Locavorism and Green Consumption. Portlandia can be seen as an example of the media inserting itself into the social relations of subcultures and social movements. This annexation of representation allows them to become increasingly responsible for “(a) providing the basis on which groups and classes construct an image of the lives, meanings, practices and values of other groups and classes; and (b) for providing the images, representations and ideas around which the social totality composed of all these separate and fragmented pieces can be coherently grasped (Hall, 1997)” (Hebdige, 85). Through the appropriation of ideas and the redefinition of cultures of resistance like Locavorism the media provides images of subcultures and social movements as the “other” in the context of mainstream culture (Hebdige, 85). They do so by positioning and controlling the messages and images of countercultural movements within the context of mainstream ideological discourses. In this way the media is able to highlight preferred meanings of subcultures and social movements while also “blocking” and delegitimizing messages that are deemed a threat to the hegemonic structure (Hebdige, 86). “Farm” can be seen as containing the Locavore Movement by sending a preferred message of triviality and extremity while blocking the serious dialogue and concerns upon which the movement is actually founded.
Overall these two representations of Locavorism in relation to the Green Movement illustrate the ideological effect of media as they attempt to homogenize cultures and ideologies. Mainstream media constructs images that categorize and classify diversity in society, providing a foundation from which individuals can make sense of the social world. In this way those who have control over the mass media and these images of representation hold a tremendous amount of power that enables them to define culture in their terms, constantly working to re-appropriate stylistic features of counterculture movements to neutralize any threats to hegemony (Hebdige). However, when considering these media representations we must also keep in mind the individual agency of the viewer. While the media may highlight particular images or ideas, the public may interpret these messages in different ways depending on their social context, education and personal history. In the case of In Organic We Trust while some viewers may see it as an educational, enlightening and inspirational film, individuals who are less interested in environmental activism may see it as propaganda for “hippies and tree huggers,” who are against American consumer values. In the case of the Portlandia episode “Farm,” the interpretation of the viewer can change depending on whether they already have a positive or negative opinion of sustainability and the local food movement. Individuals who are involved in sustainable practices may see it as a humorous form of self-deprecation for the movement culture. On the other hand, individuals who view the sustainable movement as frivolous, unrealistic may see this episode as a validation of these negative perceptions of the movement culture. Therefore, when analyzing media representations of movements and subcultures, we must acknowledge the gaps within the text that allow for viewers to insert their own meanings (Condit, 441).
Media Artifact: Where Local Meets National
While “media” is often equated with mainstream commercial media and mainstream culture, we must also consider the fact that there are media platforms through which subcultures and social movements can actively participate in their own representation. Subcultures and Social Movements like Locavorism often rely on the mainstream media for the dissemination of their ideas and to raise awareness and intrigue. However, it becomes the responsibility of the subcultures and movements themselves to ensure that the messages and images being disseminated do more than merely drawing spectacle attention. It is through Sarah Thornton‘s notion of “Micro-media” in Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital that we can understand the benefits of channels used for self-construction. Micro-media are items like fanzines, flyers, fly-posters and Internet archives etc. that have a low circulation, a narrow target audience (Thornton, 137) and are self produced by members of the subculture or social movement. It is through these alternative forms of media or “underground media” that subcultures can represent themselves according to their own philosophies while utilizing the subcultures relationship with the mainstream media for their own purposes. However, while Locavore self-representation may follow many of the themes subcultural representation it is also a social movement and therefore much of its ethos is based around the sharing of information and a desire for accessibility.
Accessibility and self-construction are two aspects that I feel are key to the representation of Locavorism and are two qualities that were somewhat missing from In Organic We Trust and Portlandia‘s “Farm”. When considering the best means of representation for the Locavore Movement we must keep in mind that this movement has a heavy emphasis on local participation, while simultaneously wanting to disseminate their philosophy to other local communities across the nation and the globe. For these reasons I think the use of digital media would be ideal as a platform for representation of the Locavore Movement, as it would make the information accessible to both local and non-local individuals. Additionally one must acknowledge that the Locavore Movement is founded on information that may not be firsthand knowledge to many individuals and therefore a proper form of representation must be educational, informative and accessible to all. For these reasons I believe an online blog bearing the title “Locavorism: Where Local Meets National” would be an ideal means of representation, as it simultaneously allows for self construction, education and accessibility. This blog would post pieces written, created and submitted by readers and individuals within the Locavore community. These pieces would range from info-graphics of topics such as seasonal produce or local farmers markets, to “how-to” pieces covering topics like composting and herb gardens, to serious articles about the food industry and the philosophy of Locavorism. These pieces would be selected and curated by the website administrators and would provide a platform for discussion and education through the comments section and the ability to reach out to other Where Local Meets National members and participants. In these ways Locavorism: Where Local Meets National would allow for the active participation of members of the cultural movement and enable a building of community and ideas, which is central to the Locavore philosophy. Lifestyle Politics is key to Locavorism as their ethos is founded on the idea that every individual can make a difference in society through the shaping of their personal behavior and consumer choices (Portwood-Stacer, 2). Where Local Meets National will ideally make these lifestyle habits available to all through an accessibility of ideas and practices. Whereas the mainstream media often frames Green Consumption and Locavorism as an elite practice that is inaccessible to the less affluent and the less educated (DeMello, 96), self-representation through forms such as Where Local Meets National will change this discourse. The site would make itself more appealing and accessible to less “elite” readers an participants by clearly outlining ways through which any individual can participate in the Lovavore movement, whether a family lives in the city, a rural town or the suburbs. It would allow forums for discussion so those who are less educated regarding Locavorism can gather new information and so those who feel they cannot make sustainability work with their income get can real-life, low-cost advice from individuals who are in the same situation and are making it work. This media platform will introduce means through which everyone can participate in the lifestyle politics of Locavorism and Green Consumption and will break down the barriers created by the media to reveal the true un-hierarchical nature of the movement by opening an honesty and educational dialogue.
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In Organic We Trust. Dir. Kip Pastor. Pasture Pictures, 2012. Documentary Film.
“Farm.” Portlandia. Season 1, Episode 1. IFC. January 21, 2011. Youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAlWrT5P2VI