Why Americans are Going Local

Yesterday Kristen and I listened to an author, Andrew Potter, describe the American movement towards all things local and eco-friendly as conspicuous consumption.

It felt like an elitist slap in the face.

His book is called, The Authenticity Hoax. (I’ve not read it) You can see the transcript to the Marketplace segment, “The new holier than thou” here.

Basically, the author claimed that the real reason why Americans are going to farmers markets, growing their own food, shopping at locally owned business, and otherwise supporting their local economy is really to show off our wealth publicly. The entire tone of the interview seemed to mock and misrepresent a major shift in public opinion. (For a more reasonable interpretation of the same movement, check out this link in Business Week.)

I couldn’t help but wonder if the author was just a tool or if he was a corporate tool who didn’t understand how inverse relationships work? As people’s distrust in “global” increases, their trust in “local” increases proportionally.

Some examples of inverse relationships in the going local trend

  1. We are social creatures. With access to worldwide communication, its a natural human reaction to seek out local connections. People going local is an inverse relationship to a global society.
  2. Micro-economics makes sense. It doesn’t take a PhD in economics to understand that if I choose going to a local eatery vs. McDonald’s more of my money stays in my community. People eating locally is an inverse relationship to a global economy.
  3. The general public is coming to understand that our food chain is under-regulated and unsafe. As I’ve written about before, thanks to some great documentaries the general public is now aware that corporations are more concerned with profit than public health. People growing their own food is an inverse relationship to a global, unregulated food supply chain.
  4. The food decision wheel is turning more quickly. Each time there is a flaw in the food chain it just emphasized what the general public is thinking already. Bad eggs leads to “I need to buy my eggs from a farmer I can trust.” Now that people understand that most of our corn products are genetically-modified, people are starting to look for products containing no corn product. Every bad news story about food spins the wheel a little faster for people and centrifugal force is tough to fight for long. People trusting local farmers is an inverse relationship to a distrust of mega-farmers.
  5. Conspicuous corruption leads to local consumption. Look at the case of “special foreclosure courts” being set up in Florida to supersede constitutional rights in favor of corporations making a quick buck. This isn’t some conspiracy theorist… it’s the New York Times! Apparently the 7th amendment isn’t the law when courts are busy? No one in their right mind would trust that the government will rule in favor of a common citizen right now. So, people are investing their money in local businesses and things they know they can understand and trust. People investing in local banks is an inverse relationship to our distrust of a global banking society and the governmental corruption it has inspired.

What are other examples of inverse relationships that are leading more and more of us to go local?

Do you think that the shift to local really is conspicuous consumption? Is this just yuppies finding new ways to show off?

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

4 comments

  1. I’m not sure that it is people showing off their wealth, but the truth is that it it both easier on our natural resources and cheaper to produce food in bulk. (Transporting food from one source to major people centers takes less than tranporting resources to lots of different growing sites.) And there are just as many FDA violations on locally grown items as mass producers. When this happens it affects fewer people so it doesn’t make the news. I would bet you just as many people get sick from local food, but it happens in a more spread out fashion.

    Growing your own is the only way to ensure your food is handled according to healthy standard. While growing your own may cost you less money it takes substantially more time, which a person might not be able to afford.

    I think people who can afford time and extra money to shop locally do so for the community or atmosphere. But remeber, thousands of people (mostly sustanance farmers) left their small, intimate communities to live in masses and work terrible hours in factories with poor working conditions. I say that just to say that community is usually not a first priority. It is, in many ways a luxury to choose your community.

    All that to say, it might not be a conscience intention of local buyers to flaunt their wealth. But, like many things that we do culturally, we may be sending an unintentional message. That doesn’t mean we have to stop it, I will continue to buy in bulk from costco, we might want just be aware of the message we send.

    1. Thanks for the well-thought out comment. Preaching to the choir a little as I know folks who read my blog already know I’m into all things local.

      I would just describe my family is “on the path” to all things local.

      Our local SD review blog:
      http://beyondthezoo.com

      Our journey towards learning how to grow our own produce:
      http://ourgreenfarm.com

      Certainly, I love many things a global society brings me. (One being I can do my work largely online!) And I love my Costco membership as much as the rest.

  2. I also liek the way that it taste better too! It is worth the extra money to Lara and I to get the flavor.

    1. You must be better gardeners than I am. Some things are way better because I can let the ripen on the vine. I just wish I were better at growing HUGE produce like I see at the store. Now that I’m gardening a lot more I just walk around the grocery store and go… how did they do that?!? (must be the chemicals)

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