Local food, local goods, local everything is in, as you’ve no doubt heard. Local is fresher. Local burns less shipping fuel. Local keeps the wealth nearby.
Naturally, there’s money to be made off local, so big businesses are muscling into the game. The emerging term is localwashing—a variation on greenwashing wherein businesses claim to be local when actually … you get it.
“The ingenuity of the food manufacturers and marketers never ceases to amaze me,” said author Michael Pollan, who’s done more to articulate the need for local in the food realm than maybe anyone else. “They can turn any critique into a new way to sell food. You’ve got to hand it to them.”
Here’s a look at some prime examples of that ingenuity/absurdity/deception.
Courtesy NEAFP.comCitgo: “Local. Loyal. Like it should be.” The crop of new billboards from the petroleum company owned by Hugo Chavez’s Venezuelan government makes sense only if the rather undemocratic president lives around the corner from you. Which he doesn’t.
Barnes & Noble
Maybe you’ve heard of this cute little bookstore around the corner. It’s got a DIY-looking video blog with the tagline, “All bookselling is local.” Except when it isn’t.
“Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, a U.S.-based subsidiary of European processed-food behemoth Unilever, has seen fit to subject Canada (Canada?) to an eat-local campaign,” reports Grist Food Editor Tom Philpott. He’s dumbfounded. Here are those locally sourced ingredients of which Hellmann’s is so proud:
WATER, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, SOYBEAN OIL, VINEGAR, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, EGG WHITES, SALT, SUGAR, XANTHAN GUM, LEMON AND LIME PEEL FIBERS, COLORS ADDED, LACTIC ACID, (SODIUM BENZOATE, CALCIUM DISODIUM EDTA) USED TO PROTECT QUALITY, PHOSPHORIC ACID, NATURAL FLAVORS.
The Hellmann’s campaign also asks Canadians to take a hard look at the food-kilometers of the non-mayonnaise portion of their diet.
Potato farmers pitch chips fresh from the field in a series of ads from Frito-Lay North America, a subsidiary of PepsiCo. The five regional ads reportedly feature farmers who really do grow potatoes in those areas. “By this logic, all of us here in Iowa can begin referring to high fructose corn syrup as a local food as well,” writes Kurt Michael Friese.
Courtesy PSFK.comThese green “local” signs in a New York Whole Foods might point to brands that are local. But the coffee they’re selling wasn’t grown anywhere near Union Square. Blatant deception? No. But one blogger asks for a little clarity please.
Chapel Hill campaign
The “We buy local” website of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce includes such mom-and-pop establishments as Wal-Mart. Stacy Mitchell’s superb reporting on localwashing exposes how regional booster groups, through campaigns like this, enable multinational companies to brand themselves as local.
Photo: Whyibuylocal.comIn central California, the Economic Development Corporation of Fresno County launched its Buy Local campaign at the Fashion Fair Mall, with Macy’s in the background. Nearby chains Anthropologie and The Cheesecake Factory added to the confusing message, Mitchell reports.
Banners saying simply “Local” hang above the produce sections at some Wal-Marts. Don’t ask questions. Writes Mitchell: “The chain’s local food offerings are usually limited to a few of the main commodity crops of that particular state—peaches in Georgia or potatoes in Maine—and sit amid a sea of industrial food and other goods shipped from the far side of the planet.”