lay'sComing soon to farmers markets nationwide? A couple of years ago, a student group formed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to reform the campus’ dining halls. Calling the group FLO Food (FLO=fair, local, organic), the students wanted flavorsome, freshly cooked food — and preferably not from abused animals or exploited workers. They noted that Chapel Hill lies in a robust foodshed, with plenty of small- and mid-sized farms churning out delicious food. Why not get some of that local fare into the dining halls?

The administration’s first response was priceless: to paraphrase, hey, we buy lots of pork from Smithfield Foods–and their biggest processing facility is less than 100 miles away! Ah, Smithfield — a company that abuses labor, the environment, and animals as a matter of course.

Moral: “local” is a slippery term, ripe for being appropriated by those who want to preserve the status quo or promote some tawdry crap.

Enter junk-food giant Lay’s. From Wednesday’s New York Times:

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On Tuesday, five potato farmers rang the bell of the New York Stock Exchange, kicking off a marketing campaign that is trying to position the nation’s best-selling brand of potato chips as local food.

Five different ads will highlight farmers who grow some of the two billion pounds of starchy chipping potatoes the Frito-Lay company uses each year. One is Steve Singleton, who tends 800 acres in Hastings, Fla.

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Ultimately, I suspect such promotions will fade away: They’re easy fodder for outraged blog posts, but will they really fool anyone? Marketing schemes that fail to fool quickly skulk into obscurity. Pitching Smithfield pork as local and therefore desirable fell with a thud with the UNC students; I doubt this silly campaign will find much traction either.