One of the enduring debates in local food circles is the question of what 'local' should mean. This question has actually been a focal point of our learning here at Localize for over a year, as we examine the many facets of local food. It turns out that what it means is personal to every individual, but that for an average consumer, the following generally holds true: Local has to personal, loyal, and beneficial.
- Local is personal: There is a sense of connection to the who made the food and where it came from. Distance is not the only metric that people use to assess this connection.
- Local is loyal: Buying local food imbues people with the affirmation that they are loyal to their neighbours and local community.
- Local is beneficial: Consumers sense that supporting local food businesses benefits them, whether it is direct or indirect in impact. The return benefit might be through the belief or knowledge that there is an environmental, ethical, social, health, or economic benefit to their immediate world.
Of note is that over the past couple of decades food has becoming increasingly impersonal, disloyal (in terms of not having any type of value proposition except to be consumed voluminously), and with no clear benefit to our community.
Each of the above attributes are intangible, and social scientists (including ourselves at Localize) have resorted to the use of more definitive attributes to study what it is about the concept of 'local food' that is catching fire so rapidly throughout the Western world. While distance (miles and km) have been the default definition of 'how local' a product is, there is a growing sense that distance is not enough to measure the benefit of supporting local.
We have married multiple facets of food location into the Localize Score, which is basically a locality index that measures the 'performance' of a product in relation to the ideals of local food. These include the dimensions of physical locality of both production and processing, food ingredient sourcing, ethical (environmental, animal welfare, and social equity certifications), information availability/transparency about the food, and the concept of 'food miles.'
With over 500 survey respondents to our crowdsourcing project to 'define' local food, we've got some pretty good data to back up our locality index. We're keen to keep up the discussion through ongoing testing and perhaps some more refined geographic demographics as we grow, so please do take the survey!
The results of the survey allow us to analyse values in several ways by challenging respondents to rank their beliefs in a randomized ranking activity. We are thus able to look at how each value might be ranked and weighted within our indexing system and associated service.
Although we would have loved to have dissected our respondents' values through 100 questions (instead of 14), we knew we would get a better picture if the survey questions were built using concise, intuitive statements. Thus the questions were framed so that we could adequately encompass the values that are largely attributed to the valuing of local food. Let us know what you think about the concept of 'measuring local' - your feedback makes it better and better.