Are You Getting ‘Localwashed’?


As an organic advocate, I was very interested in attending the recent ‘Farm to Table’ panel at the Vegas Uncork’d festival. Top chefs, including Bellagio Executive Chef Edmund Wong and sustainability advocate Rick Moonen, discussed the importance of supporting local and sustainable farms by designing menus that feature those food items. However, during the panel discussion, Bon Appetit’s Restaurant Editor, Andrew Knowlton, posed a great question:  If you had the choice to purchase organic asparagus from another country or locally grown asparagus, which would you choose? Hands down, all four participating chefs opted for the local option, with BA’s Editor in Chief, Barbara Fairchild, noting that we needed to ‘get people to buy fresh and local’.

The New York Times had an interesting article about companies who are starting to use the appeal of local food production to sell more products. The article highlights the Frito-Lay company and their utilization of local potato producers for their potato products. With the interest in local markets, Frito-Lay announced the launch of a new marketing program specifically noting their use of local food producers.

“Local for us has two appeals,” said Aurora Gonzalez, director of public relations for Frito-Lay North America, which is owned by PepsiCo. “We are interested in quality and quickness because we want consumers to get the freshest product possible, but we have a fairly significant sustainability program, and local is part of that. We want to do business more efficiently, but do it in a more environmentally conscious way.”

‘Locavore’ advocates, however, have difficulty adopting this new drive for ‘local’ promotion. While companies are promoting the use of local farms, the producers are generally local to wherever the food product is manufactured, and not necessarily local to the consumer, leading to what some consider misleading advertising.

“The ingenuity of the food manufacturers and marketers never ceases to amaze me,” said Michael Pollan, the author of “In Defense of Food” and a contributor to The New York Times Magazine. “They can turn any critique into a new way to sell food. You’ve got to hand it to them.”

While I’m certainly encouraged by the growing use of local food producers, I’m concerned as well about possible ‘greenwashing’, or ‘localwashing’ – the practice by some companies of utilizing key terms, like ‘local’, ‘green’, ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’, or ‘natural’ to merely sell more food products.

To ensure that you’re not being ‘localwashed’, become an educated consumer. Ask where your food stuffs are produced. Inquire as to whether the production is sustainable, organic, and/or natural. Best of all, don’t believe everything you read. Sometimes, it’s just for the sale!


  • FoodRenegade says:

    Great article. I *hate* deceptive labeling like this. It’s one of my major pet peeves, and one of the primary reasons I decided to become a nutrition coach. People need to know the truth about their food and where it comes from.

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  • Yes, “they” certainly are savvy, aren’t they?

    It’s one thing when people choose certain foods out of a need to be frugal or if they just don’t agree with certain food philosophies, but when they purchase crap because they just don’t know the truth or they were mislead, this drives me crazy as well!

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  • Hello Jennifer,

    I appreciate you article to make people aware of their food sources but I would be careful not to point out many negative of the trend. Small companies like mine that believe in and truly act on using local foods rely on on local marketing to get a leg up on mass produces foods. We are the ones really driving the local food movement from the bottom up staring with farmers market and finally ending up in a retail grocery store. I believe most people are smart enough to know that larger companies tend to change marketing before changing philosophies and procedures.

    Thank you

    Peter Pasta

  • jenniferhh says:

    Hi Peter

    I absolutely agree and commend the small businesses who are utilizing locally grown food stuffs. I just want to make sure that consumers are educated enough to know the difference between truth and marketing ploy.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Josh says:

    I like the Lay’s potato chip TV commercial celebrating their farmers but I find their online potato tracker gimmicky. It was one of the pieces I was trying hard not do with our website – for the product we are promoting we only buy from certified sustainable family farmers in the region where we sell the product….

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