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!