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Progress in Human Geography 31(1) (2007) pp.


The place of food: mapping out the
‘local’ in local food systems
Robert Feagan*
Wilfrid Laurier University at Laurier Brantford, 73 George Street, Brantford,
Ontario N3T 2Y3, Canada

Abstract: ‘Local food systems’ movements, practices, and writings pose increasingly visible
structures of resistance and counter-pressure to conventional globalizing food systems. The place
of food seems to be the quiet centre of the discourses emerging with these movements. The
purpose of this paper is to identify issues of ‘place’, which are variously described as the ‘local’ and
‘community’ in the local food systems literature, and to do so in conjunction with the geographic
discussion focused on questions and meanings around these spatial concepts. I see raising the
profile of questions, complexity and potential of these concepts as an important role and challenge
for the scholar-advocate in the realm of local food systems, and for geographers sorting through
them. Both literatures benefit from such a foray. The paper concludes, following a ‘cautiously
normative’ tone, that there is strong argument for emplacing our food systems, while
simultaneously calling for careful circumspection and greater clarity regarding how we delineate
and understand the ‘local’. Being conscious of the constructed nature of the ‘local’, ‘community’
and ‘place’ means seeing the importance of local social, cultural and ecological particularity in our
everyday worlds, while also recognizing that we are reflexively and dialectially tied to many and
diverse locals around the world.

Key words: community, foodshed, local, local food systems, localism, place, region, relocalizaton,
respatialization, ‘terroir’.

I Introduction Act Think Eat Drink Locally – for the

neighbourhood. (Label on peanuts product1)
Produced by your neighbours. Only natural
ingredients. Regionalism is smart. Minimizing Food and place are intertwined in robust
processing delivers taste. Jobs for neighbours. It ways in the geographic imagination and cen-
is a rational movement. Quality is better. Save tral to our lifeworld (Kloppenburg et al., 1996;
the planet. Eat well. Splendour in diversity.
Hendrickson and Heffernan, 2002; Berry,
Traditional craftsmanship. Good food doesn’t like
to travel. Think global, consume local. Made for 2002; Kingsolver, 2003). On this packet of
neighbours. Get political. Stay connected to the peanuts we can see that terms like neigh-
producer. Buy this product forever. Be radical. bours, local, regionalism, global, planet are all

*Email: rfeagan@wlu.ca

© 2007 SAGE Publications DOI: 10.1177/0309132507073527

24 Progress in Human Geography 31(1)

geographically charged – from the individual their entreaties for respatializing and reconfig-
out to the scale of the globe. The label’s uring agricultural systems contain powerful
appeal initiates this examination as the packet arguments for change – what Goodman (2003)
mirrors an emergent, politically orientated set suggests is a potentially radical and yet con-
of food movements and practices largely tentious eco-social imaginary. At the same
orientated around establishing processes which time, as this paper will suggest, the ideas and
re-localize food system production and advocacy around reconfiguring the ‘place of
consumption. food’ would benifit from a deeper engagement
This variegated movement located under with the geographical concepts inherent in
headings of alternative food initiatives (Allen these entreaties. The recent and contempo-
et al., 2003), alternative agro-food networks rary deliberations on concepts of ‘place’,
and systems (Goodman, 2003; Watts et al., ‘community’, and the ‘local’ in geograph-
2005), community food security (Anderson ical and sociological literature emphasizes
and Cook, 1999; 2000; Pelletier et al., 2000; their ‘multiple and conflicting meanings’
Bellows and Hamm, 2003), civic and demo- (Allen et al., 2003: 63) and this yields some
cratic agriculture (Bellows and Hamm, 2001; appropriate and necessary considerations for
DeLind, 2002; Hassanein, 2003), post- the progressive work of LFS activists and
productivism (Whatmore et al., 2003), alter- scholars.
native or shortened food chains (Renting
et al., 2003; Ilbery and Maye, 2005), the II Local food systems: toward
‘quality turn’ (Ilbery and Kneafsey, 1998; relocalization
2000; Morris and Young, 2000; Goodman,
space has been disconnected from place in the
2003), and a variety of other permutations,
dominant food system . . . As people foster
will be conjoined here as local food systems – relationships with those who are no longer in
LFS (Feenstra, 1997; Henderson, 1998; Lacy, their locale, distant others can structure the
2000; Hinrichs, 2003). There is some risk shape and use of the locale, a problem that is
in the conflation of the conceptual differ- being explicitly rejected by those involved in
the local food system movements across the
ences associated with such alternative food
globe. (Hendrickson and Heffernan, 2002:
system ideas (DuPuis and Goodman, 2005). 349)
However, this exploration is focused on teas-
ing out the diverse respatialization threads The relocalization orientation of LFS move-
among such food system permutations. ments is partly derivative of early sustainability
Effectively, the paper uses the LFS label as a directives calling for decentralization, democ-
loose subsumption of alternative and opposi- ratization, self-sufficiency and subsidiarity – all
tional food system ideas, while still highlight- spatially referenced concepts. Both North
ing specific variants of them when useful to American and European discourses on such
the objectives of the work. change wear the attire of the small-scale par-
Central to this paper’s interests are ques- ticipatory cultural economies central to the
tions and ideas pertaining to the ‘local’ in con- tomes from the 1970s: ‘small is beautiful’
temporary LFS discourses, and the often (Schumacher, 1973) and ‘small is possible’
conflated concepts of ‘community’ and models (McRobie, 1981). More recently, these
‘place’. This is especially relevant given became inscribed in the global treatises on
the local-global tensions underlying such sustainable development, like that of WCED,
movement goals. Challenges and discourses (1987) containing notions of community-
abound around the respatialization of food sys- control, equitable access to resources, and
tems in contradistinction to the conventional, subsidiarity (DuPuis and Goodman, 2005). A
globalizing food system. LFS ideas are driven ‘resistance to the agro-food distanciation’ is in
by some real and significant concerns, and some key ways at the core of these past and
Robert Feagan: The place of food 25

current food discourses (Winter, 2003b: anonymity of actors which marks conven-
508), and this is echoed by Anderson and tional food networks is said to be countered in
Cook (2000: 237–38) who believe that LFS SFC shifts: ‘They bring consumers closer to
processes can rework ‘power and knowledge the origins of their food and in many cases
relationships in food supply systems that have involve a more direct contact between farm-
become distorted by increasing distance ers and the end-users of their products’
(physical, social, and metaphorical) between (Renting et al., 2003: 398). SFCs are visible in
producers and consumers’. The following the forms of CSAs and farmers’ markets for
subsections highlight the kinds of respatializa- instance, where producers and consumers are
tion orientations located in shortened food closer both geographically and socially (Wells
supply chains, in foodsheds, in community et al., 1999; Feagan et al., 2004). A specific
food security discussions, in embeddedness spatial orbit is more readily identifiable with
and the quality ‘turn’, and generally as they these foods transactions with respect to the
appear in the LFS literature writ large. distances between a local farm and a local
consumer, relative to the food-miles (and
1 Shortened food chains embedded energy subsidies) associated with
The development of complex and increasingly the average industrialized food plate (Halweil,
global-orientated food chains can be seen as a 2002; Norberg-Hodge et al., 2002).
critical juncture around which most opposi- As in the European ‘quality-turn’ shifts
tional and alternative LFS discourses have explored in more depth shortly, spatially ori-
coalesced in the last 30 years. These chains entated attributes of foods become contin-
exemplify, and are held as responsible for, a gent considerations in these transactions.
diversity of issues to which LFS efforts have That is, quality tied to trust and knowledge of
been directed. Some like Murdoch (2000) such markers as the farming practices and the
have noted key issues of power-differences customs of production, become information
inherent to these complex globalizing food seen as fundamental in such shortened chains
commodity chains, with writers like O’Hara (Ilbery and Kneafsey, 2000; Ilbery and Maye,
and Stagl (2001) describing them and their 2005). This reconfiguration is also touted as
networks as comprised of four dominant char- impelling some manner of changed agricul-
acteristics: capital concentration, spatial and tural practices – a ‘“shortening” of relations
temporal independence, dependence on sym- between food production and locality, poten-
bols, and reliance on expert systems. They tially configuring a reembedding of farming
state that all of these traits are associated with towards more environmentally sustainable
spatial shifts which have ‘expanded the modes of production’ (Renting et al., 2003:
domain of the various food systems activities 398). The natural conditions of food produc-
well beyond the scale typical of the ecological tion can be restored as inherent spatial ele-
context of its production and consumption ments in agro-food systems, in contrast to
activities’ (2001: 537). Given this dynamic, industrializing food systems which are seen as
shortened food chains (SFCs) analysis and displacing nature as a factor of production
advocacy is directly tied to respatialization and (Murdoch, 2000; O’Hara and Stagl, 2001). In
localization, with Renting et al. (2003) con- this vein, Marsden’s (2004: 131) theoretical
tending that shortening such food system insights on the reworking of the places
chains can alter positively the economic and and spaces of food production are useful, as
social viability of regions. Their focus is on the his work on the integration of ecological
kinds of relations-of-proximity shifts seen as parameters in food systems via ecological
consequent from ‘short-circuiting’ such modernization, is keenly spatial. To be ecolog-
lengthy industrial food chains. The invisibility ically rational requires recognition of place as
of the provenance of the food and the a socionatural construct, calling for ‘the
26 Progress in Human Geography 31(1)

realignment, more specifically, between place via ‘terroir’ has contemporary manifes-
nature, quality, region and locale, producers tations in ‘labels of origin’, the marketing and
and consumers’. In this kind of configuration, cultural branding of food through its associa-
Marsden (2004) sees the local and place tion with place – geographical indications or
re-emerging as necessary elements in the inte- ‘protected designations of origin’ – PDOs
gration of natural with the social, akin to (Ilbery and Kneafsey, 1998). Barham (2003)
Winter’s (2003b) discussion on ‘reconnections’ suggests that ‘geographical indications’ can
in agrofood systems. incite movement towards food production
and consumer transactions integrated with
2 The foodshed local places. The specialty food products,
These sorts of respatialization orientations SFPs of which Ilbery and Kneafsey (2000:
also align with constructs like the ‘food-shed’ 220) write, are premised on consumers plac-
which Kloppenburg et al. (1996: 37) describe ing ‘greater value on products which they can
as ‘a socio-geographic space: human activity associate with a region, pays, terroir or
embedded in the natural integument of a par- method of production’. ‘Patrimonialization’ is
ticular place’. Though drawing from the con- another term used in France to describe this
ceptual ideas of the watershed with its mesh of authenticity, heritage and food as
boundaries set by somewhat more immutable manifested in regional cuisine, the protection
river-drainage based characteristics, food- of rural landscapes, and heightened or
sheds are perceived as hybrid social and natu- renewed sense of place (Gade, 2004).
ral constructs. The more ‘natural’ place LFS advocates, or more specifically in this
variables of micro-weather patterns, soil case, ‘quality turn’ research in Europe holds
types, water availability, slope conditions, etc that ‘fixing products to place’ through such
obviously play a role in determining the place-labeling helps to broaden the ‘market-
potential and risks of agriculture – they are ness’ of a transaction. That is,to re-embed the
spatially bound systems (Marsden et al., price signal, and hence decision-making
1999). The foodshed concept reconstructs regarding consumption choices, in broader
the geography of food systems by compelling spheres of the sociocultural and environmen-
social and political decisions on food to be ori- tal. Traits and character of place and of
entated within specific delineated spaces. the skills of the producers and traditions of
Advocates hold that ‘Foodsheds embed the cuisine in specific places are perceived in such
system in a moral economy attached to a par- designation as containing more meaningful
ticular community and place, just as water- and comprehensive information about food.
sheds reattach water systems to a natural Barham contends that the ‘terroir’ label can
ecology’ (Starr et al., 2003: 303). The food- act to entrain capital, contrary to its increas-
shed concept is located in the more idealistic ingly frictionless and placeless tendencies,
‘eco-communitarian’ ethos of some North because ‘a label of origin connects it with a
American LFS debates (DuPuis and specific place, and opens the possibility
Goodman, 2005). that producers, as well as consumers, can be
held accountable for their actions in that
3 Terroir and labels of origin place’ (2003: 130, italics in original). And, as
Related to the concept of foodshed, ‘terroir’ Gade (2004) notes, this originally wine- and
and ‘labels of origin’ add to this food and geog- wine-region-associated ‘patrimonial process’
raphy association. Terroir is a traditional has broadened to include dairy products, olive
French term referring ‘to an area or terrain, oil, nuts, meat, and fruit, etc. This more
usually rather small, whose soil and micro- recent commodification of place and region
climate impart distinctive qualities to food through food, with French AOC label-
products’ (Barham, 2003: 131). Tying food to ing (Appellations d’Origine contrôlée) a
Robert Feagan: The place of food 27

well-known example, has taken on greater literature generally, and articulated in state-
resonance with regards to perceived losses of ments like this by Lacy (2000: 3): ‘Communi-
rural tradition under modernization and a ties are the basic building blocks and
renewed search for authenticity and ‘quality’ foundations of our society, making critical
(Ilbery and Kneafsey, 1998).2 Conditions of contributions to the quality of our families,
production and place-knowledge are key to interpersonal relationships, education, health,
such ‘turns’, falling under the local cultural environment, food systems, economy, and
markers of which Kneafsey et al. (2001) and overall well-being.’ The place of community
Ray (1998) write in their works on cultural for Lacy is raised with respect to its role as the
economies and endogenous rural economic container for the development of social cohe-
development in Europe. sion, human endeavor, and empowerment,
It is also believed that place-labeling can and in this way, place-formation. Despite this
induce local environmental benefits when ‘a seemingly invented nature, drawing on ‘com-
local area or region produces a series of recog- munity’ as a descriptor of some socially and
nizable foodstuffs, encoded in trusted brands, geographically bound place, does not detract
which bear all the hallmarks of a clean and from a role in territorial rural development
green production environment’ (Banks and (Ray, 1998).
Bristow, 1999: 319). Bell and Valentine (1997: Community-supported or ‘shared’ agricul-
155) note the emerging associations between ture – CSA, represents an element in the LFS
organic food and wine region terroir in the spectrum where notions of community and
geographic imagination, where organic label- place are positioned in close proximity.
ing ‘tells consumers all about the conditions of A CSA is organized around a contract
its production (small-scale, chemical-free, between a farmer, commonly an organic pro-
non-intensive, locally sensitive, countercul- ducer, and a set of local residents, who share
tural, etc).’ Similarly, the ‘culture economies’ the risks of the farming enterprise by con-
work of Ray (1998) and Kneafsey et al. (2001) tributing money up front for a ‘share’ of the
noted earlier can be located in this realm. harvest prior to the farming season (O’Hara
The valorization of place through food (as and Stagl, 2001). In this arrangement the
well as language, crafts, landscapes, etc) in shareholders help bear the risks of the farming
the culture economy is tightly coupled to spa- season and the potential benefits of a good
tial ideas of the local community, economy, harvest: ‘With food as a focal point, CSA
and territory. Place and local are integral to brings a growing circle of people into a closer
such commodification. The investigation by relationship with place – farming, nature,
Kneafsey et al. (2001: 299) of four economic each other’ (Wells et al., 1999: 38).3 As in
sectors in Wales was predicated on seeing to work on farmers’ markets, community-
what extent there has been ‘conscious effort gardens, and terroir and shortened food
to ‘fix’ products to place’. chains, ideas of a more embedded set of rela-
tions between producers and consumers, and
4 Community in LFS as place building the place and provenance of the food grown,
This local that is inscribed in such LFS are intrinsic to the arguments espoused for
processes is often conflated with ideas of a such LFS orientations.
resurrected ‘community’, the existence of ‘Community food security’ (CFS), repre-
which is held to be an important arbiter of sents a process of respatialization of food
environmental sustainability in transformed systems orientated around the spatial delimi-
food systems (Feenstra, 1997; 2002; Marsden tations of community. Its geneaology is traced
et al., 1999; Norberg-Hodge et al., 2002; to the world food security concerns of the
Starr et al., 2003; Allen, 2004). The use of 1960s and 1970s (Anderson and Cook, 1999),
the term community is notable in the LFS though its foundational principles of social
28 Progress in Human Geography 31(1)

justice and participation, equitable access and ‘place’, a point iterated by Ilbery and
availability, and food reliablity and quality Kneafsey (2000) in their examination of con-
(MacRae and TFPC, 1999) have subse- structions of quality in Britain. The ‘quality
quently been recast at the local and commu- turn’ is associated with the recent restructur-
nity scale. This occurs as food security ing of European Union agricultural policies
advocates are drawn increasingly from and programs, and reflective of shifting values
community nutritionists, grass-roots environ- and sentiments tied to consumer fears and
mental activists, community-development uncertainties about the consequences of
practitioners and researchers, and public- industrializing agriculture in the European
participation advocates: realm.
In the North American LFS arena, we see
A key component of these newer definitions of
food security is attention to building local these kinds of associations between ecology,
capacity to produce and distribute food and trust and place made by writers like Feenstra
control food supplies . . . [and] to keep decision- (2002: 101), for example, who advocates an
making power within the community rather array of spatially defined processes and
than losing it through dependence on external programs. In LFS operations in Ohio, she lists:
sources of food . . . localized food production can
meet many of the diverse community needs ‘eating regionally and seasonally, locally
more effectively than globalized food systems produced and processed foods, schools pur-
because it can give priority to community and chasing from local farms, community gardens
environmental integrity before corporate profit- and CSAs (community supported agricul-
making . . . while reinforcing social identity and ture), community farms run by community
cohesion. (Anderson and Cook, 2000: 237;
italics added) members and local university students, local
food policy councils, and community food
The same sorts of allusions to connection, security with local sustainable farming sys-
democratic control, identity and the position tems, etc’. The local is front and centre in the
that globalized systems cannot perform ade- shape of appeals to all three of these con-
quately to provide food security, are intrinsic structs of community, place, and the local,
to both the community food security move- and to those inhabiting and creating those
ment and to LFS movements in general places. Similarly, Feenstra (1997) notes
(Bellows and Hamm, 2003; Allen, 2004). among an array of LFS objectives that related
attributes of environmental integrity, eco-
5 The ‘quality turn’ and embeddedness nomic viability, and social equity all converge
There are some common ties among the LFS around particular places.
spatial appeals just explored with those of the I have already noted how notions of
‘quality turn’. Goodman (2003: 1) articulates ‘embeddedness’ have increasing resonance in
the broad strokes of respatializing aspirations the LFS literature.4 The concept is described
associated with this ‘quality turn’ appeal in as sociocultural processes associated with
Europe as generally directed away ‘from the relationships between producer and con-
“industrial world”, with its heavily standard- sumer such that food transactions are
ized quality conventions and logic of mass re-embedded in community and place. Trust,
commodity production, to the “domestic ‘relations of regard’, social interaction, and
world”, where quality conventions embedded more comprehensive information are said to
in trust, tradition and place support more dif- create the conditions for this more relational
ferentiated, localized and “ecological” prod- food transaction environment (Hinrichs,
ucts and forms of organization’ (italics added). 2000; Sage, 2003; Winter, 2003a).
Here the local is associated with ecology, dif- ‘Embedding’ notions arise in an array of the
ferentiation and quality, with the latter being European LFS variants like SFCs, terroir and
tied to relational ideas of tradition, trust and labels of origin, and the ‘quality turn’, though
Robert Feagan: The place of food 29

they do seem to be located most visibly in the geographic space. It sets the context for the
more idealistic localisms common in North following section which explores these spatial
American LFS positions (Ilbery and Kneafsey, concepts within the recent and contempo-
1998; 2000; DuPuis and Goodman, 2005). rary geographic debates.
For example, the shortening of food chains
is implicit to these reworked producer- III Geographies of place, community
consumer relations, with some characteriza- and the local
tion that local economies can potentially The importance of asking questions about the
transform under this broader set of values spatial units that define the parameters of our
through socially embedding the food system studies is particularly apparent when there is
which Kirwan (2004) discusses as the alterity an explicit link between the social process
potential in LFS. under examination and a particular regional
formation. (Murphy, 1991: 24)
Another example of the embeddedness
rationale in LFS is witnessed in the North How is the local imagined? How does it func-
American ‘food circle’ process. This process tion? What are the hopes? And who is in and
involves gathering local groups of people com- who is out? Determinations of the constitu-
mitted to reworking the dominant food sys- tion of the local, community and place in local
tems through an emphasis on this local-social food systems, are conjoined here with explo-
objective of embeddedness. Hendrickson and ration of the ‘turn to the local’ in geographic
Heffernan (2002: 362) write: ‘The Food inquiry. The desire is to locate fruitful inter-
Circle’s perceived role is to connect all actors sections between the relocalization appeals
in the food system in a sensible and sustain- within LFS works, and what this companion
able way that sustains the community, is literature might proffer in the sense of prob-
healthy for both the people and the environ- lematizing and enriching these efforts and
ment, and returns control of the food system inquiry around the place of food. The scholar-
to local communities’ (italics added). The advocate benefits from critical engagement in
embeddedness notions of responsibility, trust, these concepts and their application to food
and relations of regard are central to the food systems research.
circle process of constructing relationships Place, a spatial concept with an enduring
more consciously integrated between the history in geographic thought and analysis is
local community and its food system an appropriate initiation point for this discus-
(Hendrickson and Heffernan, 2002). These sion. I will not attempt to trace its deeper his-
authors contend that such processes may help torical threads here (for some foundational
‘reorder time and space’ through education and interpretive ideas, see Relph, 1976;
around the seasonality and local customs Agnew and Duncan, 1989; Shelley et al.,
regarding food for instance: ‘Food in a local 2003; Castree, 2004) but will focus on con-
system is rooted in a space that enables and temporary ideas as they tie in with the ‘turn
constrains production and consumption to the local’ and highlight pertinent concep-
through its own unique characteristics’ (2002: tual notes for this paper.
363). Community and its members coalesce
around reconstructing food systems so as to 1 The modern demise of place
re-embed them in place-orientated socio- Place, which in the modernizing world dimin-
economic and ecological relations (Barham, ished in value as a concept in social sciences
2003). and specifically for geographers during the
This section has raised the visibility of LFS quantitative era, has regained critical promi-
appeals via their focus on concepts of local, nence in the last 15 years. This is partly
place and community which are com- associated with the pivotal work of Agnew
monly conflated as some form of localized and Duncan (1989). Their well-known work
30 Progress in Human Geography 31(1)

defined it ‘as the structuring or mediating It was in this context that the social sciences
context for social relations’ (1989: 16) which, became orientated towards the national state
as a ‘natural’ unit upon which to build their
Pascual-de-Sans (2004) adds, is a spatial con- claims to generalization. This presupposed the
cept having no existence without people and diminished importance of community on a local
to which a geographic identification is critical. scale and the social significance of place along
The role of modernity in creating a world of with it. (Agnew, 1989: 19; italics added)
increasing ‘placelessness’ moved cultural and
political geographers during the last couple of Older/traditional ideas of place and people
decades to raise questions about the enduring and community were devalued as they were
significance of place in peoples’ lives and the seen as tied to a premodern social order –
lack of a critical sense of the geographies of irrational, traditional, and accultured. In
modernization. They argued that spaces are contrast, the nation state was perceived as
fluid and dynamic, but that both agency from utilitarian, rational, democratic, and non-
below and difference in capital formation and superstitious, in a word, ‘progressive’
mobility assert that place has not become the (Connell, 2003). The concept of place in
frictionless surface often hypothesized. That modernist sociopolitical discourse largely dis-
is, we see some shape of reciprocal response appeared and the local and contingent were
in the face of exogenous forces which dismissed in the search for the universal and
changes the nature of place, but not its the general. However, geographers and
disappearance per se. others began to question this disappearance,
Harvey’s more recent contributions to the partly in response to the fact that people
discussions and debates regarding place were not letting go of place and community
(though see Castree, 2004, for chronological as readily as might be perceived or expected
notes on Harvey’s shifting positions under such conditions.
in this realm) provide a useful starting point: Notions of place and the local are
‘We worry about the meaning of place re-emerging as urgent expressions of our
in general and of our place in particular contemporary geographic imagination. As
when the security of actual places becomes Pascual-de-Sans (2004: 349) submits, ‘In a
generally threatened’ (Harvey, 1996: 291). world that some would like to consider global-
He perceives space-time relations as having ized, the presence of place in people’s lives
undergone dramatic restructuring and persists unyieldingly’. These expressions arise
that ‘place’ – always at the behest of most emphatically in the face of structural
capital and social reconstruction – is even changes coalescing under the rubric of global-
more vulnerable to the exigencies of ization (Harvey, 1996; Dalby and MacKenzie,
capital mobility in this recent era.5 This 1997; Paasi, 2002; 2003; Shelley et al., 2003;
stems in part from the formal role that Pascual-de-Sans, 2004). That is, the emer-
the nation state usurped from the local gence of visible practices around the recre-
and community during the last 150 years. ation of place – the local and the region
The state as ‘naturalized’ container was simultaneously6 – as tangible geographies,
constructed in tandem with the emergence appears directly correlated with an emerging
of the rise of the individual and those sets awareness and concern around global change
of rights seen as necessary to newly develop- (Agnew, 2000). More specifically, this seems
ing liberal social and political arrange- to be occurring as forms of resistance to the
ments. Reformulations of society and complex deterritorialization paths of moder-
economic ‘order’ were reflexively tied to this nity, and the larger structural drivers which
new state entity and its roles. Agnew devalue the various meanings inscribed in our
describes the spatial implications of this lived worlds – worlds lived in place (Entrikin,
transition like this: 1989: 41). Bell’s and Valentine’s (1997: 147)
Robert Feagan: The place of food 31

query is poignant in this regard; ‘As regions 2 New regionalism

face an increasingly globalizing world, will we This vein of discussion extends into the
witness the erosion of regional distinctive- reworking of the region, what became known
ness, or its reaffirmation?’ Here, the region as the new regionalism emerging in the late
and the local (read place in most circum- 1980s in geographic thought (see Gilbert,
stances) as more consciously discursive 1988; Pudup, 1988; Sayer, 1989; Johnston
delimitations of space are held to be contain- et al., 1990; Murphy, 1991; Paasi, 1991), and
ers which, though reflexive in a world of described as ‘an umbrella term for research
change, potentially afford some manner of reflecting how regions/places can be consti-
protection or buttressing to globalizing forces tuted by and constitutive of social life, rela-
(real or otherwise). And this conscious geo- tions and identity’ (Paasi, 2002: 802). From a
graphic realignment and search for place much earlier geographic research era, when
occurs in many instances following periods place and region were seen in purely descrip-
when the region or the local seemed to have tive and idiographic terms, to this recent
lost their distinctive and ‘sovereign’ qualities period characterized by more critical reflec-
and markers of identity for their inhabitants. tion, contemporary regionalism engages with
As early as 1976 in his well-known tome place below and the state above, in ways
on place and placelessness, Relph exhorted which embed it in a relational and inter-
that: dependent manner – ‘relatively permeable,
socially constructed, politically mediated’
‘placelessness’ – the weakening of distinctive
diverse experiences and identities of places – is (Jones and MacLeod, 2004: 434), but sub-
now a dominant force. Such a trend makes a stantive nonetheless. Regions are an outcome
major shift in the geographical bases of of structural change and the contingency of
existence from a deep association with places local-place context and agency, both of which
to rootlessness, a shift that, once recognized are products and drivers of sociospatial
and clarified, may be judged undesirable and
possibly countered. (Relph, 1976: 6) processes (Murphy, 1991). Further, regions
are seen to be geographic units of both stabil-
Casey’s (2001) more recent work on the ity and change where internal and external
‘dried-out life-world’ of modernity wields a forces are continuously transforming and
similar description, prompting a search for reinforcing regions in a multitude of ways.
connection, place-making, and meaning in the They are reflexive but they remain significant
face of such placelessness and that which spatial entities in the geographic imagination
drives it. Revivifying the local in the face of (Jones and MacLeod, 2004) and seem ‘to be
what he labels the ‘thinning’ out of our daily strengthening under contemporary circum-
geographies is focused on the recreation of stances’ (Agnew, 2000: 101). The recent role
place, and the ‘thickening’ of our lifeworlds – of the region in EU development schemes is
attaching social and cultural meanings to spe- partly founded on this realization, admittedly
cific places once again. So the devaluation under quite divergent political-economic ends
from above of the local and place finds its (see Ray, 1998).
concomitant opposite in the valorization of The fact that regions/places are imagined
the local evident in many sociological and and constructed, and that they are dynamic
geographic observations on resistance to and contingent upon both agency relations
globalizing forces. ‘Localism provides a defen- from below and structural relations from
sive position against the disempowering and above (stable but impermanent) does not
homogenizing effects of globalization’ (Allen, impede them from regaining both legitimacy
2004: 169). Harvey (1996) sees the search for and urgency in the face of global capitalist
both imagined and real communities arizing in processes (Agnew, 2000; Paasi, 2002). And,
the face of this sense of place-insecurity. according to Entrikin (1989: 41), this is also
32 Progress in Human Geography 31(1)

true partly because of the inherent value and their criteria of ecological sustainability and
‘givens’ of social existence: ‘More specifically, the places they inhabit – living within place
attachment to place and territory remain of and within the ecological means and condi-
importance in modern society despite the tions of that place. The delineation of space in
increased mobility of the population and this ecological manner has critical political
despite the production of standardized land- repercussions with respect to the rejection of
scapes.’ A close link is found here in the other forms of political space which do not
renewed concern (and search) for sense- abide by these specific con-ditions of delimita-
of-place, which may be conceived as attempts tion (Frenkel, 1994). McTaggart cites various
to recapture spatio-cultural identity in an era criteria for this ideology cum praxis, exhorting
of identity-confusion under globalization that we:
(Pascual-de-Sans, 2004; Windsor and
Be aware that community responsibility for
McVey, 2005). That is, there is a range place operates through the mechanism of a
of concerns emerging around the loss and collective social or cultural consciousness in
diminishment of uniqueness and geographic which are embedded a set of normative values;
difference associated with the perceived and that constructive bioregional activity is
designed to respond to and condition these
homogenizing forces of the cultural, social,
values in such a manner that actions planned
and economic under globalization. And, in or carried out will promote certain specific and
this environment of concern, territories, desired qualities, such as community welfare,
regions, places and communities are evinced ecosystem soundness, restoration, and
as spaces of resistance through which agency conservation. (McTaggart, 1993: 308)
and local institutional efforts can manage
Seeing the ecological connotations of place as
change in ways which more closely meets
having some manner of determining quality in
their needs, at least under some reworked
the sociospatial affairs of humanity is integral
level of control from below. The inventions of
to the respatialization discussion around the
community, place and region take on this
production of food given that food production
more critical constructed role even though
is held to be tied directly to environmental
the interdependent dialectical configuration
of the local and trans-local does not alter.
IV Synthesizing moments: LFS and
3 Bioregionalism
geographies of place
Another overlapping theme is the environ-
mental and geographic exploration of One of the primary results – and one of
regions – bioregionalism – as ecological the primary needs – of industrialism is the
separation of people and places and products
containers around which moral and social from their histories. (Berry, 2002: 7)
behaviour is constructed (see writers like
McTaggart, 1993; Frenkel, 1994). In simple What might we take from the foregoing con-
terms, the region is seen and reworked in cepts and ideas with respect to a constructive
these imagined ways, as a semi-determining synthesis? I initiate this section by suggesting
ecological space, constructed with aspirations that the critical positions and practices
that see human behavior and activity advanced in LFS literature around the need to
necessarily being shaped by, or accom- reconstruct the ‘local’ in the face of industrial-
modating, regional ecological conditions and izing and globalizing agricultural systems are
imperatives (Meredith, 2005). Bioregional paralleled, though theoretically deepened,
theorists delineate the world according to in the discussions by geographers. This is fol-
ecological attributes, imagining that human lowed by ruminations on the kinds of consid-
activities and decision-making can be directed erations seen as necessary to constructive
in ways that are more closely aligned with LFS respatialization efforts.
Robert Feagan: The place of food 33

Though often not easily articulated, agriculture, food-box schemes, community

people do develop associations between gardens, farm-to-school programs, food-
perceived losses of tradition, familiar land- circles, etc. are emplaced and where their
scapes, and values, and the complex much reduced food-mile radii provide a sharp
processes of capital accumulation commonly contrast to that common to the agro-
labeled globalization. The sense that modern- industrially produced food-plate. The more
ized space, ‘the realm of a rootless, fluid, geographically proximal boundaries tied to
reality consisting of flows of capital, these LFS elements are said also to contribute
commodities, money and information’ reflexively to the reconfiguration or recon-
(Merrifield, 1993: 103) is annihilating place – struction of industrialized food spaces, into
fracturing, realigning, restructuring the his- places and communities with associative
toric places of our geographic imagination, is identities of food between the producers and
part of this emerging set of psychological and the consumers.
material practices tied to place, the local, LFS efforts would appear to be clear
community and food. This fracturing and loss examples of this resistance to change, calling
of place or the ‘thinning of the lifeworld’ as for a realignment of human social interaction
Casey (2001) would describe this angst in the context of place and food. This appeal
around globalization, is manifest in a myriad is accompanied by those who hold that food
of ways. That is, thinning under moderniza- and its powerful sociocultural and geographic
tion has culminated in concerns at the scale of associations are arguably more critical sym-
first- to third-world job-shifts, loss of lan- bolic determinants of identity than many
guages and dialects, diminishment and era- other elements of cultural consumption
sure of cultural and social traditions, as well as (Kingsolver, 2003). DeLind’s (2002) notes on
at the scale of community and local economic ‘inhabitation’ and place-making are developed
dislocation, and the depletion of regional in the spirit of this sense of attachment which,
ecosystems and biodiversity. Specific to the she argues, is as integral to social and individ-
LFS umbrella, we see analogous critiques and ual needs, and what these mean for the cre-
concerns over rural community disintegration ation of a ‘civic and democratic agriculture’.
as systems of local control, employment, and Even Harvey (1996), who is clear about the
social bonds and relations wither, over the difficulties he sees in attaching ‘rootedness’ to
loss of ‘foodways’ and accompanying cultural the ‘experience of place’ and the privileging of
traditions, soil and water degradation, and such sentiments to the individual versus the
reduction of ecosystem, species and genetic collective, holds that there is transformative
diversity associated with industrial agricul- potential inherent in resistance to the per-
tural practices. ceived loss of place in the geographic imagina-
The spatial realignments inherent in the tion – ‘local protests [that] can build outwards
modernization project writ large are held to be to a more universal ecological politics’ (1996:
the degradation and loss of place, the local, and 305). Such a ‘militant particularism’ ‘seizes
community. Such ‘thinning out’ and diminish- upon the qualities of place, reanimates the
ment of meaning and attachment associated bond between the environmental and the
with humanity’s arguably age-long relation- social, and seeks to bend the social processes
ships with place compels consideration and constructing space-time to a radically differ-
understanding of LFS efforts. Local food sys- ent purpose’ (1996: 306).
tems are orientated around some form of geo-
graphic delimitations of space variously labeled 1 Boundaries of the ‘local’
the local, place and the community. These are The LFS literature itself increasingly raises
key spatial containers within which LFS prac- the issues of ‘boundaries’ and its localizing
tices of farmers’ markets, community-shared terminology and aspirations. For instance,
34 Progress in Human Geography 31(1)

Anderson and Cook (1999: 146) note in their food. The local here is intrinsically tied to the
work on community food security (CFS) that extra-local such that their interdependence
‘The most fundamental problem impeding complicates the delimitation of boundaries.
clear definitions of CFS is the vagueness of the These questions need to be addressed in LFS
concept of “community”’, and that issues of debates.
definition are spatial, moral, and functional – There are other difficulties that we
by no means mutually inclusive in their encounter in research focused on the local
manifestations. They also note that what and community. For example, Allen et al.
community comprises is sometimes ‘confused (2003) and Allen (2004) point out there are
with the question of what is “local,” perhaps many complex and conflicting meanings tied
because both have a spatial dimension’, and up in the discourse of the ‘local’ with respect
though community must be defined for to food, and, as Hinrichs (2003: 36) notes,
appropriate food security policy, ‘whether the local is not neat nor easily containable in
various aspects of food systems are local or the range of potential LFS elements: ‘Specific
not is part of a range of options for implemen- social or environmental relations do not
tation’. Writers like Hinrichs (2003) and always map predictably and consistently onto
Ilbery and Kneafsey (1998) help to raise the the spatial relation.’ As the spatial becomes
visibility of the diverse spatial attributes even more concretely bounded in the shapes
associated with the differing elements of LFS. of bioregional place appeals, and the notion of
For example, the geography of niche and the foodshed (Kloppenburg et al., 1996), we
specialty foods is intrinsic to their status and encounter fundamental concerns regarding
success involving the valorization of the local, what is in and what is out in these
also seen in the ‘quality turn’ and in discussions constructed terrains (Cresswell, 1996). We
of cultural economies (Ray, 1998; Kneafsey also need to understand that the local and
et al., 2001). Their profiles are tied to the community (regions for that matter) are not
provenance of the foods grown and/or the islands unto themselves, but interdependent
character of the processing standards and dynamic in their constitution. LFS work
employed in their production. Organic food – must bear in mind with respect to spatially
and its often dual association with specific bound concepts like foodsheds, that the types
geographic regions and ecologically sensitive of food grown, how it is grown, where it is
conditions of production – is a common grown, by whom and according to what sorts
example (Ilbery and Kneafsey, 2000). of cultural, social, and economic needs are
Importantly, though this ‘local’ attribute is key tied, in complex and somewhat indiscernible
to its commoditization, it is sold on both local ways, to sociocultural factors at the macro
and global markets. PDI and PDO labelling economic and political levels. Murdoch’s
schemes, and ideas of ‘terroir’ are, as noted (2000) discussion of rural economic develop-
earlier, along with ‘Tastes of . . .’ organiza- ment is useful for shifting our gaze on food
tions, examples where a sociospatial charac- systems from local nodal places, to that of
ter is inscribed through a geography based on interdependent networks in a landscape, as is
its place of production but not necessarily in Ray’s (1998) account of culture economies
terms of the geography of its consumer and the articulation of local/extra-local inter-
market (Telfer and Wall, 1996; Bessiere, dependencies in their development.
1998; Vision Niagara Planning and
Development, 1998; Kneafsey et al., 2001; 2 Local and global?
Barham, 2003). This kind of respatialization As seems apparent, the commonly consti-
around food systems would fall into Ray’s tuted binary of the local and the global in
(1998: 6) Mode II and III of a ‘cultural econ- terms of LFS efforts is problematic. The
omy’ using territorial markers for branding its two ends of this binary must be seen as
Robert Feagan: The place of food 35

interdependent, and not in simplistic either-or retailers and consumers.’ Aspects of commu-
kinds of end-states (Hinrichs, 2003). Notions nity food security analysis have also demon-
of glocalization, understanding the local and strated some recognition of the necessarily
the global as dialectical, means as Gombay integrated nature of the global and the local:
(2005: 430) holds: ‘places, scales, and identi- ‘While local food systems cannot be expected
ties ought to be understood not as discrete to replace larger-scale agricultural production
things but as events or processes that are and trade as the world’s primary source of
embedded within one another and are in food, they can supplement and complement
constant relationship, movement, and inter- larger-scale food systems in urgently needed
action.’ For example, as contemporary Inuit ways’ (Anderson and Cook, 2000: 244).
communities struggle with the encroachment Bellows and Hamm (2001: 275) concur – ‘the
of the ‘other’ into their world via sociocultural realities of a “local food system” necessitates
traditions and the allocation of traditional an integration of “local and non-local” and
‘country food’ (Gombay, 2005), LFS advo- “conventional and sustainable” in local food
cates are encouraged to imagine place-based systems’. Expressing agency in such ways
and community-orientated ways of thinking can confront neoliberal and economistic
about food chains on this less-than-global rationales with more comprehensive formula-
scale that appeals to people in place, while cir- tions of food-production and consumption
cumventing the brands of militant particular- decisions via local network arrangements
ism tending to conservative parochialism which are more sustainable, while also
(Harvey, 1996). DuPuis and Goodman (2005: attending to the realities of interdependence
369) advance an ‘inclusive and reflexive with other spatial scales.
politics in place’ as an appropriate ethic and This of course muddies the clarion call of
direction for LFS construction of the local, the naïve ‘local’, but it does make clear that
noting the regressive realities of localist geog- the local is critically inset within larger-scale
raphies which can allow ‘a way for local elites spaces nested in diverse ways out to the
to create effective territories for themselves’ global level. Whether LFS processes must
(2005: 364). In terms of progressive LFS pitch a message of less-permeable boundaries
purposes, objectives such as community food around the local in order to achieve their goals –
security and local resilience, environmental radical respatialization of food systems through
integrity, and forms of sociocultural foodsheds for instance or whether, as is evident
embeddedness need to be constructed in in food-labeling schemes for example, some
ways that are ‘diversity-receptive’ (Hinrichs, porosity is a tenable element in LFS formula-
2003). tions – remains to be seen. For example,
However, as well as recognizing that LFSs Watts et al. (2005) qualify the ‘quality’ and
are ineluctably tied to the global system, we labeling schemes as ‘weak’ elements in AFS-
need to listen carefully to those who ‘contend LFS because of their integration with the
that food systems that are more concentrated conventional and international food systems
at the local scale can build some level of (FS). It is also why DeLind (2002: 219) pon-
resistance to market hegemonies’ (Bellows ders the spatial implications and the local in
and Hamm, 2001: 271). In this context, the ‘virtual CSAs and opportunities to buy fresh
notes by Renting et al. (2003: 399) on short- produce ‘on-line’ from organic farmers’.
ened food supply chains, are instructive: Some orientations of LFS see a critical role
‘SFSCs are not the results of some kind of for extra-local actors in the valorization of the
external, elusive “free market”. They result, local, while more spatially focused versions
rather, from the active construction of net- would see this as undermining the long-term
works by various actors in the agrofood chain, processes necessary for real transformation.
such as farmers, food processors, wholesalers, These represent some of the complex issues
36 Progress in Human Geography 31(1)

around the creation of the local and place in (Hinrichs, 2003: 37). This kind of localism or
LFS construction, and their more durable ‘bourgeois regionalism’ cannot be dismissed
contributions to food system sustainability. lightly in progressive LFS deliberations (Jones
and MacLeod, 2004).
3 Complications On the other hand, it is critical to acknowl-
At this juncture, it is also important to signal edge the powers of capital, and the difficulties
other issues tied to some of the imagined of developing LFS practices when they are in
geographies of the local, especially those various ways tied to the dominant food sys-
associated with more determinant ecological tem. Alternative food systems practices are
criteria. For instance, though Harvey (1996) appropriable (everything has its price?) and
sees the local impacts of modernization on this needs to be considered with respect to
the environment, he is not sanguine about the LFS work. The appropriation of the original
positions of the bioregional or foodshed conception of organic farming with its
people-place projects and its associations with strongly local-spatial connotations, and
better ecological stewardship. He holds that recent trends to conventionalization (‘organic
the scale of place experienced by individuals is lite’), is an example (Guthman, 2004;
not translatable to the larger scales at which Raynolds, 2004). LFS in its various permuta-
progressive and transformative politics is tions is susceptible to the ability of the domi-
possible. This is a kind of ecological fallacy. nant system to appropriate non-conventional
Writings on ecological sustainability also raise models of farming like organic. This ‘penetra-
this with respect to the advocacy for tion’ helps to problematize LFS aspirations.
environmental resources to be decentralized The local – which was once intrinsic to the
and managed at the local level: ‘The local organic conceptual narrative – is compro-
network does not ‘see’ the ecosystem, but mised (Lockie et al., 2002). Hall and
only the resources of the ecosystem Mogyordoy (2001) raise scenarios which sug-
connected with the local system’ (Cavallaro gest that delocalization is already at play in the
et al., 1998: 38). reworking of organic production from its
It also bears repeating that the ‘local’ is seemingly innate local incarnation:
neither simple nor uncontentious as Harvey
(1996) and others have noted (DuPuis and organic farming is becoming a slightly modified
Goodman, 2005) and that this appeal requires version of modern conventional agriculture,
replicating the same history, resulting in many
serious caution. The divisive and elitist impli- of the same basic social, technical and
cations of defensive localism and the potential economic characteristics – smaller farms
xenophopia inherent to it must be seen in the become bigger, debt loads increase with
light that there is no automatic resolution of increasing capital intensification, labour is
equity, race, and environment via simple spa- replaced by mechanization and other industrial
inputs, and marketing becomes export-
tial delimitations of the local through food orientated rather than local. (Hall and
(Winter, 2003a; Allen, 2004). Issues of pro- Mogyordoy, 2001: 399; italics added for
tectionism, resistance to the ‘other’, privileg- emphasis)
ing the local, minimizing internal difference,
and separation are of real concern – Similar concerns can be raised around the
‘defensive food system localization tends to ‘quality turn’ and food-origin labeling
stress the homogeneity and coherence designations: ‘The production both of “qual-
of “local”, in patriotic opposition to ity” foods and those protected by labeling
heterogeneous and destabilizing outside schemes relies on spatially extensive (often
forces, perhaps a global “other” . . . [and thus] international) FSCs . . . in order to be viable
localization becomes elitist and reactionary, economically’ (Watts et al., 2005: 30).
appealing to narrow nativist sentiments’ ‘Terroir’, too, demonstrates the complexities
Robert Feagan: The place of food 37

of food and place associations, and their they result in re-engagement with people
potential within the LFS umbrella, as its spa- through relations of regard, with local places
tial valorization through produits de terroir and environments, and with knowledge of
(Barham, 2003), may effectively contribute place-histories and cultural customs – hence
to regional rural development only at the ‘thickening’ place through agency choice. As
expense of other rurals. This commodification our identi-ties are seemingly threatened by
of place via specific values (historic, cultural, physically lengthening food chains and the
economic) must come with some realization, place-disruption that ensues with modern
as Watts et al. (2005) note, that not all places agricultural systems, the LFS movements
have an established culture of ‘terroir’, and portend or offer some psychological solutions
are less likely to benefit from such a branding. or antidotes to this ‘thinning’ – the
Pitting the local against the local is another reconstitution of homo-geographicus. This
consequence in the realities of global capital figure might be described as the outcome of a
fluidity. conscious reattachment to place: as ‘places
However, it may be possible to imagine come to be embedded in us, they become
simultaneous translations of these sorts part of our very self, our enduring character’
ofLFS practices. Barham (2003) submits that (Casey, 2001: 688), ideally committing
one translation amounts to an inward-looking ourselves, economically and politically, to
and xenophobic enclosure of place – a kind of those places.
defensive localism noted earlier (Hinrichs, This requires us to think about boundaries
2003). The second more hopeful translation which are sometimes merely implicit in
suggests an enhanced rootedness that can the call to the ‘local’. As boundaries are
reflect universal values of place, attachment, largely human constructs, they have implica-
and ecology, in the face of placeless powers – tions for a range of social, cultural, economic,
neither exclusionary nor rigid. And, in the and political debates and actions – how
case of criticisms that see such labeling we live in this world. Given this, Pascual-
schemes as potentially mere market-segmen- de-Sans (2004: 351) writes that boundaries
tation techniques (Winter, 2003), Barham are important, even as we acknowledge
(2003) counters that such agency-incited the difficulties and dangers of delimiting
practices may actually increase the plausibility ‘place’: ‘As vague as a place may be, it needs
and ethic of accepting food-ways that recog- boundaries. These may be flexible or diffuse,
nize and adhere to ecological, historical and but, by definition, they must exist. A place
social limits. In this sense, the spatial bound- without boundaries is not a place.’ The
aries implied in some LFS positions can be same kind of recognition is required in LFS
reworked to imagine the importance of place efforts. That is, there is both a call to materi-
while constructed in ways which reflect a alize these limits or boundaries, giving sharper
‘cosmopolitan localism’ (McMichael, 2000) geographic relief to the idea of place and
or, in Sheppard’s (2002) terminology, a ‘global community in our lived worlds, while simulta-
sense of place’. Echoing these ideas, Jones neously heeding the realities of interdepend-
and MacLeod (2004) hold that a transforma- ence and relatedness where the local and the
tive spatial ethics must be tied to recognition global are not separate but entwined in
of a sense of place which is relational, open this kind of dynamic flux (Sheppard, 2002).
and permeable. LFS efforts are truly difficult under such
dialectical conditions and circumstances, but
4 Reattachment to place they are more plausible, radical, and enriching
Acting in opposition to the ‘thinning-out’ of when they take sufficiently into consideration
the place-world involves, it is argued by LFS the grounded implementation of these ideas
proponents, in shifting food choices such that of relocalization.
38 Progress in Human Geography 31(1)

V Concluding thoughts corporations belie the geography of food, soil,

Thus these new spaces of action and publicity climate, and the people who tend the fields.
may finally affect the distribution of resources Given this assessment, they posit that efforts
and the life of the people in the regions. (Paasi, to relocalize our food systems, to rework or
2002: 805) ‘thicken’ the place-world via place-imbued
Food, community and place are complexly food system associations, choices, and cus-
intertwined in our lived worlds and across toms – both new and re-established – can
time (Duruz, 2005). Configurations change lead to more sustainable systems of human
of course but, as Casey (2001) would con- organization and sustenance. Hence, even
tend, the social self and place are intrinsically quite cautious and critical commentary on
constitutive of one another. The global-local this theme by writers like DuPuis and
is recognized as a dialectical pair in the con- Goodman (2005: 360) will hold out that
temporary world: inseparable, though differ- ‘[P]lace has a role in the building of alternative
ent and often conflicting. For those involved food systems’, while simultaneously appeal-
in LFS, there is an urgent imbalance here. The ing to a ‘reflexive localism’ in such food sys-
modern globalizing food system contributes tem turns.
to Casey’s (2001: 684) ‘thinning-out’ of place These hopes are tightly coupled with
regarding homogenization and increased blur- notions that community and the local are spa-
ring with ‘every other place in global space’. tial delimitations which can contribute to, or
For LFS advocates, ‘[T]his great physical and set the context for, transformative place-
psychological distance between food produc- based politics. However, democratic and
tion and consumer creates a tragic disconnec- equitable social relations must be intrinsic to
tion between the general public and the social such spatial shifts or we risk a kind of exclu-
and environmental consequences of the food sionary and reactionary politics of the local
being grown and eaten’ (Kimbrell, 2002: 1). (Hinrichs, 2003; 2000). This orientation must
The geography of the modern food system also see past the ephemeral and positional
reveals that, as food chains become stretched character around which the consumer turn to
further and in more complex ways across local foods sometimes elicits.7 LFS efforts,
space, we experience both the physical and perhaps inadvertently, are coincident with
psychological displacement of production contemporary geographic assessments of
from consumption, and all of the other dis- these spatial concepts – place is important and
connections and disembedding which follow in integral to peoples lived worlds (Agnew and
that stead – loss of rural agricultural resilience Duncan, 1989; Casey, 2001). As much as it
and diversity, degradation of the environ- may be difficult to articulate the ‘local’ and
ment, dislocation of community, loss of iden- community and a place in the world, there is
tity and place. The irony is that the global an almost visceral urgency to reterritorialize
north is more connected than in any space in the efforts of LFS advocates, practi-
other age yet, simultaneously, increasingly tioners, writers, and consumers. The needs
detached and alienated. Local food systems and sentiments around the re-engagement of
advocates see profoundly negative ecological, place – the ambiguity and invention of the
sociocultural, and economic manifestations in local and community notwithstanding – are
the trends of dominant food systems and deeply apparent in social, cultural, political
believe the ‘localization trend shifts the focus and ecological lives (Ray, 1998).
back to the context specific ecological and Yes, it is clear that global interconnected-
social factors global markets tend to external- ness and some level of permeability is and will
ize’ (O’Hara and Stagl, 2001: 535). The be the norm. It is also true that culture is not
increasingly placeless and frictionless ‘produc- static and that drawing lines around places of
tion platforms’ of transnational agricultural food production and consumption and the
Robert Feagan: The place of food 39

contemporary social systems coincident with natural environmental character and capacity
these is a moving and variable target, both – as a means to ‘place our soul’ and
embedded and disengaged at the same time as an ‘abiding connection between our-
(Duruz, 2005). How we determine the local selves and our world’ (Wirzba, 2003: 92).
Agrarian community is the means to this
in LFS will have to be contingent on the place –
the social, ecological, and political circum-
4. ‘Disembedding’ notions as they apply to LFS
stances which circumscribe it (as ‘The local is analyses in this area are tied to Karl Polanyi’s
not everywhere the same’ – Allen et al., 2003: seminal work on disembedded markets, though
63), while also cognizant that any localism is are generally used in this realm to denote agri-
dialectically and relationally tied to the global cultural shifts which remove the particular
in diverse ways. In order for such LFS geosocial and economic context of food pro-
aspirations to bear progressive fruit, such duction and consumption (O’Hara and Stagl,
constructions must be wary of xenophobic, 2001).
place ‘purity’, and anti-democratic orienta- 5. It is useful to keep in mind that, in this context
tions, while also developing spatial delimita- of fluidity, ‘place’ – and by extension the
‘local’ – are first of all themselves outcomes
tions which mitigate against and confront
of capitalist social relations, and that the
the larger structural issues which gave rise to
permanence we accord such places is con-
such resistance and counterpressure in the tinually ‘within the flux and flow of capital
first place. circulation’ (Harvey, 1996: 295).
6. Though, as Paasi (2002) notes, place seems to
Acknowledgements have taken on a larger role, almost usurping
This paper has benefited from the recom- region in geographic inquiry as of late.
mendations of two anonymous referees, the 7. The kinds of communitarian self-sufficiency
suggestions of the editorial staff at PiHG, and and democratic notions sometimes held as
from Irena Zenewych, an insightful editorial inherent in such localization must contend
colleague. with the realities of ‘clear asymmetries of
power and privilege embedded within small
Notes communities’ (Allen, 2004: 172).
1. Produced by Ernie & Nancy Racz of Kernal
Peanuts, RR#1, Vittoria, Ontario – ‘For the References
Neighbourhood Group in Guelph Ontario’. Agnew, J.A. 1989: The devaluation of place in social
2. Barham also notes that ‘terroir’ as a ‘transla- science. In Agnew, J.A. and Duncan, J.S., editors, The
tion of local ecology’ (2003: 131), traditionally power of place: bringing together geographical and soci-
carries semi-determining attributes. That is, ological imaginations, Boston: Unwin Hyman, 9–29.
— 2000: From the political economy of regions to
particular regions are said to have influence on
regional political economy. Progress in Human
their inhabitants, inducing a kind of spiritual Geography 24, 101–10.
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