Friday, March 1, 2013

Buying the 'Local'

For the past few weeks, many of our class discussions have found their way back to the central topic of the strong contemporary desire to consume locally, as a means of pushing back against corporate agriculture and environmentally unfriendly consumption of products being imported or shipped across the country. We've spoken to representatives from our dining services here at Tufts and from a local farm, all of whom mentioned the importance of consciously seeking out local produce and facilitating the connection between producer and consumer as best as possible.

This morning, a certain television commercial caught my attention and invoked a sense of 'local' again in my mind, but from a different angle. This ad was sponsored by Miracle-Gro, showcasing its new "Groables" product. As the commercial states, these easy-to-use pods are perfect for those who are either too inexperienced or, to be frank, too lazy to grow plants the traditional way; they make planting as least labor-intensive as possible.

 So what does a product like this indicate about the current state of food activism? For starters, as mentioned in a previous post, the last decade or so has been dominated by a "back to the land" movement in which many consumers are trading in their canned or imported foods for fresh, local products, especially those whose labels read "organic." The decision and ability to consume locally becomes part of an individual's identity as someone demonstrating his/her personal awareness of choices made pertaining to food, accompanied by the joining of a growing (pun intended) community of self-proclaimed "foodies."

The epitome of consuming locally comes in the form of gardening, because it allows a consumer to be as close to the food to be consumed as physically possible. This sense of 'local,' accompanied by the desire to distance oneself from the capitalist corporations behind agribusiness, has unfortunately been captured by companies like Miracle-Gro. In transforming the idea of growing locally into an industry, evidenced by the sales of products like "Groables," major companies like Miracle-Gro are capitalizing on the desire of many Americans to identify with the consumption of local food. There are upscale "Grow Your Own" shops, expensive workshops focused on how to create a sustainable home garden, and dozens of highly-grossing gardening magazines that have turned the 'local' into a national industry. Ultimately, the corporate, capitalist-driven industry that has given way to disgruntled consumers seeking to go back to the land themselves has managed to exploit the very consumers seeking to avoid them at all costs.

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