Operationalizing Local Food: Goals, Actions, and Indicators for Alternative Food Systems

Niki Mazaroli, Program Officer in our Self-Sufficiency department, has been published in the academic journal, Agriculture and Human Values.  The work was done under the direction of Professor David Cleveland, who’s research over the past five years has informed the food system localization efforts in Santa Barbara County.
Read the article.

Spatial localization, often demarcated by food miles, has emerged as the dominant theme in movements for more socially just and environmentally benign alternative food systems, especially in industrialized countries such as the United States. We analyze how an emphasis on spatial localization, combined with the difficulty of defining and measuring adequate indicators for alternative food systems, can challenge efforts by food system researchers, environmental writers, the engaged public, and advocacy groups wanting to contribute to alternative food systems, and facilitates exploitation by the mainstream players using “localwash” to maintain the status quo. New indicators are urgently needed because research shows that spatial localization in general and minimized food miles in particular are not adequate or even required for most of the goals of alternative food systems. Creating indicators to operationalize goals for alternative, local food systems requires asking the right questions to make sure indicators are not misleading us: What are the goals of alternative food systems? What actions and policies will most effectively achieve those goals? What is the potential of reducing food miles as an action and a policy for achieving goals? What are the best indicators for measuring progress toward goals? We discuss how these questions can be answered for a wide range of alternative food system goals via four categories according to the role of food miles reduction as an action and policy in promoting them: necessary and sufficient, necessary but not sufficient, potentially important, and potentially supportive.