A locavore is someone who eats food grown or produced locally or within a certain radius such as 50, 100, or 150 miles. The locavore movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to produce their own food, with the argument that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Local grown food is an environmentally friendly means of obtaining food, since supermarkets that import their food use more fossil fuels and non-renewable resources.

"Locavore" was coined by Jessica Prentice from San Francisco Bay Area on the occasion of World Environment Day 2005 to describe and promote the practice of eating a diet consisting of food harvested from within an area most commonly bound by a 100 mile radius. "Locavore" is sometimes also used.

The New Oxford American Dictionary chose locavore, a person who seeks out locally produced food, as its word of the year 2007. The local foods movement is gaining momentum as people discover that the best-tasting and most sustainable choices are foods that are fresh, seasonal, and grown close to home. Some locavores draw inspiration from the 100-Mile Diet or from advocates of local eating like Barbara Kingsolver whose book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle chronicles her family's attempts to eat locally. Others just follow their taste buds to farmers' markets, community supported agriculture programs, and community gardens.

Why local food systems?

Local food systems are an alternative to the global corporate models where producers and consumers are separated through a chain of processors/manufacturers, shippers and retailers. With an increasing scale of industrial food systems the control of quality is increasingly decided by the middlemen while a local food system redevelops these relationships and encourage a return of quality control to the consumer and the producer respectively. These quality characteristics are not only in the product but in the method of producing.

The development of local food systems is not only about environmental impacts but also the social and economic benefits encouraged through building local relationships. "Buying and producing locally enables accountability. Distance disables accountability."

Defining a movement

During the early 20th century, the demise of the family farm and the growth of corporate farms was experienced through much of the United States. In the late 60's and early 70's with the growth of the back to the land movement there were increasing numbers of small farms selling a variety of products to local communities. Since the 70's the increase of multi-national food companies has increased the size of not only farms but the overall food system. During this same time period, a slow and steady movement of farmers and consumers building relationships and changing purchasing habits occurred and is still occurring.

The concept is often related to the slogan "Think globally, act locally'', common in green politics. Those supporting development of a local food economy consider that since food is needed by everyone, everywhere, every day, a small change in the way it is produced and marketed will have a great effect on health, the ecosystem and preservation of cultural diversity. They say shopping decisions favoring local food consumption directly affect the well-being of people, improve local economies and may be more ecologically sound. Pioneering and influential work in the area of local economies was done by noted economist E. F. Schumacher.

Local food networks include community gardens, food co-ops, Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), farmers' markets, and seed savers groups. The principal distinction between these systems and other agrifood systems is the spatial dimension. Local food networks have been described as "community-based agriculture" (e.g. Pimbert, et al., 2001), "direct agricultural markets", and "localist agriculture" (Hines, et al., 2000). The terms "network" and "system" are sometimes used interchangeably, but there appears to be a preference for "network". Critics also say that local food tends to be more expensive to the consumer than food bought without regard to provenance and could never provide the variety currently available (such as having summer vegetables available in winter, or having kinds of food available which can not be locally produced due to soil, climate or labor conditions).

However, proponents claim that the lower price of commodified food (which is sometimes called cheap food) is often due to a variety of governmental subsidies, including direct ones such as price supports, direct payments or tax breaks, and indirect ones such as subsidies for trucking via road infrastructure investment, and often does not take into account the true cost of the product. They further indicate that buying local food does not necessarily mean giving up all food coming from distant ecoregions, but rather favoring local foods when available. They also point out that local foods often represent more variety, not less, as obscure local delicacies (including wild foods) are rediscovered, and as more types of produce (varieties or indeed species) are grown in the garden or allotment, types that would not be acceptable in the supermarket-driven food chain.

What defines local or regional?

The definition of "local" or "regional" is flexible and is different depending on the person in question. Some local business with specific retail and production focuses, such as cheese, may take a larger view of what is 'local' while a local farm my see the area with in a day's driving as local (since this is where they can efficiently move their products to. Some see "local" as being a very small area (typically, the size of a city and its surroundings), others suggest the ecoregion or bioregion size, while others refer to the borders of their nation or state.

Some proponents of "local food" consider that the term "local" has little to do with distance or with the size of a "local" area. For example, some see the American state of Texas as being "local", although it is much larger than some European countries. In this case, transporting a food product across Texas could involve a longer distance than that between northern and southern European countries. It is also argued that national borders should not be used to define what is local. For example, a cheese produced in Alsace is likely to be more "local" to German people in Frankfurt, than to French people in Marseille.

The concept of "local" is also seen in terms of ecology, where food production is considered from the perspective of a basic ecological unit defined by its climate, soil, watershed, species and local agrisystems, a unit also called an ecoregion or a foodshed. The concept of the foodshed is similar to that of a watershed; it is an area where food is grown and eaten. The size of the foodshed varies depending on the availability of year round foods and the variety of foods grown and processed. In a way, replacing the term 'water' with 'food' reconnects food with nature. "The term "foodshed" thus becomes a unifying and organizing metaphor for conceptual development that starts from a premise of the unity of place and people, of nature and society."

Where local food is determined by the distance it has traveled, the wholesale distribution system can confuse the calculations. Fresh food that is grown very near to where it will be purchased, may still travel hundreds of miles out of the area through the industrial system before arriving back at a local store. This is seen as a labeling issue by local food advocates, who suggest that, at least in the case of fresh food, consumers should be able to see exactly how far each food item has traveled.

Often, products are grown in one area and processed in another, which may cause complications in the purchasing of local foods. In the international wine industry, much "bulk wine" is shipped to other regions or continents, to be blended with wine from other locales. It may even be marketed quite misleadingly as a product of the bottling country. This is in direct opposition to both the concept of "local food" and the concept of terroir.