Does the pursuit of local food destroy our environment?: Questions of authenticity and sustainability

This source preferred by Sean Beer

Authors: Beer, S.

Start date: 13 September 2012

‘The destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they feed themselves.’ Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1949).

There is a well-established mantra within the ‘environmental movement’ that local is good and that small is beautiful. This is particularly so with food and drink. If food and drink can be sourced locally this is considered to be more environmentally sustainable than sourcing it from a distance; possibly the other side of the world (Germov and Williams 1999). Primarily this is based on the perceived increase in carbon emissions associated with transporting food long distances, and is the premise that underpins concepts such as food miles. ‘Eating and drinking the local’ is seen as something that is good to do from an environmental (and other) perspective(s), something that is sustainable (Beer et al 2012).

At the same time, amongst some people, there is a real drive to pursue authentic experiences; again particularly with regard to food and drink. Some local people and tourists will try and seek out the food and drink that is distinctive and peculiar to the area in which they live or to which they visit (Beer 2008). This pursuit of the authentic is often seen as something good to do, something sustainable as it contributes to all elements of the triple bottom line; that is environmental, economic and social sustainability. This is almost taken as a given, but potentially this argument is fundamentally flawed.

Firstly it may well be that ‘local’ food and drink has a much larger carbon foot print than food that has been transported from the other side of the world. Secondly, depending on how supply chains are constructed, it may well be that much of the economic benefit leaves the immediate area and flows to external investors. Finally the pursuit of the authentic may well be based on pursuing some sort of pre-industrial ideal that seeks to conserve communities in aspic rather than allow them to develop and embrace change. Possibly food producers and others involved in tourism become actors living out an historical drama rather than living in a vibrant, developing community. Whilst the tourist pursues what Nietzsche (1886), Heidegger (1926) and Satre (1948) might have considered to be the authentic life, the communities which they visit are forced to live in-authentically in order to survive.

In this paper I explore these issues from a postmodern perspective examining the interplay of these various ideas in an attempt to, as Bernstein (1983) said, move beyond objectivism and relativism towards praxis. I will also discuss the need for a new ‘open authentic approach’ to research in this area that is underpinned by concepts of social justice that goes beyond some of the reductionist approaches that are currently used to justify policy. Participants will be encouraged to engage with the paper using all their senses; particularly those of taste!


Beer, S.C. 2008. Authenticity and food experience – commercial and academic perspectives. Journal of Foodservice, 19, pp. 153–163 Beer, S., Murphy, A. and Shepherd, R., 2012. Food and farmers’ markets. In Tourism and Retail. The Psychogeography of liminal consumption. Ed Charles McIntyre. London: Rotledge.

Bernstein, R.J., 1983. Beyond objectivism and relativism. Science, Hermeneutics and praxis. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Brillat-Savarin. J., 1949: 2011. The Physiology of Taste. New York: Heritage Books.

Germov, J. and Williams, L., 1999. A sociology of Food and Nutrition. The social Appetite. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Heidegger, M. 1926: 2007. Being and Time. Oxford: Blackwell.

Nietzsche, F. 1886:1997. Beyond good and evil. . Mineola: Dover.

Satre, J.P., 1948:1996. Existentialism and Humanism. London: Methuen.

This data was imported from Scopus:

Authors: Beer, S.

Pages: 47-56

ISBN: 9781134457403

DOI: 10.4324/9780203795699

The data on this page was last updated at 04:42 on September 22, 2017.