Beginning the Circumnavigation…

Well, I’ve been in Canada for about half an hour now, and I’m about to leave what has briefly been my first country outside of the United States on my circumnavigation around the world this summer. Granted, the Circumnavigator Scholars grant does not permit North American countries to count as a part of the five-country, three-continent minimum of the research trip. Nonetheless, I made sure to make this Canadian pit stop meaningful: in the spirit of my local food research theme, I got a maple-dipped donut from Tim Horton’s. And the majority of the world’s maple syrup supply is from Canada, so probability is that my donut’s ingredients were source nationally, if not locally? (Note to self to Google whether there is any actual maple product in Tim Horton’s donuts.)

I suppose my association of Tim Horton’s with unique Canadian charm begs the question, do I think a giant, multi-national corporation can sell true “local” food? Certainly, locals (Canadians) drink Tim Horton’s coffee. The chain has a reputation for its quintessential Canadian-ism. Yet, in terms of my research, I’d have to do an amount of Google before I could determine whether the donut I ate was “local.” (I doubt it was.)

For my research, I’ve defined local food systems (LFS) as the following:

Local food systems are complex socio-ecological systems encompass food production, processing, and sales within a defined geographical area (Balász 2012). However, given the vastly different characteristics of the cities in question, the exact radius around each city center within which agricultural production is considered “local” will vary greatly. Often, LFS can be best defined by what they are not, or characterized in contrast to complex, long food supply chains that span within and across countries. They are also often “oriented towards a sustainability that is multidimensional: economic, environmental, and social” (Corrado 2014).

 

I’ve consciously employed a lenient definition of LFS to be able to investigate the most poignant forms of LFS in each very different city I will visit. Nonetheless, my ultimate intentions are to explore food supply chains and sources that function independently of longer national or international food supply chains.

Furthermore, my research specifically investigates the extent to which LFS hold the potential to foster urban food security—or provide more economically and physically accessible safe, nutritious food to urban residents. To begin, LFS may increase the availability of food supplies to a certain urban neighborhood by providing agricultural production and food sources that wouldn’t otherwise exist. LFS may foster general economic regeneration in communities or additional, direct sources of income to urban residents. LFS may also provide a learning environment for people to increase their awareness of nutritional practices and provide a social space that advances a community’s social cohesion and ability to productively tackle economic challenges. awareness about the lacks plentiful, nutritious food, creating social learning environments. LFS may also do a whole bunch of other things to increase urban food security, which are detailed in the fun table below!

 

Food Security Component Local Food Systems Characteristics
1. Physical availability of food ·      Increases total food production within an urban region

o   Increases the productivity of existing production spaces that distribute food to urban residents

o   Increases the number of production centers that distribute food to urban residents

o   Increases the land in a neighborhood that is used for food production

2. Economic and physical access to food ·      Contributes to local employment and economic regeneration

·      Increases disposable income of urban residents

o   Provides direct income

o   Increases access to food through self-production

o   Provides food that is less expensive than available substitutes

·      Provides food in a geographic area that is accessible to more urban residents

3. Nutrition of consumption practices ·      Provides an educational space to learn about health and nutrition

·      Provides specific nutritional programming/education activities

·      Provides a wider variety of food products/enable consumers to increase their dietary diversity

·      Provides customers with greater trust in the quality components of their food

4. Food safety ·      Provides a source of safe food in the case that non-local food supplies are contaminated

·      Provides a safety net (e.g. insurance) in case food provided by the LFS is unsafe

·      (-) Provides people with (local) food that may be more likely to be unsafe/contaminated due to its growth in urban regions or lack of safety regulations

5. Stability of the other four dimensions ·      To provide resilience during type of shock, the organization…

·      Natural/environmental:

o   Employs technology that is resistant to environmental shocks and/or climate change

o   Has physical barriers that defend the organization against natural disasters or inclement weather

·      Sociopolitical:

o   Funding/revenue comes from non-political or socially independent non- sources

o   Revenue streams are secure irrespective of changing social trends

o   Organization/food is accessible to people no matter that social or political affiliations

·      Economic:

o   Funding is provided by a financially secure, sustainable source

o   Revenue is secure irrespective of declines to other economic sectors

o   Revenue does not decrease if consumers’ income decreases

o   Provides consumers with an educational space to learn how to produce their own food

o   Provides consumers with increased direct or disposable income

o   Provide consumers with affordable food

Nevertheless, there are many reasons why longer food supply chains also are crucial for ensuring global food security. LFS also have a number of shortcomings in regards to maintaining a city’s food security: a region’s excessive reliance on food produced within one geographic area can make communities’ food supplies more vulnerable environmental shocks; local food systems may not promote ethical nor economic solidarity due to their lower productivity and ability to support human intellect and capital; and people’s beliefs that local food is more environmentally or economically sustainable often ignores factors economic and environmental costs of production, transport, capital, and labor.

 

Furthermore, abstaining from criticisms of LFS, there are many inherent positive characteristics of long food supply chains–think countries capitalizing upon their natural resource endowments, innovative technologies, and social or intellectual capital to take part in a global collaboration towards a common good. In fact, I just watched a short documentary on this Brussels Airlines flight titled “Aid for Sustainable Development: Exports are Good for the Local Community.” This short video details how growing French (green) beans for export in Kenya enhances the country’s food system: the crops exported are subject to health and safety regulations that they wouldn’t otherwise be and those growing them receive training in good agricultural practices that they otherwise wouldn’t receive. Because those green beans not deemed high enough quality to meet European quality standards, they get sold to local markets and thus increase the quantity, diversity, and safety of food supplied to Kenyans. And then the agricultural leaders who have gained the advanced training are able to disseminate their knowledge through a variety of agricultural networks.

While I’m not visiting Kenya and my research does not focus on international supply chain alternatives, I thought the fact that this video offered on the Brussels Airlines entertainment system—nestled in between “Horrible Bosses” and many French movies—was quite poignant… And indicative of the large variety of perspectives I’m sure I will encounter over the next thirteen weeks.

 

Anyhow, despite how surreal it still feels, my circumnavigation is currently underway. One out of sixteen flights done. My next layover is in Brussels, and I’ll be in Kampala, Uganda by tomorrow night. My go-to line for the past few weeks when people asked about my upcoming trip was to state how surreal I felt that I was leaving on such a ridiculous (amazing) trip so soon. Still, each time I list off the seven countries I will be visiting over the next thirteen weeks, I surprise myself. Granted, this all did start feeling a bit more real when I realized I forgot my headphones, turned ‘Data Roaming’ off on my phone, and alas, when my Discover cared got rejected at Tim Horton’s. I also think I’ll be further invested in rewriting (to make legible) my interview guides for my research in Uganda once I turn in the rest of my finals… And maybe at the next airport, I’ll have enough time to connect to the WiFi and download the few research methods books I’ve been meaning to take a look back at before I begin the international component of my research. And also text my mom.