Support your local

This will be short this time. As I’ve pointed out, I’ve been working on a project where my part is to examine stories that appear on newspapers, both broadsheet and tabloid. To be more specific, I’m actually looking at the online versions, just to be clear that. Not that looking into the paper versions wouldn’t be interesting, considering that it’s … how to put it in a funny way … a different content delivery system from the online platforms. It would actually be interesting in to compare pre-internet and internet era newspaper headlines and leading paragraphs, to see if there’s plenty of what is known as clickbait. That’s not exactly what this is going to be about though. What I’m looking at specifically is how health related news is presented. It’s not exactly what I do, or have done, as such, but it’s close enough and, arguably of particular contemporary relevance. I’ve covered this in a previous essay which was a bit of a one-off thing, or so I thought. The thing is that it focused more or less just on all things the discourse of ‘organic’ has shifted from something pertaining to agricultural methods or process to a lifestyle.

What I want to do here is to expand this a bit, albeit only in a preliminary or tentative way. This means that I’m discussing it, rather loosely, rather than examining a specific discourse, word by word, such as ‘organic’. This is because as I’ve been going through a large number of news stories that deal with health and science, including but not limited to, in no particular order, medicine, physiology and nutrition, as well as psychology and sociology. In some cases ‘organic’ crops up, but there seems to be plenty of emphasis on nutrition, what to eat and when. For example, when I look up news stories in the health genre, there are stories on whether you should or shouldn’t eat breakfast, what you should eat for breakfast. This, the nutrition discourse, is then, at times, accompanied by various workout routines and discussion of how and how much you should be exercising. Another buzzword that gets thrown around is ‘local food’ or ‘local produce’. I would say that it has to do with ecology and sustainability, as examined by, for example, Kati Räsänen, Merja Saarinen, Sirpa Kurppa, Frans Silvenius, Inkeri Riipi, Riikka Nousiainen, Leena Erälinna, Laura Mattinen, Sirkka Jaakkola, Sanne Lento and Sari Mäkinen-Hankamäki, in ‘Lähiruuan ekologisten vaikutusten selvitys’ (Ecological impacts of local food), yet, somehow, it comes across as yet another thing that has to do with a certain lifestyle that implies that you have the money to pay more for your food than others. In other words, not unlike ‘organic’, ‘local food’ has to do, or, well, at least supposedly has to do with production, albeit the focus is on where it is produced rather than how it is produced. That said then, once again, when confronted by it, not unlike how ‘organic’ is juxtaposed with ‘regular’, ‘local’ is also juxtaposed with ‘regular’. I think it’s worth noting that it’s not ‘organic’ vs. ‘non-organic’, not to mention ‘inorganic’, so, similarly, it’s not ‘local’ vs. ‘global’ as it’s rather a matter of differentiation. I reckon it’s a matter of how one defines local. What does local mean? In my case, what is the distance from my location or, to be more practical, the store I happen to go, that counts as local when it comes to food production? Is it a radius of one kilometer, two kilometers, five kilometers, ten kilometers, twenty-five kilometers, fifty kilometers, hundred kilometers? I have no idea, but they do sell local produce in stores. Now before trying to look up definitions for that, at least in the Finnish context, it’s worth addressing how it is presented. This is, of course, going to be anecdotal, but I checked some of the food and drink sections at a local hypermarket. I didn’t investigate every product, but at least at a glance vegetables and herbs labeled as local were from nearby municipalities. In the bread section there’s bread from a local bakery. In the meat section there’s meat that is indicated as local, but all I could confirm that the country of origin is Finland. In other words, the meat could be from elsewhere, while the supplier is local. This may also be the case with the bread as it’s not evident whether the ingredients used are local. They could be from anywhere, from Finland or elsewhere. With vegetables and herbs it’s more evident where they originate as they are raw produce, sold as such. That said, while they are from the region, it’s hard to say if they are local. Is seventy to eighty kilometers local? Maybe, maybe not. Does it matter? I’d say it does if produce is sold as local. What if other producers are located more close by? Is it fair that the further off producers get the same local label? Does it lead you on then? Yes, no, maybe. It all depends on what counts as local food.

I tried to find an official definition, but apparently there is none. I could be wrong about this, so do correct me if I’m wrong. At least according to Oona Kasslin and Annukka Valkeapää (11), as presented in a report titled ‘Lähiruokaa koskevat arvot ja asenteet Suomessa’ (translating along the lines of ‘Values and attitudes towards local food in Finland’), Katja Hyvönen (20), as discussed in her dissertation titled ‘Ruokaa paikallistamassa: Kehittämistyön tausta, tavoitteet ja muotoutuminen’ (‘Localizing food: The background, motives and evolution of the promotion of local food’), and Susanna Ansio and Miia Lehtonen (7), as elaborated in a report titled ‘Lähiruokaa, kiitos! Seuturuoka saatavaksi -hankkeen satoa’ (translating along the lines of ‘Local food, please! A report on improving the accessibility of regional food’), there is no official definition for local food in Finland. As Ansio and Lehtonen (7) point out that, to some the indicator is whether you can see where the food is produced from your window, whereas to others it’s an indicator of regionality. Kasslin and Valkeapää note (11-12) that in official contexts it tends to be understood as having to do with the use of ingredients produced, consumed and marketed regionally, but also extending to perceived local or regional food culture and economy, as well as to employment. They (41) also identify local food as a trend.

What’s the thing you notice in practice, when you check the selection of local food at a store? Well, at least a glance, the price will probably not be as cheap as it is in general. I’d say choosing regular non-local produce is likely the cheapest option. What I’m after here is that as local food tends to come at a higher price than regular food, it’s not exactly an option for those who struggle to make ends meet. I reckon it creates all kinds of binaries: rich/poor, ecological/non-ecological, environmentally conscious/environmentally not conscious, cultivated/non-cultivated etc. In other words, choosing local indicates to others that you care, whereas not doing so indicates that you couldn’t care less, even if that’s not the case.

Now this isn’t nor wasn’t meant to be a proper look into how discourses shift, but I felt like bringing it up because I couldn’t help paying attention to it. Perhaps in the future I have more time look into this properly. As a final note here, it’s worth bringing up that by no means am I against difference. In fact I quite enjoy regional variety. If that wasn’t the case, then it’d all be the same, wherever you went. That’d be horribly bland. I’m just rather interested in how it shifts from sustainability to consumption.


  • Ansio, S., M. Lehtonen and P. Saalasto (2011). Lähiruokaa, kiitos! Seuturuoka saatavaksi -hankkeen satoa. Turku, Finland: Turku University of Applied Sciences.
  • Hyvönen, K. (2014). Ruokaa paikallistamassa: Kehittämistyön tausta, tavoitteet ja muotoutuminen. Joensuu, Finland: University of Eastern Finland.
  • Kasslin, O., and A. Valkeapää (2014). Lähiruokaa koskevat arvot ja asenteet Suomessa. Helsinki, Finland: University of Helsinki.
  • Räsänen K., M. Saarinen, S. Kurppa, F. Silvenius, I. Riipi, R. Nousiainen, L. Erälinna, L. Mattinen, S. Jaakkola, S. Lento and S. Mäkinen-Hankamäki (2014). Lähiruuan ekologisten vaikutusten selvitys. Jokioinen, Finland: Agrifood Research Finland.