Marion Nestle: Where Does Local Food Go From Here?

Marion Nestle offers insight into what’s happened in the local food movement over the past 15 years. In a piece published this week in Edible Communities (celebrating its 15th year), the renowned author, blogger, and NYU professor weighs in on how the local food movement has gained traction since 2002.


Photo by Bill Hayes

She writes, “In 1996, my New York University colleagues and I created undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs in Food Studies. Everyone thought we were out of our minds: Why would anyone want to study about food? But we got lucky. The New York Times wrote about our programs the week after they were approved. That very afternoon, we had students in our offices waving the clipping and telling us that they had waited all their lives for these programs. Now, just about every college I visit offers some version of a Food Studies program or food courses in fields as diverse as English, history, art and biology.  Students see how food is an entry point into the most pressing problems in today’s society: health, climate change, immigration, the –isms (sex, gender, race, age), and inequities in education, income, and power.”

A few highlights of progress:

  • One of Nestle’s favorite gains in the food movement: The New Oxford American Dictionary added “locavore” as its word of the year in 2007.
  • In 1994, there were 1,755 farmers’ markets; by 2016, there were 8,669.
  • The USDA reports that about 8 percent of U.S. farms market foods on the local level, mostly directly to consumers through farmers’ markets and  harvest subscription (CSA) arrangements. It estimates local food sales at more than $6 billion a year. This is a tiny fraction of U.S. food sales, but growing all the time, she writes.
  • Since 2007, regional food hubs have tripled in number.
  • The USDA finds four times as many school districts with farm-to-school programs as it did a decade ago.
  • Organic production has grown from about $15 billion in sales in 2006 to nearly $40 billion in 2015. Consumer demand for organic has grown by double-digits nearly every year since the 1990s, and the demand now exceeds the supply.

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