The term ‘local food’ has multiple and sometimes conflicting definitions.
In most cases it means that the food was grown in close physical proximity to the consumer for example a few kilometres from the point of sale.
Unlike organic food, there is no legal or universally accepted definition of local food. In part, it is a geographical concept related to the distance between food producers and consumers. In addition to geographic proximity of producer and consumer, however, local food can also be defined in terms of social and supply chain characteristics.
Furthermore, it could also refer to the food that has the unique characteristics of a particular place, or carries a certain local cultural value or significance.
Food systems worldwide are under enormous pressure. Over the past decades, local food systems have been promoted by governments and civil society organisations as a lever for change towards more inclusive, resilient and sustainable food systems based on the belief of their many purported benefits, as in the case of the Mediterranean diet.
Local food markets typically involve small farmers, heterogeneous products, and short supply chains in which farmers also perform marketing functions, including storage, packaging, transportation, distribution, advertising and sales.
The concept of local food may also extend to who produced the food: the personality and ethics of the grower; the attractiveness of the farm and surrounding landscape; and other factors that make up the ‘story behind the food’.
The term ‘provenance’, which describes the method or tradition of production that is attributable to local influences, seems to capture the essence of this component of the local food definition for example the like of strawberries to Mgarr, or fresh fish to Marsaxlokk. Local food systems have also been synonymous with small farms that are committed to stand in the market through social and economic relationships with the consumer.
Local food systems also draw inspiration from how food is produced, how it affects health, the economy and the environment. Thus, in some ways, a local food system also incorporates the concepts of ‘food security’ and ‘food economy’.
The latest world crises has sparked an interest in the local food production worldwide due to the short, or at times, even lack of supplies due to war which in turn brings about many issues in price increase and food security.
Food festivals can provide high levels of interaction between customers and producers, and offer an opportunity for traditional culture, livelihoods, and the local food movement to interact.
At their individual stalls, producers offer visitors the opportunity to sample their produce, allowing them to experience the taste and flavours of the food, at the same time; being able to discuss the origin of the food and production processes.
This has been done for many centuries however we tend to accept these festivals merely as a good time out. L-Imnarja has traditionally been a festival for such activities, what might need to be more appreciated is the fact that this festival hoovers around agribusiness and is an opportunity for the farmers to exhibit their produce but more for the locals to appreciate the essence of local food production and savour the fruit of the farmers’ labour.
Article written by:
Dr Paulino Schembri D. Prof, MSc. (UCLan) is a food safety
management systems consultant specialising in HACCP, working
for the local industry. He is a lecturer at the University of Malta,
University of Central Lancashire and Coordinator of the Master
Chefs Diploma at the Institute of Tourism Studies.