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ESF workshop about local food in Europe. Reports, presentations and case studies/Séminaire ESF sur les produits locaux en Europe. Rapports, présentations et études de cas

Local food in Europe: ESF exploratory workshop

A workshop about European local food systems and their meanings in XXIst Century Europe
Virginie Amilien, Georgina Holt, Karen Montagne and Isabelle Techoueyres

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114-17 June 2006
Ecole Doctorale SHS
University of Bordeaux 2 – France

A multidisciplinary approach, stimulating the necessity of a common definition or a set of complementary concepts

2Local food was the common thread of this multidisciplinary European workshop, and most participants began their communication by explaining their meaning and use of the concept of local food. It is the reason why the workshop started by focusing on similarities and differences while speaking about local food. This ESF workshop was characterised by 1) a high diversity among the presentations with respect to theory, empirical examples and approaches, 2) a high motivation by all participants showing passionate relationships to their local products and interesting comments and discussions, and 3) striking differences between northern Europe and southern Europe in relation to local products (or more precisely the UK-model and the southern European model) as previously emphasized by Sylvander and other authors (Barjolle et Sylvander 2000, Link et Sylvander 200**)

3The first common observations emphasized the fact that “local food” as a concept had to be reconsidered, either through a common definition, or through the elaboration of a set of complementary dimensions/concepts that consider local food in relationship to different food context. The local, that has to be understood in a global frame is not only reflecting a geographical dimension, as shown in the previous issue of Anthropology of Food on local food (AOF n.4, 2005 but is interwoven between space, place, culture, know how, rural development, tradition and innovation.

4In summary Diagram below presents the various themes within the study of local food anthropology, and other disciplines, that we were able to tease out of the Bordeaux Workshop.

Figure 1: A classification of local foods

Figure 1: A classification of local foods

ESF workshop on local food: different approaches from different disciplines

5Approaches referring to macrosocial/microsocial or local/global were presented at European level through regulations and legislation, national level through certifications as governmental initiative, regional level by focusing on agricultural policy and regions as supports, local level where producers and rural development are central, and at least individual level through local consumers, occasional consumers and producers.

6In rural sociology and marketing, most works were built on surveys expressing consumers’ attitudes when buying local food. Katherine Dr. O'Doherty studied Danish consumer’s understanding of organic food as local and quality food. Dr. Gianluca Brunori also linked local food to quality food, through “a technological approach, whose focus is on the characteristics of the product, […] a conventional approach, whose focus is on an instrumental understanding of consumers’needs, […] and a post-modern approach, where the focus is on the creation of meanings.”

7Various definitions were proposed within sociology and anthropology, depending on case studies and focus, emphasizing the importance of the meaning that different actors give to local food. It is the reason why symbolism and representations play a major role. Then, national specificities based on cultural and historical values, such as confidence, trust, history, regulations or health become central in the approach and definition.

8Dr. Gabriella Zsarnoczay & Agnes Kovacs, from the Meat, Hungarian Meat Research Institute, and Dr. Inger Beate Pettersen, SNF - Institute for Research in Economics and Business Administration gave a perfect example of the eclectic definitions and concepts used while speaking about local food products. (see case studies for more details)

9A part from the notion of quality, several thematics were highlighted, like the perceptions of local foods by consumers/eaters in France, cf.: Dr. Mathieu Delabarre: “Eater's sensibility: authenticity and local food”, the local in a global market: protection, promotion, cf.: Dr. Georgina Holt: “Communicating quality along European food chains: local traders in international networks”; and Juan José Juste Carrión “Agrofood Industry and territory in Spain: some reflections from the case of Castilla y León”. Dr. Chantal Crenn presented case studies from wine production underlining the importance of regulations, rules for certification and their impacts on producers and consumers; cf.: “Globalization, Wine-producing territory, patrimony and distinction: the case for the Sainte-Foy country”. The concept of “local” was also linked to other values such as history and tradition, or invention of tradition; cf. Isabelle Téchoueyres “Local food from the South West France - case studies around fat duck products”. Looking at fair trade market and Slow Food movement, Dr. Gun Roos, Dr. Laura Terragni & Hanne Torjusen presented how “The local in the global” was “creating ethical links between producers and consumers”

The local, locally made products and the country of origin

10The workshop emphasized an important difference between Northern Europe and Southern Europe, both in definition and subjects. History and evolution of local products influence their development and the meanings European citizens give them.

  • Producers from Southern Europe (France, Italy and Spain in this workshop) originally created and used the certification system to protect themselves and their production. It is the reason why they developed their own concepts, as specific “terroir” or “know-how” which are a part of “local food” definition.

  • In Northern Europe, the legislation came before producers asked for it, and specific concepts mentioned above do not have any meaning. Local is really linked to geography and short distance more than history and culture.

11This opposition North/South is obvious while comparing presentations by Dr. Laurence Bérard and Dr. Philippe Marchenay: “Local food products in France: definition, protection, valorisation" and Dr. Hielke S. van der Meulen « Origin Food Products; an Analytical Definition Framework", and emphasized in Amilien and al. in through case studies in France and Norway.

12The different features, focus and characteristics could be summarized in the following way:

131) Northern Europe was characterised by:

  • Sustainability – sustainable production systems and products

  • Traceability – documentation of the movement of products along the value chain, the responsibility of each actor involved in the product (explicit traceability)

  • Technical aspects of the product (explicit documentation)

  • Health, hygiene aspects of the product

  • Animal welfare

  • Organic products, organic production processes (high status in supermarkets, associated with high product quality, enjoy higher status than localised food)

  • Factors explaining the specific market evolution in the UK: Food scandals such as the “mad cow” disease, powerful bottom-up lobbies (the soil organisation, Prince Charles) has contributed to set the standards for organic foods (higher standards than EU standards)

  • Localised food is usually initiated bottom-up

  • Localised food is part of a strategy of market differentiation

  • The introduction of localised foods in supermarkets can have negative consequences for their image and consumers’ perception of their quality (becoming commercial)

142) Southern Europe was characterised by:

  • Produits de Terroir

  • Closely related to tradition, history and shared know-how

  • High pride and passion related to localised products both by producers and local consumers

  • Protection of localised food

  • Consumers are deeply involved in localised products and their implicit quality

  • Implicit traceability – producers self-evidently know the value chain of their products (why need for documentation?)

  • Implicit animal welfare – producers love their animals (why need for documentation?)

  • Bottom-up processes to producing localised food

  • Producers engage in obtaining EU-regulated denominations and labels (PDO, PGI...) – but do not always use them in local markets (local consumers trust producers they know)

From empirical to theoretical perspectives on local food

15Different case-studies showed that “micro-stories” give clues and focus valuable to attempt to systematize local foods analysis; these cases studies also point out some important field of investigation or “problematization”, such as:

  • Local as an ambivalent space of action and identities framework

  • Temporality and innovation: two articulated dimensions to produce local products

  • Local food as a multi conventional product involving a plurality of actors

  • Local as a dynamic space of tensions (i.e. definition of the product boundaries and features)

  • Knowledge as a strategic resource for innovation, for convention (in supply chains, between producers and consumers…), for markets and choices (of consumers, producers …)

  • Local food, micro-biology and biodiversity.

16As a historical or political category, origin indication on a product leads to explore the political dimension of this conception and the economic dimension of this tool, with one hypothesis: the rise of local dynamics generates new forms of governance and new forms of markets management within a territory.

17Dr. Pascale Maizi and Thomas Pomeon presented a potential theoretical, or methodological, framework called LAS (Local Agrifood System) that takes the whole “farm to fork” chain into consideration. LAS proposes an actor-network approach of agrofood systems, based on local food products and networks which are developped interactively between innovation and tradition.

18Dr. Roberta Sonnino elaborated on embeddedness as a research problem. This concept has recently been adopted as “a conceptual tool to theorize “alternative food networks” – specifically, to distinguish them from the conventional, globalized food system on the basis of their “territoriality” (i.e., their potential to “relocalize” food).”

19Localized and relocalized food products can obviously be problematic, and in his paper about “ambivalence and polytemporality of local food”, Atle Hegnes tried to show in which way local food products are reflecting ambivalence, particularly through the tension between modernity and tradition which evolves through a polytemporal dynamism.

20Dr. Gianluca Brunori’s paper considered social interactions as mediated by symbols. Based on a post-modern approach he discussed the issue of quality and local products, where quality is a system of meanings and where there is a continuous dialectic “between individual acts and attitudes and the environment in which they are embedded”.

21In her paper, Dr. Angela Tregear offered a typology of local food systems, based on marketplace phenomena. She identified three types of systems – direct produce, close typicity and distant speciality – which could highlight problematic aspects of local food systems which tend to be overlooked in literature.

22Following Robert Salais in determining the quality of a product as a convention between actors working together to construct this quality, Dr. Virginie Amilien, Nicolas Ferras and Dr. Fatiha Fort, proposed to define the “local” as a convention between actors working together to construct the link to the “local” area. It is a matter of shared interests and shared aspirations.

Conclusion: From local to localised foods?

23The most widely used definition of local food in the workshop has been the EU regulation No 2081/92 from July 14th 1992 about Protected Designations of origin for foods. Designation of origin is characterised by the name of a region, a special area, or eventually a country, to designate products coming originally from the place mentioned, and therefore having a specific quality. The European definition is complex, but enabled us to have a first common approach and a first comparative study. Nevertheless, many participants asked about the “real” definition of local foods.

24It is the reason why we all agreed upon the concept of « localised food product », which could be more efficient and which includes several aspects, as well as food products coming from a special area but which are not certified by a label.

25“Localised food product” allows for different representations for different actors, and includes authenticity, typicity, origin, know-how, cultural proximity, geographical proximity, trust, sanitary quality, organoleptical quality, health, environment, as well as preservation and protection.

26Localised food could be, like in the following figure, be presented as a PLURI-concept built on PLURI-temporality, PLURI-territoriality, PLURI-traditionality

Figure 2: local food as a pluri-concept

Figure 2: local food as a pluri-concept

27This ESF workshop opened towards potential research questions as:

  • How producers think about their local products: how they conceive them but also in relation to the market for those products?

  • How do global political frames and regulations (as EU policies, WTO…) influence small-scale producers?

  • How do global and local interact? At what level? What others scales?

  • Study of the cultural discourses in local food – discourse analysis-

  • Comparison of consumption-production of local food products in Europe, based on inventories (previous ones and new ones).

  • + a self-reflexive discourse analysis of those inventories

  • A holistic approach taking into account that local food, traditional food and their embededness is NOT only a social construction.(role of institutions, culture; etc.)

  • Network oriented research possibly based on relationship between embededness and tradition: the local as a new strategy

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1: A classification of local foods
File image/jpeg, 24k
Title Figure 2: local food as a pluri-concept
File image/jpeg, 12k
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Electronic reference

Virginie Amilien, Georgina Holt, Karen Montagne and Isabelle Techoueyres, « Local food in Europe: ESF exploratory workshop », Anthropology of food [Online], S2 | March 2007, Online since 23 May 2007, connection on 26 November 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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About the authors

Virginie Amilien

SIFO, National Institute for Consumption research, Oslo, Norway

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Georgina Holt, Reading, UK

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Karen Montagne

Université de Tours, France

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Isabelle Techoueyres

Université de Bordeaux 2, France

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Licence Creative Commons
Anthropologie of food est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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