Together, the 16 largest ships in the world can produce as much pollution as all the planet’s cars. They cross the seas carrying containers full of food, electronics, clothing, raw materials, and even waste and materials for recycling. They transport the products we consume and the output of our consumption, i.e. everything we no longer want. This piece of information highlights the environmental and health consequences, but globalized consumption also causes social and economic impacts.
The local consumption movement seeks to curb scenarios like the above by favoring smart exchanges that generate resilience within communities rather than dependence on transportation and fuels. Also known as locavorism, the movement aims to shorten distances between producers and consumers, and looks closely at the production chain of consumer goods. In other words, locavorism means preferring to buy things that are produced near us and sold by people from our community. For example, instead of buying apples, kiwis, or pears from Chile, a resident of São Paulo could choose a seasonal fruit cultivated in the São Paulo state green belt.
In his book Local Dollars, Local Sense, economist Michael Shuman, author of four books on local economics, shows that this behavior has a positive impact on job creation and poverty reduction, as well as reducing the carbon footprint of communities. Local consumption is therefore aligned with the three pillars of sustainable development: environmental, social, and economic.
Environmental pillar — a responsible approach to resources
An environmental friendly outlook on local consumption ensures the sustainable use of natural resources (materials, water, fuel, etc.). According to this proposal, for sustainability to develop, it is necessary to encourage short circuit businesses, both in terms of marketing and production. Production must take place closer to where people live and closer to the sources of raw materials. This model faces great challenges in many industries, but things are easier when it comes to food production.
In addition to urban food gardens, family agriculture and small farmers offer alternatives to the supremacy of agroindustry. David Ralitera supports this cause through Fazenda Santa Adelaide Orgânicos. For him, a change in the range of choices is paramount. In order to provide pesticide-free food that takes care of both the soil and the health of farmers, it is necessary to eat according to the seasons and the rhythm of plants in their natural environment:
“Receiving the best of each season makes sense on all fronts: sustainability, health, transparency, closeness, cost, and quality.”
Social pillar — the economy that cares about people
According to locavorism, social sustainability includes supporting and respecting all members of a community, and fighting for the eradication of social inequality. Human and labor rights cannot be left aside. Other issues such as job creation and food security are also related to the other two pillars, but in the end, all of them come together, since it is the society that will develop both the economy and the care for the environment.
Quitandoca is an unconventional market in São Paulo that fosters networks and facilitates access to agro-friendly food. Their relationship with producers is very different to the traditional large food distributor model, allowing farmers to focus on their business. Quitandoca provides technical and logistic support, encouraging the organization of producers for independent distribution in the city.
People who live in the city often feel disconnected from productive process and are curious to understand the path from the farm to the plate. Visiting producers is a way of strengthening the bonds and creating a sense of collaboration between farmers and consumers. A good example of such experience is WWOOF’s exchange program, through which people can spend time (from one week to several months) actively participating in the daily life of an organic farm, working in the fields or at the markets run by producers.
Fazenda Malabar provides a similar experience. They are currently looking for someone to spend three weeks at their farm and help them answer two key questions for their business: “How can we scale sales volume without losing the connection between the consumer and the farmer? And how can we ensure that each production cycle on our farm is a learning tool for future cycles?”
These questions show the willingness of small local businesses to become truly sustainable and integrated into their communities. Unlike companies run by a faceless board of directors, communication channels with small businesses are straightforward. The Organic Agriculture Association released the book Guardiões Orgânicos (Organic Guardians) to tell the story of João, Sebastião, Antônio, and many other farmers selling their crops at the organic fairs of Água Branca and Villa Lobos. Heloisa Bio, in charge of the project, says:
“Our goal is to listen, record, and tell the stories of these farmers, who are leading changes in their field, but who are usually anonymous to the mass media.”
The way stylist Flavia Aranha runs her namesake clothing brand is very much against the grain in the fashion industry, where a lack of respect for workers is so manifest. Much of the clothing is made on the second floor of her store; the dyeing studio is in the same building, in Vila Madalena, São Paulo. All her communication seeks to empower the work of women who collaborate with her, or to show respect for the ancient knowledge that inspires her pieces. She documents her journeys of knowledge on Instagram, sharing this rich process of valuing that which is local and native to Brazil.
Economic pillar — multiplying wealth
A study carried out by the Maine Center for Economic Policy attempted to quantify the economic impacts of buying from locally owned businesses in the city of Portland, United States. The research found that when local owners maintain their profits within their communities, they tend to do business with those around them, multiplying the effect on the local economy: in general, every $100 spent at locally owned businesses generates an additional $58 in local impact. By comparison, $100 spent at a national chain store generates $33 in local impact.
But how can we encourage these kinds of exchange and make them even more meaningful? Experts see alternative currencies as an opportunity to boost the local economy. They work as a system of exchange, fostering the internal circulation of resources. Economist Bernard Lietaer, author of the book Rethinking money: how new currencies turn scarcity into prosperity is one of the biggest proponents of complementary currencies. He suggests replacing the monetary monopoly (and concentration of wealth) with the monetary ecosystem.
The Bristol pound was created in 2012, and payments with this currency can be made in cash or electronically. In support of the idea, the mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, agreed to receive his salary in Bristol pounds during his time in office (2012-2016). The local currency is a way for people to actively show their support for the community and independent businesses.
In Brazil, local currencies are also known as social currencies. Examples include the forerunner Palmas, a social currency created in 1998 in Fortaleza; Cocal, responsible for a decrease in crime rates in São João do Arraial; and Sampaio, which is accepted by about 50 small businesses in the district of Campo Limpo, in São Paulo.
Local consumption can be one of the biggest challenges for those who already understand the impact their purchasing has on the world. The movement gathers buyers, farmers, stylists, builders, and communicators. It is not a protectionist measure, in which a government forbids, taxes, or hampers foreign trade. Locavorism is all about people encouraging what is native from within.
“Exchanges between nations are still welcome, but we must begin to develop a setting where our main needs are met locally. Food is one of the most sensitive points to start rebuilding resilient communities, however building materials, fabrics, wood, and energy come next.” — Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Movement
All the reasons for supporting locavorism are noble — as we have seen here, everything is connected. Those who prefer to buy locally in search of better quality or a connection with local producers’ backgrounds are also helping to preserve the environment and fight against modern slavery.