Liberalism and the Two Directions of the Local Food Movement



The local food movement is, increasingly, becoming a part of the modern American landscape. However, while it appears that the local food movement is gaining momentum, one could question whether or not this trend is, in fact, politically and socially sustainable. Is local food just another trend that will fade away or is it here to stay? One way to begin addressing this question is to ascertain whether or not it is compatible with liberalism, a set of influential political theories that have shaped and continue to shape our political system. In this paper, I argue that the local food movement is partially compatible with forms of liberalism that accept the limited application of the principle of neutrality, as there are two directions or trends within local food: (1) The systems based direction and (2) the individual focused direction. The systems based direction is not compatible while the individual focused movement is largely compatible with liberalism. I go on to argue that the two directions form a dialectic that increases the political and social sustainability of the movement as a whole. Conceiving of the individual focused and the systems focused directions as in opposition to one another is, itself, a mistake.


Environmental philosophy Liberal theory The local food movement Philosophy of food Communitarian philosophy 


  1. No Author. template=TemplateS&leftNav=WholesaleandFarmersMarkets&page=WFMFarmersMarketGrowth&description=Farmers%20Market%20Growth&acct=frmrdirmkt. Accessed 19 May 2012.
  2. No Author. Accessed 2 May 2012.
  3. Ackerman, B. (1980). Social justice in the liberal state. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Alcoff, L., & Dalmiya, V. (1993). Are old wives’ tales justified? In E. Potter & L. M. Alcoff (Eds.), Feminist epistemologies (pp. 217–244). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Balfour, L. E. (1943). (2006 reprint). The living soil. Bristol: Soil Association Ltd.Google Scholar
  6. Barry, B. (1940). (1995 reprint). Justice as impartiality. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bawden, R. J., & Packham, R. G. (1998). Systemic praxis in the education of the agricultural systems practitioner. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 15(5), 403–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bell, D. (2005). A communitarian critique of liberalism. Analyse & Kritik, 27, 215–238.Google Scholar
  9. Born, B., & Purcell, M. (2006). Avoiding the local trap: Scale and food systems in planning research. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 26, 195–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cranston, M. (1967). ‘Liberalism’. In P. Edwards (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (pp.217–244). New York: Macmillan and the Free Press.Google Scholar
  11. Cuomo, C. (1994). Toward thoughtful ecofeminist activism. In K. Warren (Ed.), Ecological Feminist Philosophies (pp. 42–52). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Dahlberg, K. A. (1993). Regenerative food systems: Broadening the scope and agenda of sustainability. In Patricia Allen (Ed.), Food for the future: Conditions and contradictions of sustainability (pp.75–103). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  13. Dale, G. (2008). Eat local concept catching on. Better Farming. Accessed 4 May 2012.
  14. DeLind, L. B. (2002). Place, work, and civic agriculture: common fields for cultivation. Agriculture and Human Values, 19(3), 217–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. DeLind, L. B. (2011). Are local food and the local food movement taking us where we want to go? Or are we hitching our wagons to the wrong stars? Agriculture and Human Values, 28, 273–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. diZerega, G. (1996). Deep ecology and liberalism: The greener implications of evolutionary liberal theory. The Review of Politics, 58(4), 699–734.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Donohue, K. (2003). Freedom from want: American liberalism and the idea of the consumer. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.Google Scholar
  18. DuPuis, E. M., & Goodman, D. (2005). Should we go “Home” to eat?: Toward a reflexive politics of localism. Journal of Rural Studies, 21(3), 359–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dworkin, R. (1975). Three concepts of liberalism: A conversation with Ronald Dworkin. The New Republic p. 48.Google Scholar
  20. Dworkin, R. (1996). Do liberty and equality conflict? In P. Barker (Ed.), Living as equals. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  21. Feagan, R. (2007). The place of food: mapping out the ‘local’ in local food systems. Progress in Human Geography, 31(1), 23–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Feenstra, G. (2002). Creating space for sustainable food systems: Lessons from the field. Agriculture and Human Values, 19(2), 99–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Friedmann, H. (2007). Scaling up: Bringing public institutions and food service corporations into the project for a local, sustainable food system in. Agriculture and Human Values, 24(3), 389–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gaus, G. F. (1996). Justificatory liberalism: An essay on epistemology and political theory. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Gaus, G., & Courtland, S. D. (2011). Liberalism. In Edward N. Zalta(Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2011 Edition). URL=<>.
  26. Guthman, J. (2004). Agrarian dreams: The paradox of organic farming in California. Berkeley: UC Press.Google Scholar
  27. Guthman, J. (2008). Bringing good food to others: Investigating the subjects of alternative food practice. Cultural Geographies, 15(4), 431–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Howard, A. (2011). An agricultural testament. Oxford: Benediction Classics.Google Scholar
  29. Jackson, D. L. (2002). The farm as natural habitat. In D. L. Jackson, L. L. Jackson, & N. L. Bradley (Eds.), The farm as natural habitat: Reconnecting food systems with ecosystems (pp. 13–27). Washington: Island Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  30. Jaggar, A. (1983). Feminist politics and human nature. Totowa: Rowman and Allanheld.Google Scholar
  31. Kingsolver, B., Kingsolver, C., & Hopp, S. (2008). Animal, vegetable, miracle: A year of food life. New York: Harper Inc.Google Scholar
  32. Kirkpatrick, S., & Valerie, T. (2009). Food insecurity and participation in community food programs among low-income Toronto families. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 100(2), 135–139.Google Scholar
  33. Kloppenburg, J., Jr, Hendrickson, J., & Stevenson, G. W. (1996). Coming into the foodshed. Agriculture and Human Values, 13(3), 33–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kymlicka, W. (1989). Liberal individualism and liberal neutrality. Ethics, 99, 883–905.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Leopold, A. (1966). A sand county almanac. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  36. Lyson, T. A. (2004). Civic agriculture: Reconnecting farm, food, and community. Medford: Tufts University Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  37. MacIntyre, A. (1981). After virtue: A study of moral theory. Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press.Google Scholar
  38. McCormack, L. A., Laska, M. N., Larson, N. I., & Story, M. (2010). Review of the nutritional implications of farmers’ markets and community gardens: A call for evaluation and research efforts. American Dietetic Association Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(3), 399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Meyer, J. (2011). We have never been liberal: The environmentalist turn to liberalism and the possibilities for social criticism. Environmental Politics, 20(3), 356–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Michael, M. A. (2000). Liberalism, environmentalism, and the principle of neutrality. Public Affairs Quarterly, 14(1), 39–56.Google Scholar
  41. Mollison, B. (1994). Introduction to permaculture. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.Google Scholar
  42. Mount, P. (2012). Growing local food: Scale and local food systems governance. Agriculture and Human Values, 29(1), 107–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. No Author. Accessed 4 May 2012.
  44. Nussbaum, M. C. (1999). Sex and social justice. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  45. Pollan, M. (2009). A defense of food: An eater’s manifesto. New York: Penguin Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  46. Pollan, M., & Kalman, M. (2011). Food rules: An eater’s manual. New York: Penguin Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  47. Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  48. Rawls, J. (2001). Justice as fairness: A restatement. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  49. Ryan, A. (2007). “Liberalism.” In R. E. Goodin, P. Pettit & T. Pogge’s (Eds.) A companion to contemporary political philosophy. Blackwell Reference Online. id=g9781405136532_chunk_g978140513653215#citation Accessed 12 Dec 2012).
  50. Ryan, A. (2012). The making of modern liberalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Sagoff, M. (1994). The economy of the earth: Philosophy, law, and the environment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Sandel, M. (1998). Liberalism and the limits of justice. New York: Cambridge University Press, Inc.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Smith, C., & Morton, L. W. (2009). Rural food deserts: Low-income perspectives on food access in Minnesota and Iowa. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 41(3), 176–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Starr, A., Card, A., Benope, C., Auld, G., Lamm, D., & Smith, K., & Wilken, K. (2003). Sustaining local agriculture: barriers and opportunities to direct marketing between farms and restaurants in Colorado. Agriculture and Human Values, 20, 301–321.Google Scholar
  55. Thigpen, R. B., & Downing, L. A. (1983). Liberalism and the neutrality principle. Political Theory, 11(4), 555–600.Google Scholar
  56. Thompson, P. B. (1995). The spirit of the soil: Agriculture and environmental ethics. New York: Routledge, Inc.Google Scholar
  57. Vandermeer, J., & Perfecto, I. (2005). Breakfast of biodiversity: The political ecology of rainforest destruction. Berkeley: Food First Books.Google Scholar
  58. Warren, K. J. (2000). Ecofeminist philosophy. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.Google Scholar
  59. Wilken, K. (2003). Sustaining local agriculture: Barriers and opportunities to direct marketing between farms and restaurants in Colorado. Agriculture and Human Values, 20, 301–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wolin, S. (2006). Politics and vision: Continuity and innovation in Western political thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press, Inc.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMichigan State UniversityLansingUSA

Personalised recommendations