Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 201–213 | Cite as

Local or localized? Exploring the contributions of Franco-Mediterranean agrifood theory to alternative food research

  • Sarah BowenEmail author
  • Tad Mutersbaugh


Notions such as terroir and “Slow Food,” which originated in Mediterranean Europe, have emerged as buzzwords around the globe, becoming commonplace across Europe and economically important in the United States and Canada, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Given the increased global prominence of terroir and regulatory frameworks like geographical indications, we argue that the associated conceptual tools have become more relevant to scholars working within the “alternative food networks” (AFN) framework in the United States and United Kingdom. Specifically, the Local Agrifood Systems (Systèmes Agroalimentaires Localisés, or SYAL) perspective, first articulated in 1996 by French scholars, seeks to understand the relationship between the development of local food systems and specific territories. We review the empirical and theoretical literature that comprises each of these perspectives, highlighting three areas in which SYAL scholarship may be relevant to AFN researchers. First, while AFN scholars tend to understand the “local” in terms of positionality, in a distributionist sense (vis-à-vis one’s relation to sites of food production or consumption or along commodity chains), SYAL studies frame local food systems as anchored within particular territories. Second, SYAL research places significant emphasis on collectivity, both in terms of collective institutions and shared forms of knowledge and identity. Third, although both perspectives are framed in opposition of the industrialization of the global food system, AFN scholars focus more on alternative distribution schemes (e.g., organic, fair trade, and direct marketing schemes), while SYAL researchers favor territorially anchored structures (e.g., geographical indications).


Alternative food networks Systèmes Agroalimentaires Localisés (Local Agrifood Systems) Terroir Territory 



Alternative food network


Center for Agricultural Research for Development


Community supported agriculture


Geographical indications


Systèmes Agroalimentaires Localisés (Local Agrifood System)



We would like to thank Lawrence Bérard, Jim Bingen, François Boucher, José Muchnik, Marie Christine Renard, Javier Sanz Cañada, Denis Sautier, Gerardo Torres, and all of our other colleagues in the Local Agrifood Systems (SYAL) network, as well as the editor and three anonymous reviewers, for their helpful comments and feedback. Responsibility for any errors is our own.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA

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