Fine Dining From Your Local Foodshed

By Rani Bhattacharyya Community Economics Extension Educator , University of Minnesota Extension- Center for Community Vitality | August 11, 2013

One of the cornerstones of the hospitality industry is that service providers, essentially, are highly skilled facilitators and interpreters of the particular destinations and communities in which their facilities are located. This value proposition that the profession provides to the public is a powerful one, and can also be considered an art form when we look at successful brands and popular destinations worldwide. However, with our increased ability to travel in a globalized community, there has been significant pushback by the public to re-examine if the experiences and interpretations we are offering really are even related or connected to the communities in which they are located.

In this article, I will first try to explain how the recent interest in local foods is indicative of this public need, and then try to outline how hospitality and food service professionals can try to address this public concern while strengthening their own brand. In closing, I will also try to provide a few guidelines that both purchasers and growers can use to develop productive working relationships that can help re-connect the fine dining opportunities you offer back into your local foodshed community.

Why the Public Interest in Local Foods?

Terrior is a traditional French term referring "to an area or terrain, usually rather small, whose soil and microclimate impart a distinctive qualities to food products." (Barham, 2003: 131). Originating in the wine industry, this concept was used to explain how the different environments of Champagne and Cote De Nuits in France could radically influence the flavors of wine being produced in both regions. Examples of this in North America include our association of citrus fruits produced in Florida, grapes in California, dairy products in Wisconsin, cranberries with Massachusetts and walleye in Minnesota. While this new term being used may seem trendy, or new the public concern they are referring to is not. The term foodshed is a re-branding of the terrior concept here in the U.S. and is becoming the way by which residents of particular watersheds or regions identify the boundaries of local food systems and producer networks that they purchase from.

Increasing public interest in localizing our foodsheds is due to the fact that the food products we consume are becoming disassociated with the places and processes in which they are being produced (Feagan, 2007). The current geographic length of a conventional food chain is 1500-2500 miles from "field-to-fork" (Glynwood Center, 2007). Because of this separation between a final product and its origins, end consumers are experiencing less control and understanding of the potential value they receive by consuming food being produced through conventional supply chains (Feagan, 2007). The value benefits that consumers feel in purchasing location- linked food however include:

  • a higher level of nutritional content and flavor in the food they purchase and eat
  • connection with and support of local economic development and community resiliency
  • and minimized impacts on waste generation/ and energy consumption related to over-processing, preservation and long distance transportation of the food items they are consuming.

In response to this need of the public, food service providers across the country are working to minimize the impact that this risk (generated from decisions being made within conventional food production system) presents on their own hospitality brands. In "localizing" their food chains, food service providers are trying to identify ways in which they can work with and source from suppliers located within a 150-200 miles radius around their facilities (Gynwood Center, 2007). Once these local relationships develop, hospitality providers then can differentiate their services from competitors by articulating these purchasing decisions in a way that adds value to their existing service products. By doing so, service providers help clarify the ambiguity that visitors feel while visiting new destinations and communities, which in turn strengthens a visitor's experience and connection to a particular brand and a facility's specific locale.

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