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

Sarah Bowen, Tad Mutersbaugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


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).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-213
Number of pages13
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Tad Mutersbaugh, PhD, is Professor of Geography at the University of Kentucky. His current research examines issues of governance, political economy, and human–environment interactions in Latin American conservation networks. His field research in Oaxaca, Mexico, examines organic coffee unions and communities to understand how indigenous organizations can coordinate conservation activities at regional scales. Current research projects include an analysis of transnational agricultural certification practices (funded by the National Science Foundation), Migration and Conservation (funded by the Mexico—US Studies Center of the University of California), and a study of women’s participation in organic coffee production. He received his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.

Copyright 2014 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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