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The Chicken’s Name Was Colin

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We usually don’t plug anything in these blog posts, but a new comedy series that debuted this past week on IFC (the Independent Film Channel) includes a sketch that follows our nation’s current passion for local food (and the desire for a backstory to go with it) to the extreme:

The show is called Portlandia and focuses on the bizarre, everyday world as it’s lived in Portland, Ore. Watching the clip, I was amused, then impressed, by the idea that local has evolved to the point where it’s fodder for satire. We all know that local is big — even Wal-Mart has committed to incorporating more local products into its massive mix.

Just about every entity that issues an annual Trends list included local products in some way, shape or form for 2011. Or rather, included again. This must be the third or fourth year that local has made such lists. From the Food Channel to USA Today, local food is still talked about as a growing, deepening movement.

According to shoppers interviewed by the Food Marketing Institute, 53% of stores offer locally-sourced items. There’s produce, of course, but the participants also mentioned fresh meat, or prepared products like salsas, marinades and jams. FMI’s study found that if the products were on the shopper’s list, there was a purchase margin of 71%.

And, like the Portlandia skit, consumers had important reasons for purchasing local foods: 77% said freshness (the top reason), and 46% liked knowing the source of the product, just like Peter and Nance.

And yet, this big trend, this coast-to-coast movement, is based on the idea of small. It's a concept at odds with its own, near-universal success. Some 73% of respondents in the FMI report said they wanted to support the local economy, and another 32% was concerned about the environmental impact of transporting foods “across great distances.” These two reasons speak to smallness: small worlds and small impact.

Perhaps it’s that irony — the huge success of a small concept — that qualifies the local food movement for comedic review. So thanks. I’ll never be able to look at a menu offering local, heritage breed poultry as an entrée ever again without wondering if it had a name, and was free-ranging enough to put his wing around his barnyard buddies.

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