Proponents of sustainable, local foods, often known as locavores, are shaking their collective heads and sighing a collective sigh at reports in The New York Times and other news outlets that Lay’s Potato Chips are going to be marketed as “local food.” It seems that marketers are beginning to “localwash” the way they began to “greenwash” several years ago.

In five different states across the U.S. where potatoes that make their way into Lay’s chips are grown, advertisements touting the chips as local food will hit the market. There will also be one national ad featuring five potato farmers who provide their local potatoes as some of the 2 billion potatoes that Frito-Lay uses each year.

If big business marketers are using the local food angle to promote their junk food, you know that the locavore movement is making a dent, not just in terms of people’s health, but also in terms of the portion of money that is spent on food each year. And, companies like Frito-Lay want that portion.

This isn’t Frito-Lay’s first attempt to gain the dollars of those in the sustainable food movement. Earlier this year, they started their “Happiness is Simple” campaign and focused on the fact their chips are made from only three ingredients. With sustainable food proponents like Michael Pollan encouraging people to eat foods with “five or fewer” ingredients, Frito-Lay hoped to link their chips with healthy foods. Targeting locavores seems to be their next step in an attempt to link their products with the sustainable, healthy food movement.

Here’s the thing. They aren’t saying anything technically untrue. The farmers in the regions where they are running the ads do provide potatoes to Frito-Lay. In fact, Frito-Lay is giving consumers the ability to find out how local the potatoes in each bag of chips are with their “Chip Tracker.” By inputting a code that is on each bag of chips, you can find out exactly where the potatoes were grown in that specific bag. This is a good move for the traceability of food, but it still doesn’t make chips healthy.

And I think that healthy is what Frito-Lay is trying to portray with their “we have only three ingredients” and “we’re local food” statements. They are true statements, but they are only being made because those statements are associated with healthy foods.

As I’ve said before, we’ve got to be smarter than the marketers. We need to educate ourselves about the foods that we eat and the ingredients in the foods that we eat. We need to make decisions on food based on actual facts not advertisements that bend the facts.

Is it good that Frito-Lay is trying to make their chips with potatoes that are grown close to their chip making factories? Yes, it is. It lowers the amount of fuel and energy it takes to transport the potatoes from field to factory. It keeps some money local. Those are good things.

Is being able to trace the source of the food we eat a good thing? It sure is. Traceability is something we need to be moving toward to improve food safety.

Does local and traceable mean healthy? Nope.  


(MNN homepage illustrations incorporates photo by jerryhat/iStockphoto) 

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

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