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AIHR annual conference 2019 ‘Local Food for Vital Regions: Facts and Myths’
  • 26 march 2019 - 27 march 2019

Food is considered a reflection of the culture of a place and an expression of a society and its people (Du Rand & Heath, 2006). The offering of food is central to the hospitality experience at home, in commercial outlets and in wider society. After decades of globalisation, local food is welcomed as a pathway to sustainability for hospitality and tourism. Local food adds economic value for both restaurants and destinations, helping them distinguish themselves from competitors and cater to more demanding customers (Williams et al., 2014). Moreover, if local food is preferred above imported produce, local farmers and producers are supported, thus benefiting local economy beyond tourism and hospitality (Hjalager & Johansen, 2013). Yet, buying locally does not solely benefit the community socio-economically, by supporting jobs that otherwise might be lost, but also culturally by valuing and promoting local (food) traditions (Hall & Gössling, 2013; Everett & Aitchison, 2008). In addition, opting for local food helps preserve the ‘natural’ look of the surroundings and, as local food requires less travel to reach the table, reduces transport and its negative impact on the environment (Pratt, 2013). In summary: as a trend, local food benefits sustainability on all three dimensions (Cavagnaro & Curiel, 2012).

However, experience and research show that these benefits cannot be taken for granted: using local food does not by definition translate into less environmental impact and a more vital socio-economic region. For instance: without proper logistics, food miles may actually increase when a restaurant switches to local food; a purchasing department may not be capable of handling more suppliers than the usual number; buyers might in fact not even know what is available locally; guests may desire authentic, local food, but may also be taken aback by unfamiliar dishes (Yeoman & McMahon-Beatte, 2016). In fact, tourism has been seen as one of the culprits of the ‘McDonaldisation’ of culture, including culinary traditions (Page & Hall, 2003; Ritzer, 1993). From a socio-economic perspective the impact of the ‘buy and eat locally’ trend on ‘non-local’ growers, both nationally and internationally, is unclear (Seidel & Cavagnaro, 2018; Koens & Reinders, 2018). More generally, it can be questioned whether the ‘buy locally’ trend is part of a dubious turn against the unfamiliar. Indeed, the term ‘local’ itself is subject to debate. How should ‘local’ be defined? Is it dependent on distance, time, region? And where should the line between ‘local’ and ‘non-local’ be drawn? Should, for example, a Dutch restaurant stop offering coffee and chocolate because they are not ‘locally grown’?

The 2019 AIHR Guests on Earth conference is dedicated to ‘Local Food for Vital Regions: Facts and Myths’ in an effort to foster our understanding of the conditions under which ‘local food’ positively impacts the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability and thus contributes to more sustainable organizations and more vital communities.