Selective patronage and social justice: Local food consumer campaigns in historical context

C. Clare Hinrichs, Patricia Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


In the early 2000s, the development of local food systems in advanced industrial countries has expanded beyond creation and support of farmers' markets and community supported agriculture farms and projects to include targeted Buy Local Food campaigns. Non-governmental groups in many U.S. places and regions have launched such campaigns with the intent of motivating and directing consumers toward more local food purchasing in general. This article examines the current manifestations and possibilities for social justice concerns in Buy Local Food campaigns, by considering them within the more general category of "selective patronage" campaigns. Historical campaign examples, such as Buy Union, Buy American, and Buy Black campaigns, offer instructive comparisons to contemporary consumer campaigns promoting local food. Through examining the construction of threats, intended beneficiaries, products to be avoided, and those to be preferentially selected, the paper demonstrates how selective patronage campaigns have emphasized social justice needs and concerns for designated groups in ways that have been potentially exclusionary of other disadvantaged groups and thus undermining of social justice more broadly. As a contemporary instance of "selective patronage," Buy Local Food campaigns exhibit similar contradictory impulses, which are intensified by the conceptual and practical pitfalls in designating "local." The article concludes by considering how the challenges and prospects for commitments to social justice in local food consumer campaigns reinforce the importance of emerging initiatives centered on domestic fair trade.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)329-352
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • History
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Environmental Science


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