Lines of Flight: Does the Locavore Movement Offer an Alternative to Corporatism?

Margrit Talpalaru
University of Alberta

But sticking it to the Man (whoever he is) may not be the most inspired principle around which to organize one's life... We hoped a year away from industrial foods would taste so good, we might actually enjoy it. The positives, rather than the negatives, ultimately nudged us to step away from the agribusiness supply line and explore the local landscape [my emphasis]. Doing the right thing, in this case, is not about abstinence-only, throwing out bread, tightening your belt, wearing a fake leather belt, or dragging around feeling righteous and gloomy. Food is the rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is generally the one more likely to make you groan with pleasure. Why resist that?
— (Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, 22)

[1] The Oxford English Dictionary named "locavore" word of the year 2007. Their AskOxford website claims that "[i]t scarcely matters if that word proved ephemeral, or if it arose out of an activity of little political or sociological importance: the very fact that it became high-profile can shed as much light on the preoccupations of its time as any photograph or historical summary." The OED's word of the year, "as a short-hand summary of a period in time," brings to mind Raymond William's structure of feeling. As Williams puts it, the structure of feeling is "a particular quality of social experience and relationship, historically distinct from other particular qualities, which gives the sense of a generation or a period" (131).

[2] Even though Williams' structure of feeling does not characterize as neat a period as a year, the OED's "word of the year" designation can certainly be aligned with an attempt to fix, define, and name the dominant social interest of a period of time. Consequently, the concept "locavore" points to more than a fashionable trend; locavorism, beyond its immediate aims, serves as a crucial characterization of the contemporary social machine of corporatism, the latest stage of immanent capitalism as described by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in the two Capitalism and Schizophrenia books.

[3] This article argues that the locavores are part of a larger movement that views food and eating habits as symbolic of corporatism. In a move that might seem reactionary or romantic, these food activists suggest that changing eating habits (i.e., going back to a simpler, literally more wholesome diet) might bring about a change of paradigm. If all thinking goes through the stomach, then reversing eating habits can reverse, change, or redirect the effects of corporatism and, more generally, capitalism.

[4] Structurally, this paper starts with and an examination of several interconnected Deleuze-Guattarian concepts. Throughout the essay, the analysis turns toward the possibility of theoretical articulation between the locavore movement and the D-G notion of "lines of flight," while simultaneously explicating the locavores' role within the larger system of immanent corporatism: from a brief overview of the recent (twenty-first-century) preoccupation with food habits to a close consideration and analysis of two representative mainstream locavore texts: The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver. [1] Both books were published in 2007 and detail events happening around 2005. [2]

[5] Deleuze and Guattari provide a theoretical paradigm uniquely fitted for thinking through the significance of the locavore movement in conjunction with the contemporary social system of corporatism. Their schizoanalysis draws links between environmental, social, political, and economical elements yielding a coherent, if supple and flexible theory of life on earth. This rhizomatic view can not only account for the complexity of life, but also point us in alternative directions, which can lead to effective changes of paradigm. Locavorism may well be one of these directions.

[6] Whereas this article does not aim to provide a comprehensive genealogy of local eating, it must acknowledge that locavorism still constitutes a living tradition for many peoples around the world, [3] while many others still attempt to rescue and revive nearly lost local culinary gems. [4] The focus of this essay resides on the most recent incarnations, ones whose declared aim is to transform local eating from a habit in danger of extinction into a line of flight, aimed at moving, pushing, or maybe only nudging the ever-expanding plane of immanence of corporatism in a different direction.

[7] In this usage, corporatism is the latest phase of capitalism, one in which corporations dominate the scene and in which people's lives are completely entwined with corporate logic, not necessarily in a helpless way, but in a more symbiotic relationship. Corporatism designates the appropriation of biopower by corporations which have been gaining an increasing stronghold on all aspects of life for some time now, as noted in critical theory by Frederic Jameson [5] or Hardt and Negri, [6] to name only a renowned few. Our present situation does not constitute a break from capitalism, but rather its continuation, its latest stage. Arguably, neoliberalism and the increased pace of globalization both characterize corporatism. [7] Corporatism thrives on neoliberal measures and strives toward globalization, i.e., toward engulfing the entire world under its immanent grasp.

[8] Corporatism refers to the overtaking of biopower by corporations (in Foucauldian terms), or to the construction of the plane of immanence of desiring-production by the same corporations. The notion of desiring-production already points to the imbrication of economic production with the reproduction of life. What that means, therefore, is that life itself, in all of its aspects, has become the domain of formerly exclusive economic entities, to the detriment of the State, which used to have the upper hand when it came to the administration of life. In other words, corporations have made it their business to be concerned with both economic production and the less abstract motor behind it (i.e., the social force driving it, people's lives and all of the other connected issues).

[9] Corporations have thus created themselves a plane of immanence, in which people are rhizomatically connected to industrial machines, to the more abstract bottom line, and to the even more abstract stock exchange performance of a particular company. Since corporatism is about biopower, it is nowhere more intimate than in the questions of literal, physical sustenance. [8] Food, therefore, together with the complex relations and processes it entails—growing/harvesting in agriculture, distribution chains, be they large-scale ending up in the supermarket after thousand-kilometres long trips, or in the farmers' markets around the corner from the field where they grew, and preparation, be it large-scale manufacturing or simple home kitchen assembly—gives us a privileged view of the corporatist system's workings by virtue of both its complexity and its proximity to human life. It might also cast a light onto new ways of organizing the present world, after the imminent axiomatic integration of the locavore alternatives into the immanent system. As the concluding example about Hellmann's Mayonnaise indicates, the axioms have already been released and put into (profitable) practice.

Escape from immanent corporatism?

[10] In A Thousand Plateaus (1980), Deleuze and Guattari discuss ways of escaping the plane of immanence of capitalism, of creating alternatives that would produce an equitable society. One of the solutions they propose is the creation of lines of flight, "which never consist in running away from the world, but rather in causing runoffs, as when you drill a hole in a pipe... lines of flight are realities" (204). A line of flight therefore does not constitute an escapist fantasy but a way of modifying present social conditions. Deleuze and Guattari decline any metaphoric use of their terminology: "There is nothing imaginary, nothing symbolic about a line of flight," they insist (204). In their view, the way to change the status quo is the creation of these alternatives by "a single group or individual [which] functions as a line of flight" (204). The line of flight inscribes itself in the general quest for becoming in Deleuze and Guattari's theory (i.e., the acceptance of constant transformation of subjectivity as a mode of resistance to the regimentation of social systems). A pivotal process in Deleuze and Guattari's alternative to capitalism, becoming liberates the flows of desire from the economic molar aggregate thus allowing the transformation of subjectivity into a more supple being-in-the-moment, called haecceity. This ever-transforming haecceity can, in turn, cause runoffs in the form of lines of flight, which allow desire to take new forms and imagine alternatives to the existing situation.

[11] Sounds easy, right? Imagine an unfettered desire, a different way of existing in the moment, and corporatism comes undone. The problem is that even if your desire were actually a novel one, unconnected to the network of desiring-production within the plane of immanence, corporatism still wouldn't let you off the hook so easily. What corporatism does to manage novelty and integrate it back into the fold is create a new axiom for each new situation. Just like in mathematics, "the axioms are primary statements, which do not derive from or depend upon another statement ... a primary proposition" (Plateaus 462). One such axiom, for example, states that one the main aims of corporatism is growth. [9]

[12] Deleuze and Guattari further insist "[t]he axioms of capitalism are obviously not theoretical propositions or ideological formulas, but operative statements that constitute the semiological form of Capital and that enter as component parts into assemblages of production, circulation, and consumption" (461). The capitalist axiomatic is immanent to the relations of production, general enough to be flexible and to allow for change, and abstract enough to cover a variety of phenomena, from human interrelations to financial markets. The axiomatic is immanent also because it is generated by the conditions of the market and acts on the social machine in the interest of the economic plane of immanence that generates it.

[13] Moreover, the axiomatic is endlessly flexible: for each new situation, a new axiom is added: "The strength of capitalism indeed resides in the fact that its axiomatic is never saturated, that it is always capable of adding a new axiom to the previous ones" (Anti-Oedipus 250). It is this flexibility of the axiomatic that allows capitalism to tend to its limit, and simultaneously to avert this limit, and to change it.

A Preoccupation with Food

[14] A number of recent books on food matters focus on the critique of the present situation, others on alternative movements, variously motivated, while others still do both. Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (2001), for instance, provides a strong criticism of the meat industry, while showing the connections between it, the fast-food industry (e.g., McDonalds), and entertainment (e.g., Disney), as well as labour injustice, connections that emphasize the immanent nature of corporatism. Schlosser's salient connections have propelled the book into widespread popularity, [10] arguably spurring such reactions as the equally (or even more) famous Oscar-nominated documentary Supersize Me (2004), which details Morgan Spurlock's immediate health deterioration in the course of his 30-day self-imposed exclusive McDonald's diet. [11] On the alternatives side, Carlo Petrini's Slow Food movement, which he describes in Slow Food: The Case for Taste, has taken root in many parts of the world, with people eager to follow its Official Manifesto. An author who plays both sides—critique and prescription—is Michael Pollan, who details the problems with the American food supply chain in The Omnivore's Dilemma and pens some solutions in his In Defence of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. Finally, a number of chefs turned food activists use their clout to teach people how to consume food more sustainably, and, one reads between the lines, to live that way, too. Two examples are Alice Waters, a veteran in the field local and seasonal eating, and über-celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, whose efforts to improve school cafeteria food and teach Brits how to grow and cook better food have only added to his international fame. [12]

[15] Within this field of "foodies," some of the more recent and better-known locavores include Smith and MacKinnon of The 100-Mile Diet and Barbara Kingsolver and her family, authors of A Year of Food Life. They aim to lower their ecological footprint and honour their environment by eating locally available food, produced within a limited radius of their homes (e.g., one hundred miles). Their argument, while ecological in origin, is also necessarily—and deliberately—anti-capitalist and anti-corporatist. Indeed, Barbara Kingsolver draws a direct connection between food production and consumption and corporatism:

Owing to synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, genetic modification, and a conversion of farming from a naturally based to a highly mechanized production system, U.S. farmers now produce 3,900 calories per U.S. citizen per day. That is twice what we need and 700 calories a day more than they grew in 1980. Commodity farmers can only survive by producing their maximum yields, so they do. And here is the shocking plot twist: as the farmers produced those extra calories, the food industry figured out how to get them into the bodies of people who didn't really want to eat 700 more calories a day. That is the well-oiled machine we call Late Capitalism. (14)

Kingsolver thus neatly touches on some of the main characteristics of corporatism as the latest stage of capitalism: endless growth of the economy as both primary driver and telos of the system—while simultaneously doing away with the idea of needs-based economic production, as in the traditional market view of basing offer on demand—as well as the interconnectedness of economic production with people's lives. Juxtaposing the industrial branch of the economy ("synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, genetic modification") with agriculture ("farmers can only survive by producing their maximum yields") and with the consumers at large ("the bodies of people who didn't really want to eat 700 more calories a day") in one neat paragraph and then naming this collusion as "the well-oiled machine that we call Late Capitalism" proves Kingsolver's acutely aware of the immanence of corporatism and the subtle ways desiring-production functions at the interstices of elements generally viewed as separate.

[16] As an alternative, the locavores argue for a return to a traditional way of consuming food by buying local, organic products, and thus eschewing large-scale agriculture, food processing, and supermarkets, all operated by big corporations. Moreover, by insisting on being satisfied with local foodsheds, on consuming ethically from one's vicinity, from a community of known people, the locavores arguably want to do away with the heritage of imperialism that built the capitalist system into global corporatism. Both books provide a thoughtful critique of corporatism, detailing their attempts at circumventing it, while at the same time investigating its historical capitalist origins and tracing its pervasiveness in our contemporary lives in general and diets in particular.

[17] In the "Introduction" to The 100-Mile Diet, for example, Smith and MacKinnon speak about that invisible prop of neoliberalism, externalities, which constitute costs that are not supported by any company or consumer and usually result in ecological depletion: "I don't have to pay for the dams, the wild places given over to reservoirs and farms, and the resulting decimation of species from chinook salmon ... to all the plants of the bunchgrass prairie" (31). Similarly, Kingsolver remarks, "the average food item on a U.S. grocery shelf has travelled farther than most families go on their annual vacation" (4). Steven L. Hopp asserts, with the help of hard evidence, that "small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just start with a good [locally and organically raised] breakfast" (5). Kingsolver et al. thus emphasize the need for personal action in order to bring about systemic change. One need take action on one's own if a more ecological lifestyle is to emerge as an alternative to the present situation.

[18] While both sets of authors seem to have been prompted by similar concerns and have similar aims in their respective undertakings, their situations and methodologies are different enough to warrant close, separate attention to each book in particular. One of the first differences brings to the fore their locations: Smith and MacKinnon live in Vancouver, a large city, with a putative high quality of life that also makes it rather expensive; Kingsolver and her family move out of a big city, Tucson, Arizona, to a farm in U.S. Appalachia region, in the state of Virginia. Urban versus rural, their different locations both elicit and result in diverse lifestyles. While Smith and MacKinnon do more metaphorical foraging through urban markets and surrounding agricultural areas, Kingsolver's family resolves to literally live off the land, by producing most of their food themselves. Happily, these dissimilarities lend versatility and adaptability to the locavore experiment: while Smith and MacKinnon metaphorically forage the environs of their urban location for nourishment, Kingsolver's family mostly grow or barter for their own.

[19] Perhaps more importantly, the differences in these two chronicles demand closer attention to their larger aims: yes, these are rather extreme experiments, but extremism is not their point. The locavores do not want to grow oranges in Alaska; rather, they want to gather, forage, cultivate, and eat mostly foodstuffs native, traditional, or long acclimatized to the land they live on. They have undertaken a drastic yearlong renunciation of foods from far away, but it doesn't mean everyone should do the same. Their aim points to the applicability of their projects, not their purity. In other words, one can strive toward eating locally as much as possible, but exclusivity is not the higher aim. What they emphasize is the existence of possibilities for a more ethical diet, not the importance of following prescriptions to T.

[20] Smith and MacKinnon's larger motivation seems to be a search for the conditions of possibility available to a generation jaded by fear-mongering and doomsday speak:

We are at a point in history where bad news about the state of the Earth is just as jaded and timeworn as the idea that there is nowhere left to go, nothing new to explore. Put these two statements side by side, however, and something hidden is revealed... . We need to find new ways to live into the future. We can start any time; we can live them here and now. (222)

The optimism evident in this quote characterizes the very experiment at the centre of the book: a search for alternatives that not only denies an apathetic stance that the "jaded and timeworn" state implies, but shouts out to the world that negativity and fatalism cannot carry the baton of humanity any longer. The idea of exploration, implied metaphorically here, also brings to mind the imperial endeavours that have propped capitalism historically and made it self-evident that one (read privileged Westerner) can eat—and, more generally, consume—the entire Earth in the era of corporatism. Lest I be accused of projecting my own thesis into this quote, let me summon another from a few pages back: "The mark of an empire, it seems, is to eat its length and breadth. In Roman times, food grown within the Italian heartland was considered suitable only for peasants... . However, it was the British mania for the perfect cup of tea that built a global trade of the greatest speed the world had ever known" (198-99). Food stands in here as a major signifier of corporatism. If you thought that Smith and MacKinnon couldn't sometimes see the forest for lack of edible wheat flour, then quotes like these, subtly interwoven in their narrative about cooking the next meal, demonstrate their thoughtful analysis of the overarching global system.

[21] Just like the patrician Romans, smug over their imperial feast, corporatism has made people feel entitled to consume the globe and proud of their elitist privilege. Kingsolver recounts an episode when, as a guest, she partakes in a feast where, in the middle of winter, she is "consuming the United Nations of edible plants and animals all in one seating. (Or the WTO is more like it)" (66). When she expresses her surprise at being served a raspberry dessert in which the "eminently bruisable fruits...survive[d] a zillion-mile trip looking so good," the host, amused "by my country-mouse naïveté," assures her that "[in New York] we can get anything we want, any day of the year" (66). The New Yorker's sense of entitlement bluntly silences the concerned and informed, if maybe too subtle, critique. Kingsolver's finesse appears very subtly again a few lines before, when she corrects her literary leanings and demonstrates that she means business by replacing the metaphor of "consuming the U.N. of edible plants" with "the WTO is more like it." Her intentions are thus not simply poetic in this book. A mere turn of phrase, however successful, would not do. Precision and argument are key here. The problem is earnest, and her solution has claims to applicability. And the metaphors had better conform to these aims through their precision: the reason corporatism has reached so far resides less in political entendres than in economical treaties and institutions, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), whose role it is to spread neoliberalism globally, i.e., open up all territories of the world as markets of consumption for the world's large corporations, and boomerang the privilege right back; in this particular instance, by recycling an old imperial habit of eating the globe and bragging about it.

[22] The locavores, therefore, as Kingsolver points out in the quote that serves as the epigraph to this article, have decided to oppose the imperialist mentality by creating an ethical consumption niche. As she puts it, their aim cannot be a negative "sticking it to the Man," because negativity is not a very good organizing principle. The implied suggestion here points to the futility of resistance as the fetishized weapon of anti-capitalists. She actually goes on to express the idea that if one is to change the face of corporatism, one has to be positively creative: "The positives, rather than the negatives, ultimately nudged us to step away from the agribusiness supply line and explore the local landscape" (22). It appears that, for Kingsolver and her family, the idea of collective organizing goes beyond gathering with like-minded people to shout slogans and wave placards in protest in front of some corporate headquarters or WTO summit. She, like other locavores, much to the outrage of seasoned anti-capitalist activists, prefer to "actually enjoy" the actions that might help steer corporatism in a different direction (22). Her language, again, subtly but nonetheless clearly shows her opposition to resistance as the way forward, in favour of the creative and pleasurable gastronomic endeavour: "Food is the rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is generally the more likely to make you groan with pleasure. Why resist that?" (22, my emphasis).

[23] The juxtaposition of pleasure with resistance here signals a very potent mix that at once symbolizes the kernel of locavorism and indicates a productive point of contention for academics outraged at the "neoliberalization" of food activism. [13] I will investigate the idea of pleasure before moving on to the critiques of neoliberalization, because its reclamation by the locavores signals a clear, if subtle repudiation of capitalism, both in its machinic form described by Deleuze and Guattari, and in its connection to the Protestant ethic famously described by Max Weber.

[24] Kingsolver does not stand alone on the issue of pleasure. On the contrary, all locavores emphasize the pleasures of eating above all other benefits of local and seasonal gastronomy. Alice Waters, pioneer locavore in the 1970's, says that "the people who were growing the tastiest food were organic farmers in my own backyard, small farmers and ranchers within a radius of a hundred miles or so of the restaurant who were planting heirloom varieties of plants and vegetables and harvesting them at their peak" (3). She does not mince her words when she calls this find "revolutionary" and gushes over the "extraordinary" taste of food that "tastes like what it is" (3).

[25] It all hinges on pleasure. Capitalism proficiently repudiated pleasure from its positive vocabulary because it did not prove productive. Deleuze and Guattari show in Anti-Oedipus how the immanent system first integrated human desire with economic production, making the two so indistinguishable as to yield the hyphenated concept of desiring-production. Then, capitalism managed to turn pleasure into a negative, problematic thing running people into all sorts of trouble because of its propensity to make them act irrationally. According to Deleuze and Guattari, Freud and his psychoanalysis, with their desire=lack equation, are the primary apologists of capitalist guilt-tripping of any pleasure. Deleuze and Guattari's political aim was to recapture desire from the capitalist machine and show how people could escape it and transform it by causing runoffs through ethical becoming, or transformations into minoritarian ways of existence, where minoritarian refers less to numbers than to degree of power and potential to change a system. [14]

[26] Arguably, the locavores and their predecessors, the members of the slow food movement, [15] attempt their own becoming by purposefully slowing down to enjoy the delicious local and seasonal cooking. By making their project about reclaiming pleasure, locavores attempt to turn the clock back before the rise of corporatism and rewrite the future in a different ink. Pleasure, or its denial, is the lynchpin because, according to Max Weber, capitalism began thriving when coupled with a self-denying Puritan spirit:

In fact, the summum bonum of this ethic, the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life, is above all completely devoid of any eudæmonistic, not to say hedonistic, admixture... . Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs. This reversal of what we should call the natural relationship, so irrational from a naïve point of view, is evidently as definitely a leading principle of capitalism as it is foreign to all peoples not under capitalistic influence. (Weber 18)

If the repudiation of any "spontaneous enjoyment of life" marks the success of capitalism, the reason for its thriving for so long, then it makes sense for people attempting to change the course of the system to reclaim a tinge of hedonism in their lives. If capitalism has (over)determined its subjects to relinquish personal and material pleasures, convincing them beyond any doubt that more work equals more happiness because of the promise of more gain, then a logical alternative is to say "stop." The locavores, through their conscientious analyses of corporatism, expose and critique this basic assumption of capitalism: that endless accumulation, or as Weber puts it, "economic acquisition" is the "summum bonum," the end-all and be-all of human existence. It is by questioning this foundational tenet of capitalism that locavores gain credibility as alternative to the system. The fact they use corporatist weapons to chip at its very core shows not only that they have internalized the eminently successful capitalist modus operandi of fighting fire with fire, but that they may eventually steer it in a different, more socially beneficial direction.

Critiques of Locavores

[27] The locavores' use of corporatist logic, however, attracts, alongside growing popularity, numerous critiques from academic circles, whose main charge concerns the "neoliberalization" of food activism. Locavores have been accused in academic circles of representing the ultimate neoliberal subject, one that purports to change the world by deluding oneself that there are choices and agency in the mere act of consumption. Julie Guthman, for example, warns that "much of what passes as politics these days is done through highly individualized purchasing decisions," whose role ultimately translates in the production and reproduction of "neoliberal forms, spaces of governance, and mentalities" (1171).

[28] Guthman inscribes the locavore movement among the signs that "projects in opposition to neoliberalizations of the food and agricultural sectors seem to produce and reproduce neoliberal forms, spaces of governance, and mentalities" because they rely on "neoliberal rationalities: consumer choice, localism, entrepreneurialism, and self-improvement" (1171). On the face of it, locavores might be labelled a perfect neoliberal subject. After all, in a simplified thesis that would do Dame Thatcher proud, they advocate that individual choice can lead to systemic change. More specifically, they talk about food choices and grocery money, and making deliberate decisions about where it goes and who benefits from it. Throw in more capitalist vocabulary in a competition such as "100-Mile Challenge", [16] as in (self-) improvement, and all the free market apologists are tickled pink.

[29] Guthman is one of the locavores' most prominent critics: "It seems that notions of the season, local, organic have hailed a foodie/yuppie subject to be the carrier of transformation in agro-food politics. That this subject is also hailed by the neoliberal rationales of choice, responsibility and competitiveness certainly attenuates the conceivable in agro-food activism" (1177). Guthman's use of the Althusserian notion of interpellation points to her view of the corporatist system as positively transcendent; a world in which the as-of-yet uncorrupted (not-yet-interpellated/hailed) people manage to eschew subjectivity and can, if they wanted, freely oppose the system, becoming pure oppositional agents that can take the system apart, if only they united and organized into a collective. While places may still exist on Earth that have not yet been neoliberalized (i.e., have not been colonized by the corporatist frenzy for open markets and free trade), nothing and nobody in the Western world escapes it; corporatism has successfully integrated most of the world, starting with the West, in its immanent grasp. The imbrication is so strong as to disallow any outside. As Althusser himself had realized, the belief that one is outside of ideology is the strongest proof one has been co-opted: "those who are in ideology believe themselves by definition outside ideology" (163).

[30] While not conflating the immanence of corporatism with Althusser's view of ideology, my point directs attention to the impossibility of an outside to neoliberalism as it functions in the world today. My invocation of Althusserian theory—which does not align well with the overarching theory of this essay, since Deleuze and Guattari deny the existence of ideology as a category separate from language—serves to point out the fallacy of believing in any outside forces capable to overturning corporatism from an untainted external position. In other words, in the Western world especially, we are all always, already corporatist and neoliberalized, and the sooner we realize it, the sooner we can start working toward establishing our lines of flight rather than trying to devise militant dei-ex-machina to come to our rescue.

[31] In all fairness, toward the end of her article, Guthman gestures toward the immanence of corporatism, noticing that "it is difficult to know what something outside neoliberalism might look like when all is seen as neoliberalism" (1180-81). The same position is echoed by other articles that start from the premise of neoliberal omnipresence and point to the locavore trend as a movement that is worth watching because of its potential to change the course of corporatism. In all of these articles, however, the prominence of neoliberalism as the large-looming problem obliterates the overarching corporatist system that employs neoliberal tactics among others. [17] While it is true that neoliberalizing moves are the most visible macro-political aspects of corporatism, the submerged part of the iceberg might be both more significant and yield more possibilities for alternatives if given a second glance.

Problem: reactionary return to a romanticized past

[32] A more serious contention might be the locavore movement's tendency to romanticize the past, more specifically, the traditional way of preparing and eating, which, while less egregious in itself, has the potential of slipping into a reactionary glamourization of the past as a whole. However, the prominence of favourable examples from the past in these writings functions more as a rhetorical device than an injunction to turn back the clock. The locavores support their claims with events and ways of living, eating, and performing agricultural tasks that actually existed in the past to prove the applicability of their thesis: that one can actually live ecologically, because, look, it has actually happened for most of the history of humanity. They are also cautious to infer that these examples can cause dangerous slippages into a wholesale reactionary stance, with the potential of their entire stance being discounted based on charges of anti-progressive infatuation with the past.

[33] It would not be difficult, though, to level those charges when one reads seemingly wide-eyed remarks such as:

Young Bill [Dr. William Rees, developer of the "ecological footprint" model] looked down at his food and had a kind of epiphany. The baby carrots, the new potatoes, the fresh lettuce—there wasn't a single foodstuff on that plate that he hadn't had a hand in growing. It was a feeling, he remembers, like a rush of cold water being poured down his back. He was riveted. He was so excited he couldn't eat his lunch. It was, like, everything was connected. (Smith and MacKinnon 8)

MacKinnon does a good job of describing the emotions roused by the enjoyment of the fruits of one's garden, but, to a cynic—or an academic, even though the two words are not necessarily interchangeable—this description reads as a corny promo for gardening. It is all a little too picture-perfect: the "brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles" gathered around the table for a good-old traditional family meal; the colourful meal of "baby carrots, the new potatoes, the fresh lettuce." The passage paints too stereotypical an image of agriculture, one that, as consumers, we are bombarded with constantly in real-life advertising, in an attempt to elicit those hearth-loving feelings and connect them to a certain product, irrespective of its connection to actual farming or agriculture. So scepticism is warranted. But then comes the punch line: "It was, like, everything was connected." An irreverent mix of irony and seriousness rears its head in this conclusion to the picture-perfect revelation that yielded the footprint model: the word "like," a preposition that has become a colloquial ubiquity, peppering unwarrantedly the speech of teenagers, and then spreading its colonization of spoken language to everyone else. Its appearance here, at the end of a rather solemn speech on the interconnectedness of humans with their food signals the writer's own misgivings about the holier-than-thou message that he is sending. It is like he is deliberately undermining his own point. But, of course, he is merely proving that, even though summoning the past to justify steps for the future, he's not advocating for an uncritical return to it.

[34] The contrasting evidence provided, however, does promote a possible charge for idealizing the past. Alisa Smith points out that nowadays, "[t]he lettuce was grown in Asia and came to port under a Panamanian flag-of-convenience. All is hidden and anonymous" (33). She further explains why this anonymity works: "[t]he anonymity is in part a comfort ... [but] packaged and processed foods share few of their secrets. From mad cow disease to E. coli bacteria to genetically modified ingredients, many North Americans have begun to fear their daily nourishment" (48). Smith thus jumps on the fear-mongering bandwagon to rally support to the idea of local eating, because local eating allows one to know where the food comes from, who grew it or raised it, and the short supply chain (from neighbouring farm to plate, for example) guarantees fewer chances for contamination, not to mention all the other benefits the locavores tout. In other words, the old-style connectedness prevented the perils of disconnected foodsheds that we experience today.

[35] Similarly, MacKinnon emphasizes the close connections between the act of eating and the community one builds: "How do [farmers'] choices—my choices—affect my neighbours and the air, land, and water that surrounds us? ... If even my daily bread has become a mystery, might that total disconnection be somehow linked to the niggling sense that at any moment apocalyptic frogs might start falling from the sky?" (6-7). Knowing the history of one's food brings about knowledge of one's community and a responsibility for it. He also displays the close links between global fear mongering in light of the many food-borne pandemics in recent years (e.g., mad cow disease, avian flu, swine flu) and food resources. The paragraph neatly sums up not only why one should take charge of one's food supply, but also why it is an alternative to the present way of life. If one feels secure about one's basic necessities, one might be less amenable to be co-opted in the corporate molar aggregates.

[36] Barbara Kingsolver echoes this opinion when she suggests that knowing the origins and characteristics of one's food can make one feel empowered: "Knowing the secret natural history of potatoes, melons, or asparagus gives you a leg up on detecting whether those in your market are wholesome kids from a nearby farm, or vagrants who idled away their precious youth in a boxcar" (10). Kingsolver metaphorically plays on the stereotypes with a strong intent here. She has a point to make, an argument to support, and many readers to convince. What's more, she does not shy away from capital-P politics in order to drive her point home:

The same disconnection from natural processes may be at the heart of our country's shift away from believing in natural processes. In the past, principles of natural selection and change over time made sense to kids who'd watched it all unfold... . For modern kids who intuitively believe in the spontaneous generation of fruits and vegetables in the produce section, trying to get their minds around the slow speciation of the plant kingdom may be a stretch. (11)

Kingsolver seems to be saying that merely using examples from the way things were done in the past does not make one reactionary. In fact, she turns the table on the argument and proves how anti-progressive beliefs emerge in the empty space that cultural amnesia opens.

[37] There is little delusion on the part of Smith and MacKinnon when it comes to the pros and cons of the past as well. Smith spends the better part of the first chapter she authors (the two authors take turns writing the chapters in the book) musing about her grandmother's life and subtly demystifying the stereotypes associated with the past, as they reflect through the lives of grandparents. For Smith, the idealized domestic past is epitomized by two types of meals: "the grand New Year's, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas feasts" balanced by the more mundane Sunday meals (26). Smith keeps her grandmother's Good Housekeeping Cook Book, "a World War II edition that my grandmother had relied on as a young wife and mother" and refers to it throughout her year of living on the 100-mile diet (24).

[38] The author's foray into her grandmother's life occasions the revelation of possible gender and class problems. The former presents the perils of supplementing women's labour, when reverting to a more "traditional" way of eating, since domestic work is still primarily performed by women; the latter emerges because of the high prices that local food can carry, even if purchased in season. [18] As Pollan points out, "Not everyone can afford to eat high-quality food in America, and that is shameful; however, those of us who can, should" (Defense 184). Pollan, who offers many prescriptions in his second book, still cannot get around the issue of class.

[39] As she tackles the preconceptions surrounding gender roles and cooking, Smith takes a more critical tack, even if very personal. She shows her perplexity when her grandmother, the most accomplished cook she knows, confesses to hating the whole process. The writer recounts how her grandmother's life and role in the family revolved around preparing elaborate, elegant, and standard-setting meals for the family. Smith's impression is that "Meals were the all-important social glue to my grandmother. My family went over to her house every Sunday for about fifteen years, from the time she moved to the city of Victoria to be near my mother, her eldest daughter, until she moved into a senior's apartment with no kitchen four years ago" (26). Imagine Smith's surprise when, years later, she asks for her grandmother's noodle casserole recipe and gets a list of ingredients that comprises pre-packaged soups and canned salmon, a recipe which only requires mixing the ready-made ingredients. She declares her amazement at "how 'packaged' this recipe was" (27). Shortly afterwards, the idyllic image of the pre-eminent homemaker, revelling in her role as domestic matriarch, crumbles when she tells her granddaughter simply "I never liked to cook" (27). This incident sums up the problem with romanticizing the culinary past of the Western world: laborious cooking, or food preparation in general, adds to women's work, rather than "making the family come together" or making them spend any kind of "quality time."

[40] The subtle manner in which these authors deal with the potential pitfalls of the locavore movement, such as the apparent tendency to idealize the past, or to blur gender and class differences, indicates the level of thoughtful analysis of today's corporatist situation, one in which agricultural mega-business are deliberately depleting the world's edible plant variety by modifying plants genetically, by controlling seed types and their behaviour and by dictating which plants humans will consume. Seen from this perspective, the people who want to live off their lands, and get to know their food producer and make a decision about what they eat become anti-poverty crusaders: seed saving and heirloom variety preservation are the new human rights. [19]

[41] Kingsolver also warns that depletion of seed stock leads to poverty, not only in terms of plant variety, but also on a human scale: "Garden seed inventories show that while about 5,000 nonhybrid vegetable varieties were available from catalogs in 1981, the number in 1998 was down to 600" (53). Corporations love growth and hate complexity. They want to channel their forces toward a simple way of increasing their dominance, and they prefer to do it by remaining limber and flexible. The fewer SKUs, the better. [20] Six hundred are still probably too many; the overwhelming prominence of the dominant crops in the U.S. (corn and soy) demonstrates it plainly. Moreover, "[m]odern U.S consumers now get to taste less than 1 percent of the vegetable varieties that were grown here a century ago" (49). While theorists debate the neoliberalization of food activism by framing it as individual consumer choices, the chest of edible treasures is emptying, it seems, under the corporatist watch bent on impoverishing species' abundance so as to cut complexity and redundancy, and promote easier manageability.

[42] In fact, individual action and personal changes are the crux of the locavore movement. Gone, it seems, are the days of political mobilization of the masses. The masses nowadays mobilize differently—see the unprecedented networking style of the Obama campaign as benchmark-setting precedent. [21] The locavores, I would argue, usher in a new style of building alternatives, with the ultimate aim of changing the present situation. Their style is rhizomatic and corresponds to the manner in which corporatism organizes itself. The locavores have undertaken small-scale living experiments that illustrate personal quests of becoming, of drawing lines of flight (i.e., attempts at divesting desiring-production from the immanence of corporatism by creating alternatives). They exemplify efforts to de-link from various large-scale forms of globalization and of getting away from the grasp of corporate bio-power. The fact the locavore texts describe one-year trials pessimistically speaks to the impossibility of inventing a quick-fix solution to our present situation. Nonetheless, these locavore quests are creative attempts at not only imagining but changing by becoming (i.e., by adhering to a mode of flexible subjectivity, one that respects and aligns itself minority politics, rather than seeking power). They aim less to deliver the panacea than to show that creative solutions exist to move this plane of immanence—the interconnected corporatist system of our time—in different directions.

Epilogue in the Absence of a Conclusion

[43] Corporatism, however, as the heir of capitalism, has not only inherited the agility of capitalism in dealing with adverse situations, but it has also improved on it. Aside from new products at your local supermarket [22] much touted as local and premium priced accordingly, the Food Network has picked up Smith and MacKinnon's book and made it into a reality show, unsurprisingly called "The 100- Mile Diet." A number of questions arise from this new development (the show started airing on April 5, 2009 in Canada and its episodes are available online for viewers in Canada after they air): Does this mean the locavores have managed to steer the plane of immanence in a different direction, or that they've just been co-opted? If so, is their co-optation a triumph or a sell-out?

[44] In lieu of an answer, one need only examine the late 2009 advertising campaign for Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise, whose tagline is "Eat Real. Eat Local". [23] This final example will support the argument about the immanent nature of corporatism, and the manner in which it co-opts every trend by emitting an axiom that adds to its primary rules of functioning. Corporatism thus lets itself be changed by the marginal interests that gather enough critical mass to become significant. As a result, and for the sake of argument, one can optimistically say that every seemingly loony individual act or personal choice matters, because any of those can give way to its own runoff, its own line of flight.


[1] Gary Paul Nabhan's Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods (2002) may well be considered the precursor of these two year-long locavore experiments, especially since Nabhan's is anchored in a career and an oeuvre displaying a continuum of preoccupations with the conservation and promotion of local and traditional foodscapes.

[2] The locavore books are also part of a larger genre of yearlong experiments, albeit born out of differing intents (either attempts at living more ethically, or at becoming famous): A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (2007); Sara Bongiorni's A Year without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy (2007); Judith Levine's Not Buying It: My Year without Shopping (2006).

[3] See, for example, Gary Paul Nabhan's Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods (2008), where Nabhan, working with a team which includes Native American and First Nations activists, outlines a "manifesto for renewing place-based food traditions through biocultural conservation" in North America. Similarly, Nabhan's Gathering the Desert (1985) expresses its debt to the "knowledge of all the Native American people ... who passed on the stories, skills, and observations that make our desert plant heritage so rich. Their wisdom and wit form the heart of this book" (ix).

[4] The Slow Food Movement has initiated the Ark of Taste: a repository of traditional food products and preparation methods in danger of being wiped out by the engine of standardizing corporatist globalization. Its mandate is

[t]o protect the small purveyors of fine food from the deluge of industrial standardization; to ensure the survival of endangered animal breeds, cheeses, cold cuts, edible herbs—both wild and cultivated—cereals and fruit; to promulgate taste education; to make a stand against obsessive worrying about hygienic matters, which kills the specific character of many kinds of production; to protect the right to pleasure. (Petrini 91)

Moreover, the products the Ark includes have to satisfy very clear criteria, which speak both to their connection to a specific location, "either indigenous or long adapted to a specific territory," as well as method of manufacturing, "made in limited quantities, in firms of small size" (91). Finally, "they must be at risk of extinction, real or potential" (91).

[5] See, for example, his renowned Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), or the collection of critical essays he edited together with Masao Miyoshi, The Cultures of Globalization (1998).

[6] Their well-known Empire positions transnational corporations as the second tier of control in the "pyramid of global constitution" (309-10).

[7] See for example recent talk (May-June 2009) about U.S. protectionism measures built-in the Obama Administration economic bailout package, which go against neoliberal measures. The Globe and Mail reports that "World Bank president Robert Zoellick warned that protectionist Buy American rules in U.S. stimulus spending threaten the global economy" (Chase n. pag.). In spite of these anti-neoliberal State-directed measures, corporations still retain the lead in the system, as both the quote and the bailout money doled out to corporations imply.

[8] Marion Nestle points to the close interconnectedness of politics, economic interests, and biological life in her Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. As editor of the ambitious 1988 Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health, she was told:

No matter what the research indicated, the report could not recommend 'eat less meat' as a way to reduce intake of saturated fat, nor could it suggest restrictions on intake of any other category of food. In the industry-friendly climate of the Reagan administration, the producers of foods that might be affected by such advice would complain to their beneficiaries in Congress, and the report would never be published. (3)

As a result, "agency officials had learned to avoid such interference by resorting to euphemisms, focusing recommendations on nutrients rather than on the foods that contain them, and giving a positive spin to any restrictive advice about food. Whereas 'eat less beef' called the industry to arms, 'eat less saturated fat' did not" (3).

[9] The concept of growth and its desirability have become so synonymous with corporate business that the axiom does not appear as such any more, but is only implied, in statements like "Our deep roots in local cultures and markets around the world give us our strong relationship with consumers and are the foundation for our future growth" (Unilever), or "Our vision for sustainable growth encompasses not only our environmental footprint, but the impact we have on our communities" (Wal-Mart), or finally, "the Zucker family is committed to the continued success and growth of Hudson's Bay Company and its related entities" (HBC).

[10] Marion Nestle, one of the most influential academics writing about food politics, calls Eric Schlosser's book "already a classic—reached a huge audience, continues to be widely assigned on college campuses, and has turned masses of readers into advocates eager to change the current food system into one that is better for producers as well as eaters" ("Reading" 39).

[11] Morgan Spurlock wrote, directed, produced, and starred in Supersize Me.

[12] Oliver's latest book is Jamie's Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, and Affordable Meals (2009), published in the UK under the title Jamie's Ministry of Food: Anyone Can Learn to Cook in 24 Hours. The latter shares a title with the celebrity chef's latest TV show, in which he teaches people how to cook at home.

[13] See Guthman, Roff, or Blue, for example.

[14] As Deleuze and Guattari explain in A Thousand Plateaus:

There is a universal figure of minoritarian consciousness as the becoming of everybody, and that becoming is creation. One does not attain it by becoming the majority. The figure to which we are referring is continuous variation, as an amplitude that continually oversteps the representative threshold of the majoritarian standard, by excess or default. In erecting the figure of a universal minoritarian consciousness, one addresses powers (puissances) of becoming that belong to a different realm from that of Power (pouvoir) and Domination. Continuous variation constitutes the becoming-minoritarian of everybody, as opposed to the majoritarian Fact of Nobody. Becoming-minoritarian as the universal figure of consciousness is called autonomy. It is certainly not by using a minor language as a dialect, by regionalizing or ghettoizing, that one becomes revolutionary; rather, by using a number of minority elements, by connecting, conjugating them, one invests a specific, unforeseen, autonomous becoming" (106).

[15] The Slow Food Manifesto (1989) starts by sanctifying pleasure but goes on to describe an ethical way of pursuing it, one that ensures the preservation of as many heritage species, together with respectful ways of breeding and humane treatment, and heirloom plant varieties.

[16] The 100-Mile Challenge is a Food Network Canada six-episode program which aired in Summer 2009, in which James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith guide some of the residents of Mission, British Columbia—six families of whom are showcased—through 100 days of the hundred-mile diet. The show is available for viewing online for people in Canada: «».

[17] Robin Roff and Gwendolyn Blue, for example, both recognize the unavoidable neoliberal character of food activism, but go in different directions. Roff argues that "market-based activism and its goals of 'ethical consumption' and 'freedom of choice'" activist practices support food manufacturers' interests (513). Blue, on the other hand, looks for the possibilities opened by locavore-type alternatives, which, she asserts, represent "the logical, practical and vital extension of contemporary political dynamics" (n. pag.).

[18] In Coming Home to Eat, Gary Paul Nabhan recounts his mother bristling at the thought of reviving the old ways of food preparation: "That was too much work. It's not like what you're doing here, making pasta for pleasure. I'll talk about it all you want, Gary, but I don't want to go back there" (259).

[19] Vandana Shiva—prominent environmental activist focused on exposing the perils behind patenting seeds and privatizing the age-old custom of seed-saving and free exchange—explains the connections thus:

The universalization of patents to cover all subject matter, including life forms, has resulted in patents invading our forests and farms, our kitchens, and our medicinal plant gardens. Patents are now granted not just for machines but for life forms and biodiversity; not just for new inventions but for the knowledge of our grandmothers. Indigenous knowledge which India has used over centuries for everyday needs— neem, haldi, karela, jamun, kali mirch, bhu-amla and hundreds of other plants used in food and medicine— are in imminent danger of being patented by the western world for commercial gain. This is tantamount to biopiracy. And contrary to popular perception, western-style IPR [Intellectual Property Rights] systems, especially US patent laws, far from preventing intellectual piracy, seem to in fact promote it, even at times violating human rights. (3-4)

[20] Stock keeping unit (SKU) is a unique identifier for any distinct product as an inventory item usually in the form of a bar code. "As part of a system for inventory control, the SKU represents the smallest unit of a product that can be sold from inventory, purchased, or added to inventory" (Encyclopaedia Britannica n.pag.).

[21] Barack Obama's presidential campaign was unprecedented in its use of grass roots organizing and large-scale fundraising of small contributions. Time magazine asserts "the exact size can be measured in various ways. [Obama] controls a 13 million-name e-mail list, which is nearly the size of the NRA [National Rifle Association] and the AFL-CIO [American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations] combined. Three million people have given him money; 2 million have created profiles on Obama's social-networking site. More than 1.2 million volunteered for the campaign, which has trained about 20,000 in the business of community organizing" (Scherer n. pag.).

[22] Canadian supermarket chain Loblaw has implemented a new advertising campaign called "Grown close to home" in August 2009. The company claims "We have partnered with growers across the country to bring you the best selection of produce that is GROWN CLOSE TO HOMETM" (Superstore, sic). The campaign showcases a number of Canadian farmers from whom the chain sources "farm-fresh" local products that it transports directly to the stores. The campaign enlists the popularity of the locavore movement, while, in fact, playing the national card. Given Canada's size of almost ten million square kilometres, "Canadian grown" can hardly equal "local" in the locavore sense.

[23] Hellmann's promotional website initiates with a video in which, in true locavore style, we are informed that even though Canadians may think of themselves as pretty self-sufficient, "we import more than 53% of our vegetables and almost all of our fruit. In forty years, red meat imports have gone up 600%... . For every apple we export, we import about five... . If this continues, we may lose the ability to produce many of the foods we eat" «».

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