Between Global and Local: Exploring Regional Food Systems from the Perspectives of Four Communities in the U.S. Northeast
Emphasis on local foods and local food systems has often meant that the importance of other scales goes unrecognized or underappreciated. While each scale has limitations, some food system experts now assert the benefits of the regional scale for its ability to foster a more sufficient, diverse, affordable, and resilient food system. This paper contributes to this debate by exploring people’s perceptions of regionally produced foods. Seven focus groups were conducted with a total of 51 participants across four locations in the U.S. Northeast. Topics discussed included the importance of knowing where food is sourced, how people described their region, personal connections to the region, globalization of food, importance of food origin, perceived benefits and drawbacks of regional foods, and the sense of efficacy and engagement involving food. While many participants were familiar with the concept of the local food system, their perceptions of the regional scale were weaker, less formed, and more divergent. These focus groups provide foundational insights into emerging consumer definitions and values related to regional food systems, which may help develop appropriately targeted messages to reinforce regional benefits.