Sign of the times

‘Local’ placard gets author’s feathers in a ruffle



I was shopping at Safeway the other day when a bright yellow sign in the meat department caught my eye: “Local,” it read. Below that sign was a large display case of Foster Farms chicken breasts and thighs. Hmmph, I thought—why is there a “Local” sign here? So, I walked up to the butcher and asked.

“Safeway considers anything grown in California to be local,” he explained. “And Foster Farms has a plant south of Sacramento, so it’s actually pretty close.”

Hmmph, again.

I stopped buying Foster Farms products after watching the documentary Food Inc. about five years ago. Prior to that, chicken was chicken, and Foster Farms was usually cheaper than the rest (and therefore my default choice). Organic—and, better yet, actually local—chicken is more expensive, but my personal ethics these days regarding where I want to spend my money make it worth it. Maybe I just eat less chicken.

So, seeing the “Local” sign attached to Foster Farms was alarming to me for more reasons than one. First, I felt lied to. Despite federal rules saying “local” means within a state, for most people it means right here in Chico, Butte County, or at the very least in the North State. And second, attaching a bright yellow “Local” sign to a huge factory farming operation is manipulative, going against just about everything the Buy Local movement stands for, which is supporting Mom and Pop Farmer as well as the local economy (and is also more sustainable), not salmonella-distributing, chicken-torturing Foster Farms.

I try to be a savvy consumer, to take responsibility for where my money goes, and, as a result, what I put in my body and my home. But I—like most Americans, I think—don’t want to spend all of my time researching every brand and every ingredient. And we should be able to trust labeling and signage to help inform our decisions. But apparently that’s not good enough—people who haven’t seen Food Inc. (or picked up a paper in the last month to see all the salmonella-laced headlines) might well be fooled by Safeway’s labeling of Foster Farms as a “local” company.

A lot of good will has been stacked up behind the Buy Local movement, and Safeway, Foster Farms and other corporations would appear to be taking that good will and manipulating it to make more sales. If we choose to buy “local” Foster Farms chicken, what happens to the nice folks from Chico’s Wookey Ranch, who sell free-range, hormone-free chicken at our very own farmers’ markets?

Vote with your wallets, people. And don’t be afraid to question the facts as presented, because not every sign speaks the truth.