Volume 5, Number 2 – June 2008

Slow Food and Economic Development

If you have any interest in food or the culinary arts, or even if you’re just a regular Food Network viewer, you’ve probably heard of the Slow Food movement.   Begun in Italy, the Slow Food movement (www.slowfood.com) seeks to counter the influence of fast food and the “fast life.”  In Europe, the movement sometimes reflects anti-Americanism.  The French farmers who bulldozed a local McDonald’s were certainly sympathetic to slow food themes.   But, slow food—especially here in the US—is about more than simply replacing the Big Mac with artisanal cheese or heirloom tomatoes.  In fact, a very exciting movement to preserve local food traditions is underway across America.   And, by preserving these traditions, we can also make important contributions to local economic development. 

When it comes to the links between local food and economic development, the term regional foodways is probably a better descriptor than slow food.  Regional foodways refer to the connections between food preparation and consumption, local heritage, and the natural resource amenities of a region.  It is this complex mix of people, products, and nature that matters.   The wheat industry in the Great Plains or Florida’s lettuce industry do not constitute regional foodways, but lobsters in Maine, barbecue in North Carolina, and wine in Napa Valley do meet this test. 

Most communities have distinctive food, products, and practices.  Traditionally, they haven’t really meant much in terms of economic development.  After all, what’s the spin-off effect of the Philadelphia Cheese steak?    Yet, a number of factors are changing this equation.  First, the Slow Food movement and concerns about food safety and high energy costs are fueling “eat local” movements around the US.    Farmers markets and Community-Supported Agriculture are booming.  Second, many Americans now appear to be craving “authenticity.”  Books like The Experience Economy and Authenticity: What Consumers Want tell us that many Americans are seeking products and experiences that are “real” and that have deep community connections.  Finally, tourism has been booming over the past decade.   Many Americans have funds to travel and want to experience “real” places with real heritage, and, yes, real local foods. 

All of these factors combine to create a real opportunity for economic development, especially in rural areas.   Local residents want to buy local food, and are willing to pay a premium for it.   Outsiders want “real” experiences where they can sample local products with a distinct regional flavor.   Smart communities have begun to tap into this market.  In Appalachian Ohio, local leaders have developed “The Food We Love” marketing campaign to promote local food products and producers.  Missouri has been experimenting with the creation of regional appellations—food districts based on the model of France’s wine appellations such as Bordeaux and Burgundy.   The Missouri Regional Cuisines Project has recently unveiled its first appellation—the Mississippi River Hills region.  Several other states, such as Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, are also funding efforts to promote regional foodways.

The development of the Regional Foodways movement is an exciting opportunity.   It offers a means to create new wealth for rural communities, while also preserving an important cultural heritage.  And, in the process, we get some tremendous food, too!



Appalachian Center for Regional Networks, “Entrepreneurship with a Regional Flavor,” (Athens, OH:  ACENET, 2007).  This report is probably the best single resource for thinking about where food fits into a distinctive regional rural development strategy.

Association for Enterprise Opportunity, Regional Flavor:  Marketing Rural America’s Unique Assets, (Arlington, VA:  AEO, 2007).   A hands-on guide for promoting regional flavor.

Good Regional Foodway Sites: 
Georgia Mountain Foodway Alliance:  http://www.georgiafoodways.org/
Michigan Foodways:  http://www.michiganfoodways.org
Missouri Regional Cuisines:  http://extension.missouri.edu/cuisines/
Slow Food USA:  www.slowfoodusa.org 

Good Regional Food Resources: 
While it’s nice to know about local economic development efforts, it’s also nice to know where to get good local food.  Here are three sites that we like:

Chowhound:  www.chowhound.com.  Probably the most popular site for finding good eats—it’s heavy on urban areas, but covers the whole US. 

Holly Eats:  www.hollyeats.com.  Started by a Philadelphia-based gourmand, this site is heavy on East Coast locales, but offers some great reviews and tips.

Roadfood:  http://www.roadfood.com/.  Started by food critics Jane and Michael Stern, this site focuses on “the most memorable local eateries along the highways and back roads of America.”

What’s New at EntreWorks Consulting?

New Articles:  

We’ve got some new goodies that have been posted to the EntreWorks Library. To access the reports, click here.

“Creating an Entrepreneurial Appalachian Region:  Findings and Lessons from an Evaluation of the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, 1997-2005.”  Prepared for the Appalachian Regional Commission.  The full report will soon be published, but a detailed executive summary is now available.   To access the report, click here.

“Federal Policies that Need Attention” by EntreWorks’ Erik R. Pages appeared in the Spring/Summer 2008 issue of Community College Entrepreneur.  You can access the journal here.