On the Transformational Potential of ‘Eating Local’: Insights for Socially Just Local Food System and Social Sustainability Theory and Practice

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Hindmarsh, Richard

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Ferreira, Jo-Anne

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The gradual restructuring of international food and agriculture (or agri-food) systems over the past several decades has established industrialisation, productivism, and corporatisation as overriding imperatives governing contemporary food provisioning. The resultant interrelated adverse social and ecological impacts have led many commentators to argue that a global ‘food crisis’ is evident. These impacts include the loss of small farmer livelihoods, patenting of biological resources, increased soil, air, and water pollution, and heighted levels of food insecurity. An oft promoted strategy to combat this crisis and ensure agri-food sustainability is the shortening of food supply chains and the increased consumption of locally produced food through community- based food systems. The social dimension of sustainability is central to the development of sustainability strategies, such as local food systems. An explicit social focus highlights that to be transformative and address the root causes of socio-ecological change, sustainability is best understood as a socially negotiated process and not just a project for setting reformist goals and indicators. A primary component of this process-based approach to sustainability is social justice. In particular, procedural social justice emphasises the importance of including disadvantaged individuals and social groups when developing equitable actions for sustainability, which help mitigate the social inequalities that often lie at the heart of sustainability challenges. Problematically, local food systems have been found to inadequately address representations of social injustice faced by citizen- consumers. A deficit of social justice in local food practice results in a myriad of possible problems, including the (often unwitting) exclusion of socially marginalised community members, the development of ineffectual market-driven consumer-based sustainability interventions, or the devaluation of minority perspectives on food and eating. These problems call into question the possibility that ‘eating local’ can develop beyond a niche social practice to present a viable transition pathway toward more just and sustainable agri-food systems.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Griffith School of Environment

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Food production

Food sustainability

Global food crisis

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