Date of Award

January 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Jonnell A. Robinson


boundaries, food system assessment, food system planning, global, local food, scale

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


The local food movement in the U.S. has permeated popular culture and academia; it has even infiltrated non-profit work, urban and regional planning, and government entities. By its very name, the local food movement binds food activity to a scale – the local – that is nebulous and context dependent. Scale is a crucial part of the discourse and implementation of both local food movement efforts and food studies research – scale is used to conceptualize local food system (LFS) efforts as well as implement them. This thesis explores how scale is operationalized in LFS activities through food system assessments (FSAs), a first step many practitioners take in food system planning efforts. It examines how FSAs employ, construct, and complicate scale in LFS activity and discourse. Through an analysis of eight FSA case studies, including interviews with FSA contributors, three themes emerge: (1) FSAs are a collaborative process that are context dependent and can lead to material and scalar dependent consequences, (2) by using a food system perspective, FSA contributors complicate and call out arbitrary political boundaries and normative definitions of ‘local’ and ‘regional’ that are commonly used to define a food system, and (3) FSA practitioners employ a binary mode of thinking in which the local and global scale are perceived as separate, unrelated entities, and practitioners thus exclude large-scale food system perspectives from their FSAs. This thesis argues for a more nuanced and critical approach to scale in food studies research and food systems practice.


Open Access



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