Dissertations & Theses (Open Access)

Date of Award

Spring 5-2019

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sally Vernon, Phd

Second Advisor

Alexandra Van Den Berg, Phd, Mph

Third Advisor

Kayo Fujimoto, Phd


As of 2017, Americans are spending more per year on eating out at restaurants and bars than on grocery shopping (Baer, 2016). While restaurateurs have a substantial amount of influence over what foods are served and ultimately consumed by their patrons, they have received little attention as target populations for understanding or changing behavior. Health interventions taking place in restaurants have focused on changing restaurant patron behavior rather than changing the behavior of the restaurateur, the individual who owns and or operates the restaurant. Industrialization of food has been associated with a loss of biodiversity, environmental pollution, erosion, and over-use of fossil fuels. Conversely, local food systems are geographically localized, with consequently shorter distances between food production (i.e,. a farm or ranch) and consumption (i.e., restaurant food). Geographic localization has been associated with reduced nutrient degradation between harvesting and consumption, a lower environmental impact of both growing and transporting goods, and last but not least the potential to vitalize local economies through transactional exchanges with producers, such as local farmers (Christensen & O'Sulivan, 2015).

In 2007, the term locavore first appeared in the Oxford dictionary to describe one who consumes locally sourced goods such as those provided by local farmers (Shin, 2005). This dissertation was intended to add to literature on the role of locavores in addressing national and global food concerns , in particular, by examining locavore restaurateurs as agents of change in the movement of locally produced goods across a community. Increasingly more restaurants advertise supporting farmers and their communities as primary goals. This dissertation was guided by the assumption that this sub-culture of locavore chefs and restaurateurs is playing a critical role in addressing the individual and social concerns associated with a global industrialized food system. This dissertation comprised three manuscripts, each contributing to the overall goal of this project to understand the determinants and features of restaurateur sourcing of local produce. In the first manuscript, we identified differences in sociodemographics, beliefs, and behaviors between restaurateurs who sourced produce directly from farmers (termed short food supply chain users) compared to those who did not have direct relationships with local farmers (termed long food supply chain users) in order to detect whether a specific set of characteristics, or restaurateur profile, was associated with sourcing directly from farmers. Importantly, we also evaluated the effectiveness of direct sourcing from local farmers by examining how it ultimately predicted overall level of local produce sourcing by restaurateurs. In the second manuscript, we utilized constructs from Social Network Theory to explore how competition and collaboration among restaurateurs were associated with local produce sourcing. Specifically, we compared indices of restaurateur influence based on collaboration and competition (measured by the social network constructs of prominence and position) and then assessed their joint and separate effects on local produce sourcing using ordinal logistic regression to gain insights into how restaurateurs interact with one another in ways that can hinder or promote local sourcing. The last manuscript examined the role of local food distributors or middlepersons in brokering the relationships between farmers and restaurateurs. Specifically, we looked at how having relationships with distributors influenced the interconnectedness of farm and restaurant network members. In the last study, we recognized the likely role that group cohesion played in the flow of goods from farmer to restaurateur and explored whether distributors reinforced or compromised group cohesion. The specific research questions addressed were: How do short food supply chain users compare to those who only use long food supply chains? (Manuscript 1). What are the individual and network-level determinants of local sourcing? (Manuscripts 1 and 2). Lastly, how does participating in brokered relationships influence group cohesion and collective action of the network (Manuscript 3)? The locavore movement was the focus of this dissertation, but is just one example of how restaurateurs can act as proponents, even leaders, for missions embraced by the communities in which they are situated. This dissertation aimed to understand determinants and features of local produce sourcing among “locavore” restaurateurs in Houston, Texas.