Local food has recently gained popularity under the assumption that it is more sustainable than food from distant locations. However, evidence is still lacking to fully support this assumption. The goal of this study is to compare local and global food chains in five dimensions of sustainability (environmental, economic, social, ethical and health), covering all stages of the chain. In particular, four cheese supply chains are compared in detail: a local (L’Etivaz) and global (Le Gruyère) case in Switzerland and a local (Single Gloucester) and global (Cheddar) case in the UK. A multi-dimensional perspective is adopted to compare their sustainability performance. Eight attributes of performance (affordability, creation and distribution of added value, information and communication, consumer behaviour, resource use, biodiversity, nutrition and animal welfare) are used to frame the comparative analysis. The results suggest that local cheese performs better in the field of added value creation and distribution, animal welfare and biodiversity. Global chains, by contrast, perform better in terms of affordability and efficiency and some environmental indicators. This analysis needed to be expressed in qualitative terms rather than quantified indicators and it has been especially useful to identify the critical issues and trade-offs that hinder sustainability at different scales. Cheese supply chains in Switzerland and the UK also often present hybrid arrangements in term of local and global scales. Comparison is therefore most meaningful when presented on a local (farmhouse)/global (creamery) continuum.
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