Demand for local food in the US has significantly increased over the past decade. In an attempt to understand the drivers of this demand and how they have changed over time, we investigate the literature on organic and local foods over the past few decades. We focus our review on studies that allow comparison of characteristics now associated with both local and organic food. We summarize the major findings of these studies and their implications for understanding drivers of local food demand. Prior to the late 1990s, most studies failed to consider factors now associated with local food, and the few that included these factors found very little support for them. In many cases, the lines between local and organic were blurred. Coincident with the development of federal organic food standards, studies began to find comparatively more support for local food as distinct and separate from organic food. Our review uncovers a distinct turn in the demand for local and organic food. Before the federal organic standards, organic food was linked to small farms, animal welfare, deep sustainability, community support and many other factors that are not associated with most organic foods today. Based on our review, we argue that demand for local food arose largely in response to corporate co-optation of the organic food market and the arrival of ‘organic lite’. This important shift in consumer preferences away from organic and toward local food has broad implications for the environment and society. If these patterns of consumer preferences prove to be sustainable, producers, activists and others should be aware of the implications that these trends have for the food system at large.