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From Urban Agriculture to Urban Food

A Food System Analysis Based on Interaction between Research, Policy, and Society

Heidrun Moschitz, Jan Landert, Christian Schader and Rebekka Frick

Urban agriculture is embedded in an urban food system, and its full potential can only be understood by looking into the dynamics of the system. Involving a variety of actors from civil society, policy, and the market, we conducted a comprehensive analysis of the food system of the city of Basel, Switzerland, including policy and actor analysis, analysis of perceptions on urban agriculture, food flow analysis, and a sustainability assessment. The article presents the results of these analyses and discusses how research can contribute to the societal debate on food systems transformation. We particularly reflect on how the research project became a boundary object in a dynamic process to develop new ideas and activities, as well as to create a space for future debates in the city’s food system.

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Mapping the Food Movement

Addressing Inequality and Neoliberalism

Teresa Marie Mares and Alison Hope Alkon

In this article, we bring together academic literature tracing contemporary social movements centered on food, unpacking the discourses of local food, community food security, food justice, and food sovereignty. This body of literature transcends national borders and draws on a rich genealogy of studies on environmental justice, the intersections of race, class, and gender, and sustainable agro-food systems. Scholars have emphasized two key issues that persist within these movements: inequalities related to race and class that shape the production, distribution, and consumption of food, and the neoliberal constraints of market-based solutions to problems in the food system. This article claims that food movements in the United States would be strengthened through reframing their work within a paradigm of food sovereignty, an approach that would emphasize the production of local alternatives, but also enable a dismantling of the policies that ensure the dominance of the corporate food regime. The article concludes by offering a critical analysis of future research directions for scholars who are committed to understanding and strengthening more democratic and sustainable food systems.

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Anna Henkel

This article starts with the observation that a sociological analysis of interactions concerning drugs cannot rely on accounts of drugs that were generated in the field because these accounts (such as the distinction between drugs and non-drugs or between intended effects and side effects) are shaped by strong interests. The article suggests two approaches to obtaining actor-independent accounts, both of which are based on comparisons. The first approach is a symmetrization of perspectives, which can be achieved by including the perspectives of as many different actors as possible as well as the abstract actors of science and law. The second approach starts from the definition of a problem that is contingent but grounded in practices of the field. In the case of drugs, this problem can be constructed as how laypersons can rate the identity and quality of specific things as unproblematic. In both cases, an ontological idea of the “drug as such” is replaced by a social-constructivist view of the drug, which at the same time takes the drug's materiality into account.

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Extractive Conservation

Peasant Agroecological Systems as New Frontiers of Exploitation?

Anne Cristina de la Vega-Leinert and Peter Clausing

In view of the Aichi international policy targets to expand areas under conservation, we analyze to what extent conservation has become an inherent element of extraction. We scrutinize the Land Sparing versus Land Sharing debate by explicitly incorporating environmental justice issues of access to land and natural resources. We contend that dominant conservation regimes, embedded within Land Sparing, legitimize the displacement of local people and their land use to compensate for distant, unsustainable resource use. In contrast, the Land Sharing counternarrative, by promoting spatial integration of conservation in agroecological systems, has the potential to radically challenge extraction. Common ground emerges around the concept of sustainable intensification. We contend that if inserted in green economy’s technocentric and efficiency-oriented framework, sustainable intensification will contribute to undermining diversified peasant agroecological systems by transforming them into simplified, export-orientated ones, thereby stripping peasant communities of the capacity to provide for their own needs.

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Cristina Grasseni

This article presents qualitative and quantitative findings on provisioning activism in Italy, focusing on Solidarity Purchase Groups (Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale, GAS). By using quantitative data about GAS growth, numerical consistence and economic impact and through ethnographic insights based on prolonged fieldwork, it identifies the GAS movement as an ecological, economic and political counterculture. I discuss the implications for policy efforts at the regional and state level, highlighting both potentials and shortcomings of promoting GAS as means to sustainable development. In particular, I identify the issues of trust, informality and direct democracy as distinctive of GAS practice. However, this positions solidarity economy vis-à-vis policymaking in a potentially oppositional rather than interlocutory stance.

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Food Sovereignty

A New Rights Framework for Food and Nature?

Hannah Wittman

Food sovereignty, as a critical alternative to the concept of food security, is broadly defined as the right of local peoples to control their own food systems, including markets, ecological resources, food cultures, and production modes. This article reviews the origins of the concept of food sovereignty and its theoretical and methodological development as an alternative approach to food security, building on a growing interdisciplinary literature on food sovereignty in the social and agroecological sciences. Specific elements of food sovereignty examined include food regimes, rights-based and citizenship approaches to food and food sovereignty, and the substantive concerns of advocates for this alternative paradigm, including a new trade regime, agrarian reform, a shift to agroecological production practices, attention to gender relations and equity, and the protection of intellectual and indigenous property rights. The article concludes with an evaluation of community-based perspectives and suggestions for future research on food sovereignty.

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Louise Nelson Dyble

David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel, Food, Energy and Society, 3rd ed. (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2008), xix + 380 pp.

James E. McWilliams, Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We can Truly Eat Responsibly (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009), 258 pp., Pb US$14.99.

C. Claire Hinrichs and Thomas A. Lyson, eds., Remaking the North American Food System: Strategies for Sustainability (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 384 pp., Hb US$45.00, Pb US$29.95.

David Burch and Geoffrey Lawrence, eds., Supermarkets and Agri-food Supply Chains (Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2007), xiv + 330 pp.

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Patrick McEvoy

Studying the socio-ecological systems which produce food highlights the entangled nature of humans, other species and ecosystems near and far. The three texts discussed in this essay have this awareness in the foreground. Participants in the solidarity economy and artisan cheesemakers know this, and the three authors do as well, demonstrating an integration of ecological awareness in their research and the pursuit of new knowledge. Cristina Grasseni, Heather Paxson and Anna Tsing trace connections and describe flows of organisms, food, skills and ideas, from the microbial community on the surface of a maturing cheese to global trade networks shaping mushrooms, mushroom pickers and forests. Each demonstrates the tight synergies of human culture and more-than-human nature that shape ecosystems and produce food beyond increasingly fragile capitalist industrial food production systems.

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On the Taste of the Regions

Culinary Praxis, European Politics and Spatial Culture – A Research Outline

Bernhard Tschofen

Regional culinary 'specialities' are usually considered as indicative of the culture of specific areas, of their traditions and ways of life. Only recently has research begun to focus on the processes that constitute regional food cultures. This article traces the use of 'culinary heritage' as a concept in regional practices and European politics, developing an analysis of how everyday food practices are transformed first into cultural heritage, and then into cultural property. It then presents a comparative ethnographic project aiming at a cultural analysis of procedures involved in the EU food quality assurance system. In conclusion, the article proposes perspectives that may help fill the gaps in research identified in this context.

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Another (Food) World Is Possible

Post-industrial French Paysans Fight for a Solidaire Global Food Policy

Chaia Heller

If the post-war industrial model entails a mix of technological and chemical interventions that increase farm productivity, then post-industrial agriculture (emerging in the 1970s) constitutes agricultural surpluses, as well as an array of trade, aid and biotechnology practices that introduce novel foodstuffs (processed and genetically modified) on an unprecedented scale. While industrial agriculture reduces the farming population, the latter gives rise to new sets of actors who question the nature and validity of the industrial model. This essay explores the rise of one set of such actors. Paysans (peasants) from France's second largest union, the Confederation Paysanne, challenge the industrial model's instrumental rationality of agriculture. Reframing food questions in terms of food sovereignty, paysans propose a solidarity-based production rationality which gives hope to those who believe that another post-industrial food system is possible.