Accepted Paper:

Peasant friends, greedy entrepreneurs and corrupt officials? Caring for food safety in China  

Author:

Christof Lammer (Alpen-Adria-University Klagenfurt)

Paper short abstract:

I propose to analyse food networks starting with a focus on care practices. The case of a peasant cooperative in China shows how the production of ‘safe food’ is based on a complex interplay of care practices usually attributed to separate domains and, hence, conflicting stereotypes.

Paper long abstract:

Following recent food scares, the issue of safe food, instead of simply enough food, emerged in post-Mao China. Alongside state regulation and market-oriented certification schemes, personal relationships between 'conscious consumers' and their 'peasant friends' are proposed as possible solutions. Studies of so-called 'alternative' food networks tend to claim that we witness a shift from state and market to civil society. Interestingly, mutual material benefits tend not to be viewed as contradicting trustworthy personal relationships as long as 'real peasants' are involved. In contrast, state support and involvement of entrepreneurs and officials tend to be understood as corrupting rather than benefiting 'alternative' food values and initiatives. In order to move beyond dichotomies and related assumptions, I propose to analyse food networks starting with a focus on care practices. The case of a peasant cooperative in Sichuan Province shows how the production of 'healthy food' becomes possible because rather than in spite of intersections of practices usually attributed to separate domains and, hence, conflicting stereotypes. Distrusting the state and certification schemes, urban consumers organise in associations looking for 'peasant friends'. A township official committed to ecological agriculture provides the pivotal link, appearing credible to the middle class consumers by downplaying his state role. Furthermore, the production of 'safe food' in the village is based on a complex interplay of various actors' care practices that are not primarily focused on a common goal of producing healthy food and an improved environment.

Panel P091
Cross-cutting care and care across cuts: dimensions of care in contexts of crisis and social change