EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Food value and values in Europe: economic legacies and alternative futures in production and consumption
Location U6-7
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Valeria Siniscalchi (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Marseille) email
  • Krista Harper (University of Massachusetts Amherst) email

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Short Abstract

Food is the object of claims, an instrument of political struggles, and the subject of new economic imaginaries. This panel approaches food production and consumption as pivots of cultural expression, values and mobilizations to discuss some legacies from the field of economic anthropology.

Long Abstract

Food, as one of the most familiar objects in our daily lives, is increasingly important in contemporary social and political configurations in which local actions confront global issues. Europe constitutes a political, economic, and geographic entity, with a common food regulation system and a common economic policy that people confront differently in diverse social and cultural settings. This framework has spawned varied forms of food activism mobilizing different values concerning food. We aim to compare different cases studies of "food activism" and alternative futures in production and consumption to discuss some legacies coming from the field of economic anthropology. Could they help us to understand these new configurations or do we need to change our paradigms ? We will pay attention to the connections between ideologies and values that different groups or movements elaborate and practice, approaching food as a pivot of cultural expression, economic practices of valuation and calculation and political mobilization. Food is the object of claims, an instrument of political struggles, the subject of new economic imaginaries. Around food new exchange practices converge with a goal of fighting or changing the economic system, to create "sustainable" economies or simply to build solidarity. We consider food 'values' (in a plural sense) as referring to political and moral orders, socially and culturally defined. At the same time, food 'value' is at the core of tensions and different movements appear, take positions, and create alliances around such issues as food justice, sustainability, fair price and quality, explored in this panel.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Food - scarcity - in Moldova? The changing roles of food in the calculation and perception of poverty in Europe

Author: Jennifer Cash (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines changes and continuities in the calculation, portrayal, and perception of poverty in Moldova, with a focus on the various conceptualizations of food, to address the politics of poverty in Europe.

Long Abstract

This paper begins from an examination of how poverty has been calculated, portrayed, and perceived in Moldova. Since the early 2000s, Moldova has been dubbed "Europe's poorest country". In some ways, Moldova's poverty is nothing new; before the Soviet period it counted among both Europe's and Russia's poorest regions. But in the mid-twentieth century, it enjoyed the reputation of being a "flowering orchard" and "little piece of heaven". The country's changing reputation over the past two centuries does reflect empirical changes in living conditions, but just as importantly it reflects changing modes of measuring poverty. This is particularly evident as informants point to the weaknesses in current calculations of poverty in terms of individual income in relation to a "basket" of key food items; though people are indeed cash poor, they insist, "no one is starving"; high levels of household food production, sharing within families and beyond, and strong rural-urban social networks render the official statistics paradoxical. It is these changing measurements -- and the different uses of "food" within them - that constitute this paper's core. By examining the changing forms of "food" - as a correlate of land ownership and household productivity, calories and nutritional content, and as a unit of consumption dictated by taste and desire - the "politics" of poverty in Europe can be drawn into deeper anthropological scrutiny. At its broadest, such scrutiny can ask whether European poverty is ever commensurate with poverty elsewhere.

Food from waste: a comparative analysis of formal and informal urban food-recycling practices

Author: Giorgio Cassone (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)  email

Short Abstract

Using two ethnographic studies (Granada, Spain, and Marseille, France), this paper analyses food-recycling practices: the research, reclamation, circulation, and consumption of food rejected from the urban food cycle and the transformation of "garbage" into an edible, familiar and economic object.

Long Abstract

This paper analyses food-recycling practices: the research, reclamation, circulation, and consumption of food rejected from the urban food cycle and the transformation of "garbage" into an edible and "familiar" object. I consider the case studies of formal and informal food-recyclers in the cities of Granada, Spain (2011-12), and Marseille, France (since 2014), as emblematic of the production of economic and social rearrangements around food.

Every day, formal food-recycling organizations and informal food-recyclers play with the urban space according to the constraints and opportunities that the city offers them. Rigorous observation of their practices reveals that formal and informal food-recyclers develop specific knowledge that is functional to the social and economic practice of salvaging food. Skills are mobilized to decode and explore the city and its activities; to interact with actors and norms; to reclaim and transform food used, not only for nutrition, but also as a social resource for creating and consolidating groups around food-sharing. Thus, moments and spaces of survival become also moments and spaces for innovation where skills and knowledge related to food-recycling circulate, are transformed, and reproduced collectively within these groups. This way, formal and informal networks become the means of transmission of transferable skills and abilities, providing individuals with support and protection, and promoting inclusion in a specific group (Hurtubise, Laaroussi: 2002).

In this context, food-recycling practices appears as daily tactical practices, aimed at maintaining "activist" groups, in which the production and reproduction of solidarity and sharing networks define a moral economy parallel to market's economy.

Between sabor, saber, and the market: food values and activism in a Lisbon urban garden

Authors: Krista Harper (University of Massachusetts Amherst)  email
Ana Isabel Afonso (CICS.NOVA/FCSH-Universidade Nova de Lisboa)  email

Short Abstract

As producers, consumers, and neighborhood activists, urban gardeners ascribe economic, ecological, and social meanings to food. In planning the largest new community garden in Lisbon, Portugal, gardeners speak of food and production in terms of flavor (sabor), knowledge (saber), and economic values.

Long Abstract

The economic crisis in southern Europe has stimulated new interest in urban gardening and the value of gardens as sites of food production, activism, and ideologies. We draw upon ethnographic work with a socioeconomically and ethnically diverse sample of urban gardeners growing food in a neighborhood community garden in Lisbon, Portugal. While Portugal has a history of rural activism around agricultural land reform, urban food movements around local products, public health, organic farming, and community gardens have only recently emerged. Urban gardeners in Lisbon ascribe economic, ecological, and social values to the food they produce with their own hands. In planning the largest new community garden in Lisbon, participants debate how to produce and share food grown in common spaces as well as in household plots. These debates also reflect different values and goals. They contrast the value of their own produce with those foods available in supermarkets and the industrial food system. We explore how urban gardeners speak of food and food production in terms of flavor (sabor), traditional ecological knowledge (saber), and economic values. We focus on gardeners' mobilizations to gain access to land in the city and look at urban gardening as a privileged window to observe decisions and exchanges among gardeners of different social backgrounds, as food producers, consumers, and activists.

Grow-it-yourself: subsistence production and its hidden foodways

Author: Elisabeth Kosnik (University of Graz)  email

Short Abstract

Grow-it-yourself movements become increasingly visible in contemporary urban societies. In my ethnographic study I examine small-scale subsistence growers and their food networks in Austria – “prosumer-citizens” seeking more independence from the market and the dominant food system.

Long Abstract

Apparently contradicting the maxims of progress and modernity, strategies of subsistence production become more and more visible in contemporary urban industrialised societies. This grow-it-yourself/together movement covers a range of schemes: from small-scale rural growers (partially organised in "peasant movements"), and suburban hobby farmers, to the cities with its individual and collective urban agriculture projects like community gardens and balcony farms. Not satisfied with the dominant system, they become what could arguably be termed "prosumer-citizens" (Toffler) who encompass and negotiate a variety of motivations and values: economic necessity and ecological considerations, lifestyle choice and health concerns, consumer critique and demands for food sovereignty. In this context, local activities are frequently considered to be part of larger social and environmental responsibilities. However, production for use and distribution of food and resources along private networks still remain largely hidden from dominant views of everyday economic practises (Gibson-Graham). In my ongoing ethnographic study I examine small-scale subsistence growers and their food networks in Austria, as they provide food and other resources for themselves and their immediate families, and distribute seeds and surplus through local markets or bartering schemes, and through private networks to their (urban) consumers. Engaged in alternative food systems and community economies, subsistence producers often operate in legal grey areas as they seek more independence from the market and the dominant food system.

Decommodification for a just and sustainable economy: food values in self-managed organic food supply chains

Author: Silvia Gomez (Autonomous University of Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

Organic food market value(s) are based on the traditional production/consumption dichotomy. This paper analyses organic food self-managed supply chains through producer-consumer cooperation in Catalonia which produces other value(s). This is lived as contributing to a de-commodification of food

Long Abstract

The differentiation between industrial and small-scale organic farming, have contributed to the segmentation of the organic food market. This segmentation is based on values emerging from the relations that social actors establish with what we eat. Values such as taste, wellbeing, social and environmental commitment, become embodied in prices, and take meaning from the traditional production/consumption dichotomy underpinned by the classical market division. The relation between good (commodity) and social actors has been anchored in these division-centered notions. Furthermore, the organic food segment of the market system is tied to social processes (e.g. social distinction extracted from the food's associated values) that effect the unequal distribution of food of quality. This paper will focus on production-distribution self-managed supply chains for organic food in Catalonia which establish exchanges that range from reciprocity and barter to market exchanges without intermediaries and supported by various on-line platforms. In the sense that these exchanges are based on reciprocal socio-ecological relationships that close the production-distribution-and-consumption cycle, the organic food values are mutually constituted in relation to the ecologic, economic, and social relationships that each person experiences based on this cooperation process. Despite contradictions resulting from the not-total emancipation of these supply chains from the more standardised ones, the participants' everyday food provisioning process attempts to make the (taken-for-granted) industrial food system seem strange. This food activism is lived as contributing to a process of decommodification of food and change toward a sustainable economy which turn these practices into a political project

The change of scale, a lever for agroecological cooperatives sustainability

Authors: Patricia Homs (University of Barcelona and Aresta Cooperative.)  email
Gemma Flores-Pons (Aresta Cooperativa)  email
Glòria Llenas Regordosa  email
Adrià Martín Mayor (Aresta Cooperativa)  email

Short Abstract

We focus on proximity food provisioning networks composed of consumers’ food cooperatives and small organic farmers in the region of Catalonia. After years of growth these networks are experiencing new challenges. We explore the lack of scale economy as a possible cause of their unsustainability.

Long Abstract

On this paper we focus on proximity food provisioning networks composed of consumers' food cooperatives and small organic farmers where different forms of cooperation and reciprocity articulate socioeconomic exchanges. We have carried out the ethnographic fieldwork in the politically autonomous region of Catalonia (Spain) where these cooperative networks have spread in the last fifteen years decade. Thus, while in early 2000 there were over ten food cooperatives, the most recent data indicates that there are more than 150 organizations.

However, in the last two years this increase has suffered some transformations. For example, it is observed that the growth rate in the number of food coops has apparently decreased, waiting lists have disappeared and some collectives have problems regarding economic sustainability. In this sense, although there are new additions in the field of agro-ecological production, some farmers have left their lands because of socioeconomic issues.

The study systematizes the strengths and weaknesses identified by participants of main agroecological cooperative networks in the region, focusing on socio-economic practices and links among agents. Moreover, the research focuses on the potentialities and limitations due to the "standardized" size of the majority of food coops and farmer's projects in Catalonia. We explore it as a possible factor of this slowdown in growth and the present crisis: the lack of scale economy in agroecological networks. The difficulties on the actual proximity food provisioning networks are visible on some specific issues concerning logistics management, financial aspects, variety of products, care, lack of support for productive experiences, and inclusion, among others.

Fairness is elsewhere: domesticating fair trade in post-socialist Latvia

Author: Guntra Aistara (Central European University)  email

Short Abstract

Because the top three products sold as Fair Trade (bananas, coffee, and chocolate) coincide with some of the most exclusive products available only to elites under Soviet rule, introducing Fair Trade products in post-socialist contexts risks unknowingly paralleling past forms of exclusion.

Long Abstract

This article examines the shifting meanings of 'fair' in relation to food procurement strategies in

Latvia from Soviet times to the present. I juxtapose two different types of ethical or "fair" food

networks: the persistence of informal exchange networks for home-produced food items, and

recently introduced certified "Fair Trade" for importing exotic goods. I argue that positioning local

informal networks as illegal, and certified Fair Trade as ethical, obscures persistent unfairness and

inequality within Europe and stigmatizes local practices and social networks as backwards without

addressing the causes. Furthermore, because the top three products sold as Fair Trade coincide with

the most exclusive products available only to elites under Soviet rule (bananas, coffee, and

chocolate), Fair Trade in post-socialist contexts risks unknowingly paralleling past forms of

exclusion. Paradoxically, as the locally constructed idea of "fair" has become illegal, newly

introduced official "Fair Trade" products may remain exclusive and out of reach. This may make the

producers of these products from the Global South seem as remote as ever, despite their

increasingly similar problems with producers at home.

"We all need to go to business school": negotiating the value of work in UK food activism

Author: Hannah Roberson (Rachel Carson Center, LMU Munich)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the effects of the recession and austerity measures for urban food-growing activists in London, UK, with a particular focus on how funders’ changing priorities shaped food-growing labour.

Long Abstract

At the start of the recession, and with the election of the right-wing Conservative government on an austerity platform in 2010, food activists in Britain faced the end of (relatively) easily available grant funding for food-growing projects. Public financial and institutional support now targeted projects that took an active role in raising their own revenue. Anticipating a need to sustain projects in other ways, continue their work without financial support, or transform themselves as organizations in order to remain fundable in the current climate, many activists began to focus more on making food-growing projects economically self-sustaining. Based on research with food activists at a plant nursery in London, this paper explores the tensions, convergences and contestations between activists' efforts to build alternative economies through food-growing, and neoliberal reforms which sought to mobilize local groups within public service provision to mask the effects of state retrenchment. Such struggles emerged particularly over the value and values attached to work, as funding meant activists could be paid for work that had previously been done on a voluntary basis, and enabled the plant nursery to run training courses and offer volunteering opportunities that chimed with the government's objectives to get more people into paid work. Political discourses about work, employability and volunteering shaped understandings of food-growing work as a 'luxury', as a route into paid employment, or as a process of individual or collective transformation.

Digital food activism: power, knowledge, and consumer action

Authors: Karin Eli (University of Oxford)  email
Stanley Ulijaszek (University of Oxford)  email
Tanja Schneider (University of St. Gallen)  email
Catherine Dolan (SOAS)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, we explore the emerging field of digital food activism. Focusing on three case studies – a mobile app, a wiki platform, and an online-centric activist organization – we examine the ethical and social values that ICT-enabled food activism implicates among European consumer-activists.

Long Abstract

New information and communication technologies (ICTs) increasingly enable social action and civic organisation, on both local and global scales. Ranging from social media platforms to mobile apps, data sharing wiki platforms, and hacktivist projects, the activist landscape is rapidly shifting, collapsing geographic boundaries to invoke social and ethical values on a transnational scale, and form new issue publics with fast, sometimes mercurial, collective action. Within these emerging digital platforms for activism, food-related consumer action is gaining new contours and publics. In this paper, we explore the emerging field of digital food activism. Digital food activism does not simply refer to food activism that occurs on digital media. Rather, it encompasses forms of food activism enabled and shaped by and through digital media platforms, with the medium as an integral part of the activist project. Focusing on three case studies - a mobile app, a wiki platform, and an online-centric activist organisation - we examine how activist-ICT interactions generate new knowledges and practices in relation to consumer-based food activism. With particular emphasis on the social and ethical values implicated in ICT-enabled food activism, we critically analyse how European consumers and social entrepreneurs use ICTs to facilitate new forms of engagement with food, and how ICTs, in turn, shape possibilities for action. Bridging anthropology and science and technology studies, our analysis develops new understandings of alternative food networks, social movements, political consumerism, and expertise in the digital age.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.