This panel explores how food could bring together research across diverse themes, approaches and disciplines. We invite STS researchers working on any aspect of food and agriculture to come together to explore how we might create new alignments, intersections and networks in STS approaches to food.
Food is at the heart of all kinds of meetings. This panels aims to foster fruitful interactions among STS researchers working on different aspects of food and agriculture, using diverse disciplines, conceptual approaches and methods, to explore how their works intersects and how it could make a more visible contribution to social science research on food and agriculture, and to food policy agendas. This includes research on any aspect of the food system, from production to consumption. We are purposefully not defining what 'an STS approach' to food might entail, as this panel aims to tease this out. We also hope the panel may be the first step towards creating some kind of new collaborative network of STS food studies.
Questions that could be addressed include:
• How does food function as an act or process of joining or coming together of people, things, knowledges and values?
• How do interests take shape and evolve through innovation networks, technology adoption, infrastructures and standardisations in food and agriculture?
• How are new alliances and forms of inclusive and creative collaboration made around food?
• How is food and food policy a space for dissent, battle and exclusions?
• How do social practices evolve, intersect and re-form over time?
We are particularly interested in research that aims to influence food policy so that it becomes more inclusive, involves creative forms of collaborations, and acknowledges the importance of intersections between health, environmental, social, cultural and economic aspects of food and food policy.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Meetings and marketplace platforms: platform capitalism and the mediation of food encounters
This paper asks what new economies and practices of food consumption might be emerging around digital marketplace platforms. In exploring how these platforms match food vendors and consumers together, and who they include and exclude, it examines how platform capitalism shapes meetings around food.
Digital marketplace platforms, from Deliveroo to Farmdrop, increasingly articulate all manner of meetings over and around food - from anonymous takeaway deliveries to elaborately performed encounters between chefs and diners at supperclubs. These platforms provide digital infrastructures designed to broker encounters and exchanges between vendors and consumers of food, intensively generating data about their users' relationships and commercial activities in order to match buyers and sellers together and facilitate transactions between them. In the process, digital marketplace platforms increasingly shape the landscape of commercial encounters associated with the exchange of food - but what sorts of meetings between foodstuffs and eaters, and between producers and consumers, do they facilitate? Which other encounters might they preclude?
This paper will draw on interviews both with operators of online marketplaces for food and with businesses and individuals which trade within them to explore who is permitted to trade (and, in so doing, to 'meet with' food consumers) via online marketplaces. Specifically, it will examine the requirements that vendors must fulfil, and the forms of conduct they must practise, in order to thrive within the strictures of online marketplaces for food, and investigate how their prospects for interaction with food consumers are shaped by platforms' techniques of ranking and matchmaking. In exploring these questions, this paper will examine what new economic exchanges and social practices - and what new forms of power and exclusion - might be coalescing around food as it is transacted through an emerging platform capitalism.
Doing 'good coffee'? Explorations on the sociomateriality of taste in the specialty coffee market
This paper explores the sociomaterial entanglements that configure some coffees as 'speciality'. I describe such process by analysing the training of cuppers and baristas and the production of speciality varietals in coffee farms in Colombia.
Series of coffee market crises have put this commodity in a constant process of reinvention. Standardisation, the embrace of sustainability and the exploration of high quality varietals have promised better value for producers and the business chain. In recent years, one of the most dynamic sectors in coffee production has been specialty coffees. It is a range of high quality varietals that offer very specific tastes and a particular experience to the coffee consumer. Specialty coffee is an assemblage that includes coffee varietals and different kinds of material work: farming, picking, cupping, roasting and coffee preparations. The distinction of some varieties as specialty relies on an assemblage of roasting and production technologies, coffee genomics and patterns of taste and flavour. Thus, these elements support the taste experience and the networks of marketing and consumption. This paper explores the sociomaterial entanglements that configure some coffees as 'speciality' looking at the nature-cultures of taste and its importance in the devising of specialty coffee market. As Shapin notes (2016) taste and sensory techniques involve a transformation of 'soft' subjective judgments into 'hard' objective descriptions and evaluations. I describe such process by analysing the training of cuppers and baristas and the production of speciality varietals in coffee farms in Colombia. I show how taste and good coffee taste is a materialisation of market devices, professional work and 'embodied tuning'.
What is the 'right price' for food? The French "Etats Généraux de l'Alimentation" and the attempt to tame markets
What is the 'right price' for food?
This question was at the core of the "Etats Genéraux de l'Alimentation" organised in France in fall 2017. This paper will provide an analysis of this debate and the way economics and stakeholders' arguments are mobilised and are translated into a new law.
The ability of markets to correctly value agricultural products has been discussed for long. However, in the late 80's, the belief that markets mechanisms are more efficient that State regulation led to the wave of market deregulation. The computation of prices based on standardised production costs was given up.
Surprisingly enough, this issue is again on top of the French agricultural policy agenda and it was at the core of the recent "Etats Généraux de l'Alimentation" (EGA). President Macron recalled the two major objectives expected from this broad consultation: on the one hand, "to enable farmers to live at the right price, to allow everyone in the value chain to live with dignity", and on the other hand "to allow everyone to have access to healthy, sustainable and safe food" (my emphasis).
Drawing on STS, economic sociology and pragmatic sociology, the objective of this paper is to analyse why and how market regulation is challenged, and what type of mechanisms are proposed to improve price setting. Our analysis will be based on three sets of data: (i) economic debates and institutional devices to observe agricultural prices; (ii) dossier of the EGA (debates, citizens' consultation, and conclusion); (iii) dossier of the new Law project.
The paper will address the following questions: how 'right price' is defined by actors concerned? How economists and price observatory contribute? Is it only a French debate?
Three kinds of milk. Interferences in food quality assurance regimes
Food quality assurance may interfere with environmental integrity and sustainable regional development in unexpected ways. Engaging with a case study in the Republic of Cyprus, the paper unravels multiple effects of the implementation of the EU's Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) label.
Food quality assurance regimes such as the European Union's certification of regionally specific products can provoke unexpected interferences between agricultural governance, environmental issues and consumer-oriented quality policies. Against the backdrop of long-term ethnographic research on the Europeanization of food production in the Republic of Cyprus, the paper engages with the 2015 application for the EU's Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) label, in order to certify halloumi, a cheese produced on the island. Traditionally, halloumi is a cheese produced either from goats milk or a mixture of goats and sheep milk. In order to accommodate the large-scale export-oriented production of industrial halloumi cheese whose main ingredient is cows milk, the application's product specification allows for up to forty nine percent of bovine milk. Because of stupendous growth rates of the industrial cheese production in Cyprus in recent years, the available volume of goats and sheep milk falls dramatically short of supporting even present levels of productivity, let alone further growth, should the cheese be required to contain at least fifty percent goats and sheep milk. Additional EU funds have been made available to quickly increase the goats and sheep population. The paper argues that the multiplication of livestock will place the environment and the water supply under added pressure, hastening along desertification. The implementation of a food quality assurance regime draws human and nonhuman elements such as soil and agro-climatic conditions into heterogeneous networks that need to be analyzed in terms of scale, ecologies and sociotechnical assemblages.
Bringing social science into food safety agencies: the European Food Safety Authority perspective
This paper will consider the drivers behind the European Food Safety Authority's aspiration to incorporate social science into its work, starting with an overview of how social science is used in food safety agencies, and concluding with an outlook on the future for social science at EFSA.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has a legal mandate to both assess risks in the food chain, and communicate about them to the public. In response to general criticisms of the status of science in society, and the production of scientific knowledge about food safety risks in particular, EFSA is exploring how social science research might contribute to making its science more transparent and trustworthy.
The paper will provide an overview of how food safety agencies have approached social science in their work, and what EFSA might learn from these successes and shortcomings as it forges its own path forward. It will consider the internal and external drivers which have motivated the development of a social science programme, including a perceived need to 'contextualise risk assessment'. In so doing, it will also consider the way in which food can foster greater collaborations between science and society, and between natural and social scientists.
While interdisciplinarity has been a major theme within STS, there is a particular urgency inherent in the collaborations which take place over and around food, and especially food safety, which is sometimes a 'life-or-death' matter. Finally then, the paper will explore possible configurations for meetings between risk assessment agencies and other actors in the food chain.
T-labs as transformative spaces: the case of alternative food networks in the Western Cape, South Africa
Two T-labs on alternative food networks were held in South Africa. This paper interrogates the messiness of convening transformative spaces and their potential for invigorating systemic change to sustainability. It describes the process, learnings and outcomes that the process elicited.
This paper describes a Transformation lab (T-lab) process on alternative food networks that was convened in the Western Cape, South Africa in 2016 and 2017. In particular it talks to how novel research approaches are being developed to forge new alliances and forms of inclusive and creative collaboration around sustainability. T-labs are 'safe-enough' spaces where diverse people working a specific complex and systemic challenge are brought together to see the system differently, redefine problems and identify opportunities for innovations to instigate transformative change. We held two T-labs around the questions: What is the viability of linking alternative food actors into the mainstream without losing the integrity that makes them alternative? How do we build relationships that enable alternative food systems to grow? As facilitators, we learnt exponentially about how messy convening such diverse and contested processes could be, but also how rewarding it is when they go right. We struggled with the T-lab being defined by participants as a 'Western concept' and adapted the methodological approach significantly for the second lab. As such, this was a markedly more successful gathering where new alliances were forged, active collaborations were agreed on and even some policy suggestions emerged- such as the design of a food charter. This paper will describe the T-lab process and the learnings that emerged about convening such 'transformative spaces' referencing data that was collected by one of the co-authors for her masters thesis.
'Exchanging knowledge' around food: moving towards more inclusive research and policy agendas?
This paper investigates the contested research economic imaginaries of 'exchanging knowledge' around food and its implications for developing more inclusive and collaborative policy agendas.
This paper investigates the contested research economic imaginaries (Jasanoff and Kim, 2009; Jessop, 2008; Levidow and Papaioannou, 2013) of 'exchanging knowledge' around food and its implications for developing more inclusive and collaborative research and policy agendas. In recent years, the concept of 'knowledge exchange' has become increasingly important in developing 'impactful' research by 'bring[ing] closer science and society' (RCUK, 2015). Agriculture and Food constitute an interesting space where 'knowledge exchange' is envisioned as an opportunity for facilitating new alliances and inclusive collaborations around food. However, in many cases, a narrow approach prevails through which 'knowledge exchange' is transformed into a space of contestation and battles between different stakeholders (both academic and non-academic), their knowledges and values around food. This paper will focus on different examples of 'exchanging knowledge around food' in order to investigate the different challenges and opportunities that are opened up for shaping future research and policy around food. On the one hand, it will discuss about the dominance of certain disciplinary frameworks and industry actors in framing and enacting 'knowledge exchange', and thus research and policy, around food. On the other hand, it will look into the prospects for doing 'knowledge exchange' differently (e.g. through the model of 'food hubs') and thus contributing to the construction of alternative research economic imaginaries based on the inclusion of the voices and visions of a wider spectrum of usually marginalised stakeholders.
Waste becoming food: value questions, uneasy solutions, and policy possibilities in the surplus food system
This paper examines how values and affordances shape the ways in which surplus food travels and flows of surplus food from the commercial supply chain through a surplus-food supply chain and ideally into the stomachs of eaters.
The Courtauld Commitment 2025 brings together a network of government agencies, business, local authorities, trade associations and charities with a key priority aimed at working toward redirecting edible food to people's forks before sending to landfill, using it as animal feed, or converting into compost or fuel. Through a qualitative network mapping methodology, this research investigates how the agreement is being implemented in the UK. While seemingly a relatively straightforward operation, the research reveals a complex network of organizational practices is emerging that incorporates a multitude of actors utilizing a variety of models aimed at enabling the exchange and use of surplus food—each with different material and social advantages and disadvantages. Furthermore, debate within this emerging sector throws up questions concerning how best to facilitate flows of food in a way that embraces social values. Questions include concerns about which constituencies should be prioritized as recipients of surplus food, which specific foods should be incorporated, and which mechanisms are most effective for redirection in terms of societal benefit and for reducing food waste. While organisations are addressing these questions internally and collaboratively, the solutions and collaborations are not always straightforward or unproblematic. By highlighting sites of dis-ease, constraint and enablement, the research suggests new areas where innovative policy and practice arrangements may be developed.
Antimicrobial resistance and food policy: beating, meeting or greeting microbial life?
In this paper, I unpack the ways in which antimicrobial resistance policies are entangled with maintaining food systems that rely on globalised cheap meat, and begin to explore possibilities for eating-well as an ecological living with, in, and amongst, microbial communities.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has major global implications for human health, animal health, agriculture, and the economy. The 2016 O'Neill report identified the reduction of "the extensive and unnecessary use of antibiotics in agriculture" as one of four key interventions needed to tackle AMR, yet within the food industry antimicrobial drugs remain important and necessary tools to support farm animal health and welfare, and the safety of foodstuffs. Policy responses to AMR to date have focused on maintaining the antibiosis model of health through the stewardship of antibacterial pharmaceuticals. Such policy can succeed in its attempts to slow the spread of resistance to antimicrobials through more efficient prescription, it can possibly (with enough economic incentives) speed up the production of new antibiotics, but it cannot reverse evolution. In attempting to 'save' antibiotics and 'modern' medicine from antimicrobial resistance, policy remains focussed on more 'efficient' use of the tools of modernity - rationalisation, surveillance, and securitisation. In this paper I explore the ways in which AMR food and farming policies and interventions are entangled with maintaining the profitability of current food production and retail models that rely on moving cheap meat within global networks, and begin to explore possibilities for eating-well as a collective and ecological living with, in, and amongst, microbial communities.
Understanding processing: Mega Food Parks and technological interactions in the Indian food system
One solution for food wastage in India could be processing, I ask how are processing technologies shaping the food system? Using the case of Mega Food Parks, I illuminate interactions between food processing technologies, infrastructures and national policy design in changing the agri-food sector.
Food wastage due to a lack of storage and adequate distribution channels has inhibited food security in India. The government has responded to this problem by financing 41 'Mega Food Parks' (MFPs) as infrastructural hubs to incentivize food processing for both domestic circulation and export. Government visions conceive MFPs will become a modern technological solution for prolonging the shelf life of foods. Yet research on food quality indicates that processed foods cause health issues. Through 20 interviews and 4 factory visits with producers and MFPs on the corporate side; and regulators and policymakers on the government side, I study the interactions between technology and social order in the processed food sector.
Drawing on research in STS on food infrastructures and standards I ask: what is the role of processing technologies in changing the Indian food system and its relationship to global agri-food markets? How does technology make food valuable in the agri-food sector? In critically examining the policy move toward MFPs I illuminate how specific interests begin to shape technological uptake. I contribute to STS by examining the unique technological combinations that emerge due to the specific infrastructural form and make-up of MFPs. I bring a Global South perspective on processing technologies by analyzing the international flows of equipment, foods and standards as they shape the quality of food consumed in both domestic and international settings.
The introduction of sustainability into Finnish nutrition recommendations: a new dietary ontonorm in the making?
We analyse the introduction of the sustainability perspective into Finnish nutrition recommendations using Annemarie Mol's concept of ontonorms as an analytical tool. We present sustainable eating as a novel but problematic type of ontonorm and ask what kind of bodies and values it implies.
It has become broadly acknowledged that food production and consumption are key areas in the transition towards a more sustainable society. In Finland, the integration of environmental concerns into food policy has emphasized the impacts of agriculture, but recently the consumer end has gained increasing attention. Although there are different understandings of what constitutes a sustainable diet, it is widely acknowledged that plant-based diets cause less environmental burden than diets including meat and dairy, and are also better for health. One key instrument in steering consumers' food choices, albeit from a health perspective, are the national nutrition recommendations. Their most recent edition from 2014 contains for the first time a section on sustainability and concern for the environment. While the recommendations still emphasize the health effects of diets, their environmental impact is introduced.
In this paper we take up Annemarie Mol's notion of ontonorms - conceptions of food and bodies with normative force - and analyse sustainable eating as an emergent yet problematic ontonorm in the Finnish nutrition recommendations. In addition to Mol's three ontonorms - epidemiological, biochemical, and aesthetic - we suggest that sustainable eating constitutes a fourth type, which could be called ethical. Based on this, we ask what kind of 'ontonormativity' sustainable eating implies: what kind of bodies and values are enacted with it? While sustainable eating increases the 'ontonormative' multiplicity of dietary advice, it is also inherently contradictory, foregrounding the health effects of sustainable eating at the cost of other, properly ethical motivations.
Best før, ofte god etter (best before, often good after) - the construction, practice and consequences of the expiration date of food in Norway
I will present how today's date labelling was constructed and I then follow its practical consequences all along the food chain. Building on these findings, I want to invite participants to share their experiences with the expiration date and to discuss more sustainable ways of date labelling.
Whenever we do our grocery shopping or when we go through our food storage we are confronted with the expiration date. This date enables us to shop, and later eat, without making decisions within a wide array of topics - from hygiene and safety to legal and moral questions on value and waste. Rather, these decisions have been delegated to regulations, standards and technologies incorporated in the expiration date. The implementation of this governmental technology did not only standardize the shelf life of food, but it also transformed the ways goods are created, produced, transported, sold, consumed and discarded off. Due to growing piles of food waste the sustainability of the standardized shelf-life of food has been contested in recent years and alternative ways of date labelling are sought after (by activists, consumers, politicians and industry). However, before being able to find new solutions we need to understand where the expiration date as a government policy came from, what made it so successful and what are its implications and consequences along the whole food chain. Drawing on my research on the construction, practice and consequences of date labelling in Norway I want to open the discussion about both, the continuous need but also alternatives for the expiration date of food, in order to make our food chains more sustainable.
Digital eating: exploring the contours of platformed food
We consider how STS can contribute to studying emerging food practices that we describe as 'digital eating', i.e., eating practices enabled and maintained through digital technologies. We develop a conceptual framework for researching how digital eating is reshaping people's relationships with food.
Digitalisation is changing how food is produced, distributed and consumed (Carolan, 2017; Lupton, forthcoming; Schneider et al., 2018). In this presentation, we consider how STS can contribute to studying emerging food consumption practices that we describe as 'digital eating', i.e., eating practices enabled and maintained through mobile, sensor-based and digital technologies. Examples include tracking food consumption through mobile apps, adopting a new diet through following blogs and vlogs, connecting with communities of like-minded eaters through social media and video-sharing sites. An investigation of digital eating is particularly timely as digital sources increasingly mediate how consumers seek, share and interpret food-related information. In the digital media landscape, boundaries between experts and laypeople are blurred, with consumers becoming vocal and influential contributors of information about food. Through digital platforms, then, both programmers and users/consumers/citizens are key mediators of the advice and mandate of official governing actors, such as states and international regulating agencies. Thus, the interactions between digital platforms and users hold the potential to reshape patterns of food consumption on a population-wide scale, with public health and food policy implications. To study emerging practices of digital eating, we turn to STS and the related fields of digital anthropology, sociology and Internet studies, for a critical review of how food-related digital engagements have been theorised and analysed. Based on this review, we identify promising approaches and methodologies, and develop a new conceptual framework for examining which kinds of food engagements digital eating makes possible, and for whom.
'I can be part of that cool new thing if I eat more soft boiled wholegrains'. Developing new food/nutrition policies (and cultures) in Denmark and Scotland
This presentation describes the results of a pilot research project interviewing expert stakeholders in Scotland and Denmark about their understandings of the concept of sustainable diets, and the policy measures that are needed to reduce the environmental impacts of the food system.
Food production and consumption have significant environmental impacts, accounting for approximately one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. As part of attempts to mitigate these impacts sustainability criteria - mostly related to reducing meat consumption - have recently been incorporated into the official dietary guidelines of China, the Netherlands and Sweden. Combined with a growing academic and policy literature on the topic, this suggests the development of new forms of nutrition policy that straddle health and environment research.
In order to investigate this new policy area, I have conducted qualitative interviews (n=24) with expert stakeholders in Scotland and Denmark. These countries have similar agricultural systems geared towards the production of livestock for export, and Scottish policymakers are currently advised to emulate the success of Danish food policy as they attempt to make Scotland a 'Good Food Nation'.
Debates about sustainability are more visible in Danish food policy and everyday food cultures. However, I will argue that there is still no canonical definition of a sustainable diet in either country, and that in both different professional groups prioritise different elements of sustainability - health, environment or ethics - in their work on diet and nutrition. By acting as a shared research topic, the concept of sustainable diets does appear to be increasing collaborations between nutrition and environment researchers. However, these initiatives have not yet led to the breaking down of policy silos, as dietary guidelines are still very much part of health policymaking.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.