Across research networks

Articulating food, place and social justice in the context of global health and environmental uncertainties (session 1 of 2)

June 28, 2021 10:45
June 28, 2021 12:15

Edmée Ballif, University of Cambridge and University of Kent; Irene Becci Terrier, University of Lausanne; Alexandre Grandjean, University of Lausanne


Marco Antonio Teixeira, Institute for Latin American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany; Aline Borghoff Maia, Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Chenjia Xu, Department of Anthropology, SOAS University of London, United Kingdom Xueshi Li, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, China

Dominic Zimmermann, Institute of Sociocultural Development, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts - Social Work, Switzerland

Renata Motta and Nicolas Goez, Lateinamerika-Institut, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

The human relationship to food and nutrition is a highly complex one influenced by multiple social, ethical and  symbolic factors. With the increased awareness of the  ecological crisis and even more under the current health  pandemic, issues about food production, trade and consumption have gained attention and renewed food  justice mobilizations. Many current food trends promote  locality and placeness as an answer to the double ethical  issue of the struggle against environmental degradation and  against social injustice, since they value human labor and  refer often to equality, in particular gender equality.  Simultaneously, some food movements meet criticism for  relying on globalized food circuits, ignoring environmental  and social issues in the global south and/or reproducing  social, racial or gender inequalities. Moreover, the current  pandemic made food scarcity more visible even in the  richest cities, fueling larger debates on the redistribution of  wealth and access to food. This panel proposes to explore  how food trends and movements define social justice and  articulate it with place (local vs. global scales). Examples  could include organized food movements (like slow food or  the promotion of “terroir”), promotional and patrimonial  certification strategies (like organic labels, regional food  labels), current trends in food production (like permaculture  or biodynamics) or individual lifestyles (such as veganism or  locavorism) and issues relating to food (in)security. Indeed,  how do food movements and trends articulate food, place  and social justice in times of uncertainty? How do food  discourses and practices promote different notions of  locality and placeness? How are ethical issues in regard to  food debated inside food movements and more generally in  the public sphere? How do these discourses relate to  structural, environmental or societal changes? This panel  will prioritize empirically-grounded contributions and is  meant to allow sub-disciplines of social sciences to gather  together from multiple perspectives (such as the sociology  of health and medicine, of religions, of migrations or urban  sociology).

Food movements and agrifood systems at the level of the national state: the Brazilian Marcha das Margaridas

Marco Antonio Teixeira, Institute for Latin American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany; Aline Borghoff Maia, Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The present paper examines the potential for food movements to transform agrifood systems. Existing analyses within the field of food studies predominantly examine agrifood systems at either the global or local level. By contrast, our analysis begins with the national sphere, and seeks to demonstrate how national transformations relate to those on the global and local scales. We, thus, challenge the approach of dichotomous scales by providing categories and perspectives that highlight the relational and interdependent character of food movements. To do so, we examine the Marcha das Margaridas – a movement based in Brazil – and its achievements in transforming the national agrifood system. Created in 2000, the Marcha das Margaridas is a feminist movement of women from the lands, the forests, and the waters, which still lives today. This mobilization plays a central part in the fight against inequalities in agrifood systems and foments discussion of food politics on a multiplicity of scales. With an impressive performance at the national level, the analysis of the Marcha das Margaridas’ actions contribute to these debates by bringing to light the potential for changes in agrifood systems through nationally directed action. We demonstrate this by mapping the march’s public policy achievements, and by analyzing three of these in detail: joint land titling (2000 and 2003); National Policy on Agroecology and Organic Production (2011); and productive yards policy (2015). The cases analyzed cover different editions of the Marcha and, thus, are illustrative of the debate on agrifood systems at each moment, as well as the power relations at stake in each situation.

‘Placeness’ in alternative food networks as immutable mobiles: Towards a nomadic paradigm of food movement 

Chenjia Xu, Department of Anthropology, SOAS University of London, United Kingdom Xueshi Li, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, China

Placeness and locality have been central to alternative food movements in the Global North. The advocacy for the emplaced, locally rooted system of provision is counter-hegemonic towards the global food system that has been in dominance since the 1950s. The local is intricately related to positive values of trust, quality and embeddedness. Since the 2010s, alternative food movements have proliferated globally. The Asian markets have seen a range of diverse initiatives that seek to establish non-conventional systems of food production and provisioning. Many of these movements explicitly draw upon 'global' ideas and practices as resources to experiment in their own transformative efforts. The 'globalisation of locavorism' raises a pressing question: when the local is the new global, how do we make sense of the 'alterity' of food movements?  

In this article we draw on the theoretical insights from Actor-Network Theory, and conceptualise AFNs as 'immutable mobiles'. Instead of assuming 'placeness' and 'locality' as given values, we examine how 'place/space' is produced as AFNs pursue and craft 'alternative' food practices. Particularly, we introduce two AFNs in post-socialist Beijing, and explicates how the processes of caring and healing unfold and refold into alternative social space/place. Case 1 charts how individuals actively engage with 'self-protection' so as to cope with widespread food safety risks, therefore create a network of care and trust, a space of 'healing' where 'everyone is not just looking out for themselves but looking out for each other'. Case 2 introduces a 'mobile' alternative market, an institution where different social agents are linked for resource sharing and belong to the global sustainability movement. The narrative of agricultural environment and the discourse of care and everyday life are combined into the rhetoric of 'place' that emphasises land and local identity.   

Our discussion on two alternative space/place in the Global South as 'immutable mobiles' suggests that 'place' is epiphenomenal to 'network'. In other words, it is the modality and processes of 'network' that underpin the alterity of food movements. A 'nomadic' paradigm is therefore proposed to better explore how food movements establish networks that are alternative in their respective contexts. In this regard, the alterity of AFNs as 'immutable mobile' lies not in that they purport and pursue placeness as a value in itself, but rather that they wander around and transverse the territories beyond the conventional systems. Understanding food movements in terms of their 'nomadic' alterity will prompt empirical research to attend to how they carve out what kind of networks beyond the conventional system as they, together with their 'placeness', move around globally

Practicing community and participation for and through more just food - a case study on youth-lead food activism

Dominic Zimmermann, Institute of Sociocultural Development, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts - Social Work, Switzerland

The paper that shall be presented explores food related community building practices of a Zurich based local group of young food activists pertaining to an international youth-lead food movement (c.f. Roth und Zimmermann 2019). It explores practices through which individual members build relationships towards food and thus towards their activist community and a wider public. Namely, it focuses on discursive, material, and sensory aspects of young people’s food activism through an ethnographical case study from the EU-Horizon 2020 project Partispace on styles and spaces of youth participation (Batsleer u. a. 2017). 

The group of young food activists, many of which are young professionals in the food sector, are part of an international movement. They share an interest in a “better food future”, which for them means a more environmentally friendly and just food production, implies solidarity with the producers and demands a reorientation (and localization) of institutionalised food-practices. They organise public eat-ins, visits to local producers and activities in schools. Many of the activities take place in settings where food is produced and consumed. Hence, food activism is material, sensory and ethic at once. During these events, importance is given to communal and peer-educational practices on the right food choices which not only allows to form a better (food) community but promises to effectively change the world. The group intends to be as permeable as possible and declares to be open for people who just want to change their own nutritional habits as well as to those who would like to “start a worldwide food revolution” (Roth und Zimmermann 2019).  

The presentation explores how by joint cooking and eating ethical issues in regard to food, specifically its (non-)local, (non-) organic, and (un)fair production are raised, how these issues are staged in a community setting and how (tacit) negotiations on food choices take place during eating and shared meals. These practices are at the same time interlinked with practices of community building and participation both addressing the group as well as a wider public of food consumers. After exploring some of the interlinked aspects of these various practices, the presentation eventually aims to examine the unfolding of notions of (environmental) justice (Bullard 2015; Coolsaet 2020; Schlosberg 2013) as well as the unfolding of ideas of (radical) democracy (Laclau und Mouffe 2014) in the interplay of these practices. For this purpose, it examines especially the (tacit) negotiations in relation to the integration of differences of interests and views on appropriate food choices during cooking sessions and during and around communal meals.

Batsleer, Janet, Kathrin Ehrensperger, Demet Lüküslü, Berrin Osmanoğlu, Alexandre Pais, Christian Reutlinger, Patricia Roth, Annegret Wigger, und Dominic Zimmermann. 2017. Claiming spaces and struggling for  recognition: Youth participation through  local case studies. Work Package Report. 4. 

Bullard, Robert D. 2015. „Phylon: Vol. 49, No. 3, 4, 2001 Environmental Justice in the 21st Century: Race Still Matters“. Phylon (1960-) 52(1):72–94. 

Coolsaet, Brendan. 2020. Environmental Justice; Key Issues. Routledge. 

Laclau, Ernesto, und Chantal Mouffe. 2014. Hegemony and socialist strategy: Towards a radical democratic politics. Verso Trade. 

Roth, Patricia, und Dominic Zimmermann. 2019. „Essen und Trinken als geteilte soziale Praxis – und als Teilhabe?“ S. 69–87 in Praktiken Jugendlicher im öffentlichen Raum – Zwischen Selbstdarstellung und Teilhabeansprüchen. Bd. 19, herausgegeben von A. Pohl, C. Reutlinger, A. Walther, und A. Wigger. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.

Schlosberg, David. 2013. „Theorising Environmental Justice: The Expanding Sphere of a Discourse“. Environmental Politics 22(1):37–55. doi: 10.1080/09644016.2013.755387.

Food politics and urban politics: social justice and place making in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Renata Motta and Nicolas Goez, Lateinamerika-Institut, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Social mobilizations around food provide exceptional lenses to analyze key dimensions of social inequalities and the multiple scales for overcoming these; they identify injustices related to food and construct solutions. Each movement focuses on specific axes of injustice – sometimes also thematizing intersecting inequalities and building alliances and solidarities – and chooses a preferred scale of political action. Research has focused on one or another aspect of these dimensions and scales of food inequalities. Often, different studies are mapped into different world regions, such as food justice movements fighting racism emerging at the community-level in the US (Alkon and Agyeman 2011); food sovereignty movements centered on class-inequalities stronger in the Global South, acting nationally and transnationally (Martínez-Torres and Rosset 2014), agroecology stronger in Latin America (Altieri and Toledo 2011), and local food movements more common in the Global North (Goodman, Dupuis, and Goodman 2012). Goodman et al. (2012) question the conflation of the local as the alternative and the just by criticizing the essentialization of scalar categories such as the local and the global. In a similar vein, Allen (2010) highlights the need to include social justice and democratic participation in all efforts at localizing food systems.   

This article aims to make a conceptual and empirical contribution to debates articulating social justice, food, and place. On one hand, with the concept of food inequalities, it offers an analytical tool to research social movements according to, first, their emphasis on different axes of inequalities in an intersectional analysis and, second, their preferred scale of political action, in a multi-scalar analysis. An on the other hand, distancing from the essentializing scalar categories (e.g., local/global), we turn to urbanization debates (Schmid et al. 2018) to approach place and scale as a political process of spatial production. Thus, we embed our work at the intersection of food and urban studies.  

Empirically, we conduct a case study of an urban housing movement that has strongly engaged in food production both as a form to address food insecurity and a form of sustainable peripheral urbanization (Caldeira 2017). Izidora is one of the most emblematic “informal settlements” in Brazil and Latin America in the past decade. It is located in the north the city of Belo Horizonte and extends over an area of approximately ten square kilometers. Four neighborhoods (Helena Grego, Vitória, Rosa Leão, Esperança) and one quilombo (Mangueiras) which exists since the 1890s compose the settlement. Altogether, they are home to more than 10.000 families who gradually started occupying the territory between 2011-2013 and successfully opposed evictions with an intersectoral coalition of social movements and local politicians. Our contribution aims at showing how this broad coalition of urban activism articulated diverse demands of social justice around agroecological practices and urban farming in peripheral areas. Based on fieldwork (in the period between 2018-2020) and digital ethnographic data, we argue that the convergence of housing and food politics in Belo Horizonte created an arena for the encounter of located and dislocated struggles that produced sustainable technologies of urbanization and new urban territories, as well as intersectional subjectivities and alliances in the fight for social justice.

Alkon, Alison Hope, and Julian Agyeman. 2011. Cultivating food justice: Race, class, and sustainability (MIT press). 

Altieri, Miguel A., and Victor Manuel Toledo. 2011. 'The Agroecological Revolution in Latin America: Rescuing Nature, Ensuring Food Sovereignty and Empowering Peasants', The Journal of Peasant Studies, 38: 587-612. 

Caldeira, Teresa. (2017). Peripheral urbanization: Autoconstruction, transversal logics, and politics in cities of the global south. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 35(1), 3-20.

Goodman, David, E. Melanie Dupuis, and Michael K. Goodman. 2012. Alternative Food Networks: Knowledge, Practice, and Politics (Routledge: New York).

Martínez-Torres, María Elena, and Peter M. Rosset. 2014. 'Diálogo de Saberes in La Vía Campesina: Food Sovereignty and Agroecology', The Journal of Peasant Studies, 41: 979-97. Schmid, Christian, Karaman, Ozan, Hanakata, Naomi C., Kallenberger, Pascal, Kockelkorn, Anne, Sawyer, Lindsay, . . . Wong, Kit Ping. (2018). Towards a new vocabulary of urbanisation processes: A comparative approach. Urban Studies, 55(1), 19-52.