Across research networks

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

June 29, 2021 10:45
June 29, 2021 12:15

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


Laurence Ossipow and Anne-Laure Counilh, Haute École de Travail Social de Genève, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland (HETS/HES-SO)

Lisa Märcz, Nele Langebraun and Michael Gibbert, Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society, Università della Svizzera italiana, Switzerland

Jérémie Forney, Institut d’ethnologie, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland

Alexandre Grandjean, University of Lausanne, Switzerland

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 aid systems and social justice in Switzerland 

Laurence Ossipow and Anne-Laure Counilh, Haute École de Travail Social de Genève, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland (HETS/HES-SO)

Based on our research on food aid in Switzerland1, we propose to question the definition of "social justice” by the authorities, and its translation into rules, support, action and representation. These definitions influence the complete food aid structure: first, who can receive food aid (the difference between conditional aid based on income and residency; and unconditional or emergency aid with no income or residency criteria).  Second, the social justice understanding affects the selection of supply channels (recovery of food waste from supermarkets, donations from civil society, wholesale purchases and contracts with local farms), and finally, it influences the funding systems (private/foundations or public/government).  

Furthermore, the role of volunteers in food aid and the interactions with beneficiaries; reveal numerous onsets to social inequalities. Some organizations cater food package or prepared meals to poor people who have to make do with what is being offered (“beggars cannot be choosers”), while others tend to consider them as clients with small/tight budgets, who are nonetheless free to make their purchases (paid solidarity grocery stores). However, these types of food aid organizations implicitly classify or typify the “good" (e.g., families with children) and the “bad” (those suspected of abusing the system or indulging in welfare). Every kind of food aid system is useful in emergencies, particularly in times of a pandemic but not all consider food aid as a human right, linking it to philosophy and actions that can – in the end – guarantee the right to food, employment and reduce poverty. 

These questions will have been addressed with rich firsthand empirical material collected between September 2019 and May 2021 in eight distinct food aid organizations (food banks, social restaurants, food package and paid solidarity grocery stores) in Geneva and Fribourg. The data has been collected using varied anthropological methods (internship and volunteering in food aid organizations, participant observation and interviews with volunteers, beneficiaries, social workers and managers) and has been analyzed using qualitative data analysis software.

1) Refer to Ossipow Laurence, Counilh Anne-Laure, Cerf Yann en collaboration avec Aude Martenot et Juliette Renevier (2020). Indigence en pays d’opulence, REISO, Revue d'information sociale, mis en ligne le 2 juillet 2020,; Counilh Anne-Laure et Ossipow Laurence (2020). Des saisons pour les pauvres ? Une valorisation secondaire, in C. Adamiec, M.-P. Julien et F. Régnier (dir), L’alimentation au fil des saisons. La saisonnalité des pratiques alimentaires, p. 157-170. Tours : Presses universitaires François-Rabelais de Tour.

On-farm slaughter in Switzerland: Feeding sustainable omnivorous societies 

Lisa Märcz, Nele Langebraun and Michael Gibbert, Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society, Università della Svizzera italiana, Switzerland 

Current food trends and movements are not only based on social and environmental issues but also particularly because people become more and more aware of the horrible conditions that most nonhuman animals have to endure in the food industry. As Hartmann & Siegrist (2019) have pointed out, “The enjoyment of meat and simultaneous disapproval of hurting animals create an ambivalent relationship with meat consumption”, which includes not only production and distribution of a product per se, but especially the birth, the raising and nurture - respectively tracking and killing - and eventually the slaughter of a nonhuman animal. Factory farming evokes more and more people to turn vegetarian or vegan or to develop a conscious nutrition plan for which they select so-called “ethical” resources. But putting animals as products on a scale that goes beyond the issue of animal rights, it quickly becomes obvious that the consumption of meat, milk, and eggs concerns the largest economical and ecological problems we currently face on the planet: climate change, human health and hygiene, diseases, the exploitation of resources and fragmentation of land, the occupation of space, and food quality. Food production crucially depends on a variety of natural resources – healthy soil, water, ecosystem services, and genetic resources. Using these resources in an abusive manner creates problems for food security (UNEP, 2016) but none of them fit inside the concept of economic efficiency that has dictated food production in recent decades (Spaargaren et al. 2013). Consequently, while our societies have become increasingly wealthy, our natural wealth has decreased drastically in recent decades (Dasgupta, 2021). 

A practice that addresses all of these issues is on-farm slaughter. In Switzerland some farms are already experienced in having their cattle killed and slaughtered either on open pasture or on farm ground, and its demand is growing. With it come many advantages as it avoids the long and stressful transport to slaughter houses — which not impacts the mental and physical health of livestock but further impairs meat quality as a result of increased adrenaline secretion, and contributes to carbon emissions. Further, factory farming is a mode of production which is only efficient and beneficial in a very narrow sense – it destroys natural resources and natural capital, it provides poorly paid jobs with a high probability of accidents, and it produces a quantity which eventually becomes industrial food waste. With a focus on on-farm slaughter and other practices of sustainable farming we look into relationships between human consumers and nonhuman products, and how farmers make sense of the concepts of resources and efficiency in food production. Our empirical work in situ covers the entire process of animal husbandry of Swiss farms in the context of food security for humans and a sustainable and ethical farming for the environment. By ethnographic fieldwork on farms through interviews, participant observation and analytic observation of events we will provide insight into alternative ways of meat production which potentially secure future nutrition in omnivore societies. 

Dasgupta, P. (2021). The economics of biodiversity: The Dasgupta review. Retrieved from 

Hartmann, Christina and Michael Siegrist (2020). Our daily meat: Justification, moral evaluation and willingness to substitute. In: Food Quality and Preference 80 (2020) 103799 Spaargaren, G. (ed. ., Oostreveer, P. (ed. ., & Loeber, A. (ed. . (2013). Food Practices in Transition: changing food consumption, Retail and Production in the Age of Reflexive Modernity. In Food Practices in Transition: Changing Food Consumption, Retail and Production in the Age of Reflexive Modernity.

Autonomy through interdependencies in food networks: confronting farmers’ cooperatives and alternative food networks 

Jérémie Forney, Institut d’ethnologie, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland 

Farmers’ autonomy has been amply discussed by rural sociologists for decades. Numerous examples of collaborations between farmers have been described, with the argument that collective action would result in collective processes of autonomization. This set of scholarships defines more or less explicitly autonomy in opposition to the individual independence that lays at the core of dominant definitions of farmers as free entrepreneurs. As phrased by Emery (2015), the pursuit of a collective level of autonomy points to the fact that the contrary of “independence” is not interdependence, but unilateral dependence. This literature has however focused on a rather corporatist understanding of farmers’ autonomy, being in the context of classical farmer cooperatives or (e.g. Gray and Stevenson 2008) or in more marginal movements, in the interstices of food systems (e.g. van der Ploeg 2008). The focus was always on how groups of farmers were empowered, as a homogenous professional group, within an economic system dominated by powerful actors. In a way, it is as if farmers’ autonomy was only about farmers themselves. In parallel, the study of alternative food networks has developed and boomed, opening up the discussion of autonomization in food systems and reframing it more diversified processes and heterogeneous assemblages (e.g. Goodman & al 2011). This paper explores more in detail this reframing of the process of collective autonomization in agri-food systems. To do so, I will draw on two contrasted examples in the Swiss context. First, “Notre Panier Bio”, will illustrate the Local Contract Farming movement (“Agriculture contractuelle de proximité” in French, which is the Swiss interpretation of Community Supported Agriculture). This case study will allow me to emphasize the necessity of accepting constraints to produce collective autonomization processes. Second, I will present the collaboration at a regional level that developed around a cheese brand (Schabziger) in the canton of Glarus. This collaboration between a regional farmer organization and an industrial cheese factory will open a discussion on collaboration and interdependencies within industrialized food chains. The confrontation of these two very different cases around the question of autonomy in food systems first requires a redefinition of autonomy in agriculture that opens to other, non-farmer, actors and reconnects with food, as both the symbol and the material enactment of autonomy a a part of more just food systems. 

Crafting the ‘Anthropocene’: Swiss biodynamic wine-crafting and the aesthetics of post-humanism 

Alexandre Grandjean, University of Lausanne, Switzerland 

In the year 1999, a dozen of independent Swiss wine-crafters (‘vignerons’) have familiarized themselves with the agronomical guidelines of biodynamic farming. This esoterically-driven and practitioner-based agronomy stands as a low-tech, Do-it-yourself and ‘deeply’ ecological strand of the organic farming movement. It also fosters a strong legacy upon the project of a ‘spiritual science’ purported by Rudolf Steiner and further on by the anthroposophical movement (McKanan 2018). In 2020, the number of vignerons engaged with biodynamics in Switzerland has officially quadrupled since the change of millennial. Through formal and informal networks of acquaintances, Swiss vignerons have however domesticated and neutralized the ‘strange strangeness’ of biodynamics’ alchemical treatments, as well as of the esoteric teaching of anthroposophical stakeholders. In part through biodynamics, Swiss vignerons have called upon a ‘retrieval of naturalness’, innovated on modes of valuation as well as have promoted new environmental and gustative aesthetics to envision their professional ethics and their wines (Pineau 2019). Doing so, they have transposed private alternative and holistic self-care practices such as homeopathy, naturopathy, meditation and neo-shamanic ‘vision questing’ to their workplace. They have also adopted popular iconographies and languages of the ‘selves’ and of ‘authenticity’ that are common in transnational so-called ‘New Age’ cultures (Becci, Farhamand & Grandjean 2020). 

In this presentation, I argue that the growing involvement of vignerons with organic and biodynamic guidelines is part of a wider ‘post-human’ turn (Tsing 2015, Lien & Pàlson 2019). However, the aesthetics surrounding this posture acknowledging upon the ‘more-than-human’ dimension in wine-crafting is mainly grounded in a cosmopolitan, social and pragmatic critic of agrochemistry and intensive farming. Indeed, the growing visibility shed upon the risky uses of chemical herbicides, fungicides and pesticides since the 1970’s have gradually socialized Swiss vignerons to new assets given on the soil (the rhizosphere), the vineyard’s biodiversity, as well as an the role and placeness (‘genius loci’) of spontaneous yeasts on fermentation – all of which being encompassed by the branded and ontological notion of ‘terroir’ (Teil 2012). Interestingly, these localized and often sentient features upon the ‘more-than-human’ are articulated with a broader apprehension of the ‘Anthropocene’ and its conveyed moral values. For instance, and as a first glimpse of my presentation, one of my informant used this term to name one of his yearly cuvée (vat). He notably stated about it on his website: ‘Human activities INFLUENCE the evolution of our planet in the first place, and it is time we take our RESPONSABILITIES.