Back to the Land Ethic? Sustainable Food Futures in the Age of Austerity: Perspectives from a British Case Study

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Prominentenzimmer (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Jonathan BEACHAM, Lancaster University, United Kingdom
This paper draws upon empirical research undertaken with ‘alternative’ and ‘local’ food networks in Lancashire, England, in aiming to explore the discourses and practices employed by lay actors in constituting their moral relation to food in the context of economic austerity. Since its onset in Europe, it has become clear that austerity ought not to be merely understood as a neutral backdrop to sociality but must instead be interpreted as an active political programme reconfiguring subjectivity and lived experiences in diverse ways. Indeed, food occupies an unusual position in the social sciences: in one sense, it is one of the few anthropologically universalisable aspects of life in that everyone requires nutrition in order to live. In another sense, it is a hugely volatile category and understandings around food vary drastically over the course of history. As such, it remains an important device in thinking through the ways in which social, political and economic orderings and regimes intersect the moral questions and implications that are complexly interwoven into our affective experiences of food. Drawing particularly on perspectives from Marxian political ecology and my own empirical research, I argue that austerity has served to create new ways of thinking about the moral dimensions of food in the creation of divergent futures. As such, food has become awkwardly balanced both as a tool that serves to explicate people’s moral responsibility and generosity to (tangible and intangible) Others but also a field in which discourses of asceticism, thrift and self-sufficiency are drawn upon and privileged at a cultural level in the creation of better, seemingly more sustainable, food futures. I conclude this paper by discussing these ambivalences around food with relation to wider identifiable shifts in global agro-food systems.