A Question of Scale: The Sustainability Potential of Food Provision within Large Organisations

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 14:51
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Henrike RAU, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Germany, Germany
Gary GOGGINS, School of Political Science and Sociology, NUI, Galway, Ireland, Ireland
Food consumption outside home is increasingly recognised as a crucial issue with regard to environmental protection, economic development and health and wellbeing that requires collective, society-wide responses. Nevertheless, efforts to enhance the sustainability of food consumption in wealthy countries have frequently focused on influencing the choices made by individual consumers and households. For example, many grassroots initiatives and policies aimed at tackling food-related problems such as obesity or excessive meat consumption tend to appeal to individual consumers to reconsider and modify their food practices. However, this individualistic perspective tends to eclipse the significance of other actors, including large organisations such as businesses, hospitals or universities that provide food for public consumption on a daily basis. These organisations, through their role as intermediaries in the food chain, influence the production, processing and distribution of food and have potential to alter the consumption practices of large groups. Through a comparative case study of eight large organisations in the West of Ireland whose primary task is not the provision of food but whose canteens provide meals for employees, students, patients and visitors, this paper offers a context-focused sociological analysis of key actors and decision-making channels within these organisations that shape the meal choices of up to 40,000 people per day. Combining semi-structured qualitative interviews with 25 individuals responsible for food procurement, preparation and sales with quantitative information about the sustainability of food on offer collected using the FOODSCALE method (Goggins and Rau 2015), the paper delivers a rigorous cross-case comparison of organisational structures and decision-making networks and processes that reveals suitable points for sustainability intervention. Based on the findings, the paper makes a strong case for channelling more resources into research on food provision within organisations, with a view to informing organisation-centred sustainable food policy and practice.