(Re)Defining Sustainable Food Discourses in Philippine Cosmopolitan Spaces

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Prominentenzimmer (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Marvin Joseph MONTEFRIO, Yale-NUS College, Singapore
Sustainable agrifood in the Philippines has grown remarkably in the last five years. One manifestation is the rapidly growing number of civil society groups and agrifood establishments, supposedly in accord with the global resistance to ‘unhealthy’ and ‘unsustainable’ agri-industries and fast food chains. Yet, alongside this movement are the tensions and disconnects manifesting between the ‘sustainable’ agrifood establishments and their consumers. 

As such, contestation in the agrifood sustainability discourse in the Philippines reflects the tensions not just between the socio-environmental organizations and the dominant conventional agrifood industry, but also between the burgeoning ‘sustainable’ food production and retail networks and its consumer base. Drawing from more than a year of field research in Metro Manila, it was evident that both ‘sustainable’ food establishments and consumers are being influenced by discourses, movements, and trends from North America and Western Europe, but in disparate ways. Proprietors of agrifood establishments derive their meanings of ‘sustainable’ food mostly from the Western conceptions of ‘slow food,’ ‘organic,’ ‘farm-to-table’ and ‘local.’ These ideas are entangled with subtle advocacies of indigenous peoples rights, smallholder farmer support, and nationalism. Consumers, on the other hand, conflate the meaning of ‘sustainable’ food mainly with health and are motivated by the desire to satisfy their cosmopolitan palate (or the desire to try “something new”), which are primarily informed by trends in social media and food blogs in North America. These contested meanings have created an uneasy response among ‘sustainable’ agrifood establishments to redefine their identities in order to accommodate cosmopolitan consumer demands, often resulting in contradictory expressions of what it means to be ‘sustainable.’

This paper endeavors to address a general lacuna in the literature on our understanding of contested sustainable food discourses as reproduced beyond the Western European and North American contexts.