Fantasy and Outrage at the Farmers Market

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Sang-hyoun PAHK, University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA
This paper examines farmers markets as a particularly resonant space of ethical consumption. Media panic about vendors selling nonlocal produce at state certified farmers markets in California prompted the passage in 2014 of a bill that enabled extensive surveillance of farms and increased penalties for violations -- including, remarkably, the possibility of jail time. Proponents of farmers markets and local food celebrated the bill without acknowledging the obvious contradiction. The question here: what kind of cultural logic endorses “know your farmer” and “police the farmers” at the same time? Based on media analysis and participant observation at farmers markets, I examine how ethical consuming subjects are constituted in discourse and material practice. Popular ethical consumption discourse (e.g. “vote with your dollar”) tells us we are responsible for the effects of our purchases, but those effects are often difficult to untangle. Unlike supermarkets, farmers markets presumably allow us to “know” farmers and their practices, and thus happily take responsibility. Farmers markets are sites where we can consume the right things for the right reasons in the right way. Such consumption, we are told, produces desirable effects for the environment, our health, and the “community.” But efforts to enable (from the perspective of market managers) or inhabit (from the perspective of consumers) this ideal mode of consumption inevitably fail, producing a range of affect-laden responses. These include the celebration of a bill that appears to contradict the whole point of farmers markets. These also include efforts to exclude consumers who show up at farmers markets for the “wrong” reasons or consume in the “wrong” way. All of these responses tend to exacerbate existing inequalities along classed, but the particular cultural logic at work renders those effects difficult to see -- even (perhaps especially) for the most well-meaning consumers.