‘Participation Is Procurement’: China’s Good Food Movement and Its Social Innovations

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 18:45
Oral Presentation
Joy ZHANG, University of Kent, United Kingdom
With the world’s largest population to feed, modernising the food system has always been a paramount socio-political concern in China. Yet my recent fieldwork in 3 Chinese cities suggests that there are two conflicting views on what a ‘modern’ food system should look like. For the government, modernisation implies a rational calculation of scale and a mirroring of global trends. Thus, good food production necessitates replacing the ‘messiness’ of small farmers with predictable, profitable and ‘professionalised’ agri-industry. Yet the irony is that the more secure Chinese domestic food production is, the less safe its food has become. With an increasing number of food scandals, an alternative interpretation of modernity promoted by grassroots NGOs has been gaining ground. Commonly set out as consumer-sponsored farmers’ markets, a handful of key groups have initiated what I call the Good Food Movement by shifting their attention to re-orient consumer-producer relations. Innovative practices such as ‘participation is procurement’ have not only brought back sociability into the food production-consumption chain but also given rise to new forms of communities which cut across conventional geographic, socio-economic and political boundaries.

Drawing on the ‘varieties of modernity’ thesis (Beck and Grande) and prosumption theory (Ritzer), this paper shares findings from 5 focus groups and 14 interviews with participants of the emerging Good Food Movement in China. I argue that the Movement’s impact on China’s agri-economy lies not so much in the volume and scope of its production and distribution, but in its initiation of a collective reflection over the causal relations of modern food risks in major Chinese cities. It re-conditions the role of state and society in the definition and prosumption of ‘good food’.