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China and Inner Asia
Cultivating Kin and Kind in the Chinese Food Movement
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
Caroline G. Merrifield
Independent Scholar, United States
Over the past decade, China’s alternative food movement has been growing in visibility and prominence, particularly in major cities. The movement has been gaining ground in a period of deep public anxiety over food safety, and over the social and political disjunctures that are thought to yield dangerous food. Food movement projects, including community supported agriculture farms, farmers’ markets, and farm-to-table restaurants, offer sources of ‘safe’ food outside the suspect channels of conventional supermarkets and wet markets. During fieldwork in Hangzhou and Beijing, I found that people from diverse backgrounds are also drawn to food movement projects as gateways to more satisfying and nourishing patterns of living. Although the specific attainments of food movement projects - e.g. their degree of success in producing ‘safe’ food - are worth investigating, I argue that it is more fruitful to trace participants’ commitments to developing novel ways of coping and thriving in everyday life. I find that recycled/refashioned modes of ‘traditional’ association - as detailed by anthropologist Fei Xiaotong - have become a key means for food movement participants to build firm ground on which to transact trustworthy food in a time of ‘moral crisis.’ Participants’ connections around food are also giving rise to culturally-situated forms of solidarity that exceed the register of transaction. I argue that practices of making ‘kin and kind’ within the food movement represent a pragmatic strategy for building good lives in contexts of moral uncertainty, ecological risk, and faulty state governance.