The Politics and Sociality of Dangerous Food in Contemporary China
4: Practical Politics and "Alternative" Food in China
Sunday, March 27, 2022
10:45am – 12:15pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Yale University, United States
Since 2008, a movement calling for safe, green, fair food has been growing across mainland China. Beginning with a handful of activists, academics, and scrappy organic farms, this movement now includes over a thousand member organizations across the country, including community supported agriculture (CSA) farms, farmers’ markets, cooperatives, and craft food businesses. Seen from the scale of China’s overall agrifood system, movement-affiliated projects are truly marginal; yet movement vocabulary about ideal forms of farming and food transaction has been influential. In recent years, movement projects have been carving out unprecedented room for maneuver under the banner of “ecological civilization,” as key advocates and allies make connections at the highest levels of state bureaucracy. Drawing on evidence from ethnographic fieldwork with food movement practitioners in Beijing and Zhejiang Province, I argue that the movement’s shift from the political margins has unexpected implications. Debates within the movement about the desired future(s) of China’s diverse foodsheds are also debates about how Chinese society should be ordered, lived in, and governed. Although the movement has long operated within a zone of plausible deniability, e.g. as a ‘lifestyle’ concerned with ‘quality consumption,’ it offers participants a space for imagining and enacting new political possibilities through the social mechanisms of trust and personal familiarity. In the context of China’s rich cultural politics of food, ‘alternative’ modes of food procurement and distribution present powerful implicit critiques of the state’s programmes of food system “modernization,” and the state’s techniques of governance, more broadly.