Informal Food System(s) Sessions at AAG2018

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On April 10-14th 2018, the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. FEAST organized three sessions on informal food system(s) and the team members made five presentations as follow:

The other food system(s): informal, non-monetary and alternative food practices I
The other food system(s): informal, non-monetary and alternative food practices II
The other food system(s): informal, non-monetary and alternative food practices III

1.“Food and informality: conceptualizing the other food system(s)”
Christoph Rupprecht
Alternative food practices challenging the dominant image of food as a commodity. From gardening to gathering, sharing to bartering, such practices traverse gradients from legal to illegal, regulated to unregulated, for-profit to non-profit, tolerated to socially unacceptable. This explains why, despite the rich research on the diversity of alternative food practices, our theoretical and conceptual understanding remains limited. Here I examine what definitions, frameworks and narratives informal, non-monetary and alternative food practices are associated with. Based on this analysis, I consider the significance of the spaces in which such practices exist: could a ‘third path’ based on autonomy and solidarity avoid both the intrusion of authoritarian big government into individual freedom and the austerity and inequity of neoliberal small government? For this purpose, I draw upon emerging discourses around degrowth, food as a commons, landscape stewardship, and care.

2. “How do we describe the enjoyment of informal food practices?: Analysis of theoretical framework and key concepts”
Kazuhiko Ota
From case studies, researchers note that informal, non-monetary and alternative food practices are viewed by practitioners as constituting valuable domains of socially and culturally motivated human interactions, driven by sustainable food system, food sovereignty and local holistic food security (Sage 2003, Pimbert 2006, Maurano et al 2015). These research results are focused on analysis of material and practices such as ingredients, nutrition, cooking methods, communication and so on. On the other hand, there are relatively few studies on our primitive enjoyment of food practices. However, the feeling including enjoyment is an important factor in consideration about food scenes (DeLindo 2006, Jehlička et al 2017). Especially informal food practices, enjoyment are seemed as constituting valuable domains of socially and culturally motivated human interactions. Can we describe that enjoyment well? For example, enjoyment of food sharing, such as making delicious meals for families, friends and visitors, or a motivated producer aiming to realize it in consumers through their productsis a major part of our interest in food. How can we describe enjoyment of food sharing? This research attempts descriptive analysis of enjoyment of informal food practices from the viewpoint of transition to realize improvement of the quality of life of future generations, and present a theoretical framework for analysis from the theory of play and game of Roger Caillois (Caillois 1961, De la Ville et al 2010). This research result will contribute to the development of social education methods such as gaming and curriculum development for sustainable food consumption.

3. “Bhutan’s Changing Landscape of Food Sharing: what persists and resisted within the nation’s modernizing efforts”
Mai Kobayashi
Bhutan has been looked up to in recent years, among other things, as a “lighthouse” in the world of environmental conservation and post-growth paradigm, most notably through its GNH paradigm and policies to promote carbon neutral development. As such, Bhutan’s progress and success has become an issue of global discussion. Despite the attention, little is understood about the transition taking place on the ground. A contextual analysis is necessary to understand the impacts of such state-level efforts that are taking place, in parallel, in the name of “modernization.” This paper looks at the geo-political and historical context within which such national efforts are being made, and re-evaluate how peasants are adjusting and resisting such top-down initiatives through their sharing of foods and other agricultural products. Particular emphasis will be placed on the relationship Bhutan has had with Japan in its effort towards agricultural modernization. Research is based on a continuing study in Bhutan, based on household surveys and personal interviews that have been conducted in western Bhutan since January 2014.

4. “Why farmers engage in seed saving practice in an industrialized country – motivations and values”
Ayako Kawai
Seed saving in industrialized countries is mainly driven by non-economic values, considering its labor intensity and time-space-consuming nature. While continued seed saving is critical for maintaining bio-cultural diversity in agriculture, many studies show that local variety seeds and the practice of seed saving are no longer transmitted from parents to children. Therefore, alternative transmission pathways are required if a diverse variety of seeds and seed saving practices are to survive. This research focuses on vegetable seed saving in Japan which is practiced among diverse actors, including traditional farmers, organic farmers and lifestyle farmers. In this presentation, I compare how the motivation and value associated with seed saving differs among these three different types of actors. Drawing upon semi-structured interviews and participatory research, it appears that these types of actors differ in their objectives and interests. Traditional farmers maintain local varieties through seed saving as the vegetables grown are tasty and / or fit to the local ecological and cultural conditions. Organic farmers mainly value the ability of crops to adapt to low-input farming methods and to respond to farmer’s preferences. Among lifestyle farmers, value and motivation ranged widely from those who are engaged in seed saving as their hobby or as part of community revitalization activities, to those who consider seed saving as a means to realize their philosophical view on farming. The differences in values and motivations around seed saving create different seed saving cultures among the three different kinds of actors, resulting in different seed saving management practices.

5. “Trespassing foragers: Urban beekeeping in Japan on a formal-informal gradient”
Maximilian Spiegelberg*, Christoph Rupprecht, Rika Shinkai, Jingchao Gan
Urban beekeeping has seen a rise in the numbers over the past years, but despite its documented benefits, that does not necessarily always go hand in hand with an increase of appreciation by all neighbors, law makers or even other beekeepers. There are limits of carrying capacity stemming from the landscapes ecological features, from the willingness and ability to be living with insects among the average urbanite, and from the challenges for an administration to find a balance between regulation and of semi-managed, mobile urban and peri-urban wildlife, that knows no private property boundaries. The presentation will focus on the field of conflicts, compromise and cooperation spanning between multi-level governance actors’, beekeepers’, and the publics’ acts along the formal-informal gradient in Japan. Emphasis will be put on the newly developed framework of socio-ecological ceilings and foundations for human-wildlife co-existence spaces.

You can find the blog post about AAG2018 from here.