AAG 2012 CFP – Advancing debates on sustainable and local food

Organized by Brídín Carroll and Colin Sage

The role of capital in ‘disembedding’ agri-food production processes
from pre-existing economic, social, ecological and spatial connections
is well established (Magdoff et al., 2000; McMichael, 2009; Robbins et
al, 2010). Numerous studies have demonstrated how productivism has
resulted in depletion and degradation of environmental resources, the
impoverishment of local communities and economic systems, and greater
social injustice (eg Kimbrell 2002, Sage 2011). The prevailing
conventional food chain is stretched with distanciated connections
between producers and consumers, and with minimal interactions.
Consequently, the shortening of food supply chains to more localised
systems is frequently regarded as inherently more sustainable, even
offering opportunities to build a degree of food ‘sovereignty’,
particularly in disadvantaged communities (Watts et al, 2005; Morris &
Buller, 2003; Seyfang, 2005; Sage, 2003). The value of local food has
therefore become widely celebrated and regarded as successful in
resisting the negative effects of the mainstream system.  Yet, as has
become clear, the attribution of ‘desirable traits’ to the local may
belie its possibly unsustainable nature (DuPuis & Goodman, 2005). By
not engaging directly with the concept of sustainability, many have
fallen prey to the ‘local trap’, seeing only the positive
characteristics of localisation strategies (Born & Purcell, 2006). In
misplacing ‘local’ rather than ‘sustainable’ as the central tenet of
alternative food initiatives, actors within these systems may achieve
only limited success and are hindered in achieving more altruistic and
overarching goals of sustainability. Clearly, as neither term is
ontologically given and both are socially constructed giving rise to
alternative framings of reality, they become implicated in the
formation of social, economic and political processes (Delaney, 1997).
Nevertheless, understandings of ‘local’ could be fluid enough to
include a context, meaning or interaction such as the links in a food
chain which are either reduced in number or in which ethical norms or
values can prosper (Whitehead, 2007; Edward-Jones et al, 2008; Massey,
1994; 2004; Allen et al, 2003; Morris & Buller, 2003). Consequently,
such flexible definitions may be necessary if food system localisation
efforts are to make progress toward sustainability informed by a
commitment to ecology, ethics and equality.
Potential topics might include:
•       How does geography affect the prevailing food system of a place,
efforts at resistance, attitudes towards sustainability and
localisation, and the rigidity of notions of ‘local’?
•       How central are discourses of sustainability and sustainable
consumption in alternative food movements which fight to resist the
global food hegemony?
•       If ‘local’ and ‘sustainable’ are considered to be one and the same
thing, what are the implications of such a conflation?
•       How is the social construction of scale implicated in problems
arising from the ‘local trap’? Building in the inherent flexibility of
a concept which is socially constructed, how could this flexibility be
utilised to enhance the sustainability of food system localisation
•       Could a more reflexive definition of ‘local’ incorporating faraway
places and embodied by sustainable practices find resonance with local
food actors, policy-makers and consumers?
•       How may criticisms of local food rhetoric be utilised to advance the
localisation and sustainability of food systems?

Contact Brídín Carroll: B.CARROLL2@nuigalway.ie
Department of Geography
National University of Ireland, Galway

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