Food utopias in Switzerland: Practices and narratives of transitions towards more sustainable food systems
Wednesday 7th of June
Anthropology Institute, Neuchâtel, Switzerland
with Photo exhibition “New Farmers”, vernissage and roundtable the 6th of June, 18.00
Until recently, agri-food systems were invested with a great hope of eradicating hunger and providing cheap access for all to a wide variety of food. Today they are the target of growing popular and media critics because of their dramatic consequences on health, ecosystems and social justice. At the same time, food continues to produce new stories of hope: in many contemporary utopias, it is constructed as the starting point of a possible transition towards a post-productivist world, which would be more sustainable, responsible and just. Urban agriculture, permaculture, community-supported agriculture, Slow Food movements or critical consumption, everywhere in the world, a variety of initiatives seek to redefine our relationship to food production and consumption, and embody the desire for a wider societal change (Pleyyers, 2011). Far from being mere narratives of change, these food utopias (Stock, Carolan & Rosin, 2015) take the shape of concrete social experiments, transnational networks and practices. While they may not always be as innovative as they seem, these practices are always the expression of a critical statement towards productivism and consumerism. They turn food into a field of political engagement and provide positive narratives of change in a time of environmental catastrophism. These food utopias have now raised the attention of the medias, but also of big retailers who use a similar rhetoric to label an increasing number of food items as “sustainable”, “ethical”, “local”, etc. As such, but also because they are now well organized within global networks, they now enjoy a growing celebrity and cannot be seen any more as a mere marginal phenomenon.
How do these food utopias translate and take shape in the context of Switzerland? What types of social experiments do they enact and on what type of critiques, moralities and political engagements do they rely? How, and at what level, can they play a role in the transition towards more just, healthy and sustainable food regimes? Taking an ethnographic and qualitative approach, this conference aims at documenting agri-food practices in Switzerland that perform and embody a critical stance on industrial and large-scale agriculture. We will shed light on the heterogeneity of these practices, examine their specificities and historicity with regard to the Swiss context, and analyse their potential to redefine the relation Swiss people have with their food. The notion of utopia will therefore not be used in its common understanding that refers to an elsewhere that does not exist, but rather as a heuristic “tool” (Stock, Carolan & Rosin, 2015:5) allowing us to take “seriously” alternative and critical agri-food practices. The “utopian” framing will draw our attention to their capacity to challenge conventional ways of relating to food, and to reopen spaces and imaginaries of other possible futures. At the same time, it will point to their ambiguities, contradictions and limitations.
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