15. Ethnographic explorations in ‘food sustainability’: narratives, practices, processes, challenges

The category of ‘sustainability’ (Warde, 2018) is increasingly ingrained in our society, and it works as a powerful principle guiding a multiplicity of social fields. Particularly in Western countries, the agri-food sector has become one of the privileged sites of application for this new form of knowledge.

Farming, manufacturing, food distribution and forms of consumption pose fundamental environmental, social and political challenges. For this reason, ‘food sustainability’ (Constance et al., 2018; Ehgartner, 2020) can be seen as an expanding discursive arena which involves a variety of institutions and social agents, e.g., policy makers, NGOs, corporations, local businesses, entrepreneurs, schools and collective movements. Furthermore, international literature on consumption studies shows a widespread interest in how the members of Gen Z are progressively willing to incorporate sustainability into their daily consumption practices, including their dispositions towards food (Dabija & Băbuț, 2019; Khalil et al., 2021).

Within this framework, the aim of the panel is to attract papers which explore, from various disciplinary perspectives, how different meanings gathered around the food sustainability label are constructed, transmitted and contested. 

Three streams of research are considered to be of interest for this panel:

  • The practices of food production and consumption embedded in the sustainability framework; namely, the different as well as competing experiences and dispositions (e.g., eco-habitus) toward food provision, exchange and consumption as understood in terms of sustainability (Carfagna et al., 2014; Kennedy & Givens, 2019).
  • Youth socialization and the corresponding education for sustainability practices; namely, the role of the organizations and social agents which contribute to socialize the young generations to food sustainability concerns (Jickling & Sterling, 2017).
  • Media representation of food sustainability; namely, the analysis of old and new media and, in particular, of the new figures – such as the eco-influencer – operating as cultural intermediaries in re-coding the meanings that make up the public discourse on food sustainability.

Open questions
1. How are food consumption practices transformed in response to the institutional demands related to sustainability discourse? 

2. How are novel venues and ‘sustainable’ foodstuffs affecting food consumption habits?

4. How are food production cultures reorganized in order to be recognized as being ‘sustainable’? (e.g., sustainable restaurant; sustainable cafeteria; sustainable food delivery)

5. How do established as well as emerging organizations (re)position themselves as leading authorities on sustainable pedagogies? 

6. How are food sustainability and sustainable diets taught in both formal and informal educational settings?

7. What role do new media and digital platforms play in guiding the public discourse on food sustainability?

8. How does one become an eco-influencer or a digital food activist?

9. How do algorithmic cultures incentivize/complicate the generation of cultural intermediaries and food activists?

Food Sustainability; Food Consumption; Eco-habitus; Eco-influencer; Education for Sustainability; Discourse Analysis; Digital Ethnography.

Fields of study
Food Studies; Cultural Anthropology; Youth Studies; New Media Studies; Cultural production; Sociology of Consumption; Sociology of Education.

Carfagna, L. B., Dubois, E. A., Fitzmaurice, C., Ouimette, M. Y., Schor, J. B., Willis, M., & Laidley, T. (2014). ‘An emerging eco-habitus: The reconfiguration of high cultural capital practices among ethical consumers’. Journal of Consumer Culture, 14(2), 158-178.

Constance, D. H., Konefal, J., & Hatanaka, M. (Eds.). (2018). Contested sustainability discourses in the agrifood system. London: Routledge.

Dabija, D. C., & Băbuț, R. (2019). ‘Enhancing apparel store patronage through retailers’ attributes and sustainability. a generational approach’. Sustainability, 11(17), 4532.

Ehgartner, U. (2020). ‘The discursive framework of sustainability in UK food policy: The marginalised environmental dimension’. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 22(4), 473-485.

Jickling, B., & Sterling, S. (2017). ‘Post-sustainability and environmental education: Framing issues’. In B. Jickling, S. Sterling (Eds.). Post-sustainability and environmental education. Cham: Palgrave, pp. 1-11.

Kennedy, E. H., & Givens, J. E. (2019). ‘Eco-habitus or eco-powerlessness? Examining environmental concern across social class’. Sociological Perspectives, 62(5), 646-667.

Khalil, S.; Ismail, A.; Ghalwash, S. (2021). ‘The Rise of Sustainable Consumerism: Evidence from the Egyptian Generation Z’. Sustainability, 13, 13804. https://doi.org/10.3390/su132413804

Warde, P. (2018). The invention of sustainability: Nature and destiny, c. 1500–1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Short Bio
Lorenzo Domaneschi
University of Milan-Bicocca

Bio. Lorenzo Domaneschi is Assistant Professor of Cultural Sociology at the University of Milano-Bicocca. His main research interests include food and wine culture, consumption studies, ethnography and theories of social practice. He published a number of research articles on food practices (Journal of Consumer Culture, 3/2012) and book chapters on gastronomic field (in Italians and Food, Palgrave, 2019) and wine culture (in The Routledge Handbook of Wine and Culture, Routledge, 2022). His latest book is Fare cucina. La cultura della qualità alimentare tra arte e artigianato [The practice of cooking. Creating a culture of quality between art and craft] (Carocci, 2018).

Lorenzo Pedrini
University of Milan-Bicocca

Bio. Lorenzo Pedrini, PhD, is a post-doc researcher at the Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Milan-Bicocca. His research interests focus on collective movements, social practices and representations, and his projects are conducted using an ethnographic approach. He has carried out inquiries on leftist social movements, boxing, martial arts, and football fandom in Italy. Lorenzo’s current project is ‘Youth and the Representations of Sustainability’, which began in 2021 and aims to deepen how secondary schools socialize the youngsters to a sustainable sensitivity, paying particular attention to the institutional discourses and pedagogies concerning the food system and dietary practices.

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