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Food Cultures and Their Spaces

Gilles Fumey, Peter Jackson and Pierre Raffard


« Food culture » has become a key notion in the social sciences. Historians connect it to an accumulation of layers and ruptures in history, sociologists to “global social practices” while geographers relate it to a system of identity distinction defined by distance and hybridity often presented as a “melting pot”. These approaches need to be discussed, not just from traditional disciplinary points of view but in relation to global issues which have appeared in contemporary debates about food: such notions as risk (food, health), abundance generating new pathologies (obesity, degenerative illnesses), the growth of food industry, new kinds of social protest, discourse and practice about food quality, identity assertions and heritage, transmissions, etc.

This issue of AoFood aims at defining theoretical and conceptual frameworks about food culture, assessing the idea that such a notion offers a common basis for researchers in the social sciences. This issue won’t give priority to any part of the world, but will rather attempt, through focusing on regional case studies, to outline the elements which may confer a universal character to food.

On the one hand, political or cultural boundaries can be useful to show how a local culture shapes food habits in relation to other cultures. On the other hand, food issues must be examined within the frame of globalization, which needs to be discussed, imposed by brands which claim to be global while they may not be. These new actors establish new food systems emerging in cities where the social environment is defined by an accelerated pace which creates new needs.

A new perspective on food issues should move away from an economic approach (production/supply/consumption) in order to consider that eaters are not only rational economic actors (homo oeconomicus), but take into account various elements such as environment, health, quality, seasons, social justice, pleasure, social interactions, price, etc. Food products have therefore become unusual objects, in the sense that they can only be found in the midst of an extremely varied range of offer. The food industry’s difficulties in creating new economic systems which could be accepted by mistrustful eaters show that consumerist and judicial institutions play an important part which should be analyzed.

From a geographical point of view, migratory movements affecting the South towards the North, but also within the South and the North, also play a considerable part in the setting up of both new ethnic and universal food codes. Everywhere the expansion of a universal food model intensifies the redefinition of products and cuisines. Such processes need to adjust to new ways of life which tend to confine food to the field of leisure and entertainment.

Finally, the increasing power of humanitarian organizations in the management of food crisis allows for a better understanding of how food plays a geopolitical part throughout the different regions of the world. As the latest manifestation of an idealistic food power, food security is used by rich countries to control the world’s food by subsidizing part of the production, the surplus of which is sent to developing countries. In such a context, land monopoly becomes virulent and opens new avenues for geopolitical researchers. Another geopolitical topic has appeared: the “territorialisation” of food as a way to “culturalize” food. Food companies have understood it lately: under eaters’ duress they have chosen this option, while a new world battle has begun over the right to use these new geographic brands.

Themes (non-exhaustive list)

“Geographical food”: How does a food culture appear? What are its cognitive processes? How do the geographical “qualities” of a territory influence eaters’ choices and their consumption practices?

The concept of “food culture”: How to put it into perspective and go beyond a reifying analysis of social practices which evolve constantly?

How does globalization strengthen local food cultures?

Population movements and their consequences on the spread of food cultures.

Geopolitics as an ethical argument in the construction of a globalized food system.

Please send article proposals (15-20 lines) before Friday 24th January 2014 to Gilles Fumey, Peter Jackson and Pierre Raffard: ; ;

NB: An answer to your proposition will be sent by mid-February. Deadline for submitting completed articles will be Friday 20th June 2014.


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