Knowing food and growing food: Beyond the production–consumption debate in the sociology of agriculture



What does the rise of organic food as a social phenomenon mean politically? What political impact does this form of consumption have on society? Is it a small and unimportant “blip” in the overall march of globalized, industrialized food and rationalized consumption systems. Is it even, perhaps, complicit in this process? Or is it a radical break ? The array of answers to these questions forms the “production–consumption debate” currently taking place in the examination of agro–food systems. If agro–food networks are conceptualized as interactive, socio–ecological metabolic circuits linking agricultural nature, social labor, the corporeal and the symbolic, then this paper argues that analytical concern in agrofood studies has focused overwhelmingly on the production ‘moment’ in these circuits. Despite the lessons of numerous ‘food scares’, anti–GMO movements and the mad cow disease pandemic, an asymmetry now holds sway in agro–food studies between production and consumption even though in other fields, as Jackson (1999) notes, consumption has been “duly acknowledged” (p. 95). As this asymmetry is addressed, a contemporary reformulation of the ‘agrarian question’ might investigate the potential for new forms of progressive food politics, ranging from ‘weak’ struggles over the modes of social orderings, such as knowledge systems, to more formal alliances between producers and consumers