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Consumer risk reflections on organic and local food in Seattle, with reference to Newcastle upon Tyne

Scholten, Bruce Allen (2007) Consumer risk reflections on organic and local food in Seattle, with reference to Newcastle upon Tyne. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Central questions of human geography can be explored in contemporary turns to organic and local foods (Goodman 2003, 2004; Murdoch & Міеle 2001). Why do people adapt differently to similar places, or vice-versa? Patterns are emerging in global trends of organic food consumption, such as the correlation of upper education and income levels with organic demand but these indicators do not explain everything, and too little is known on the micro-scale of everyday practices by different types of consumers in different countries (Raynolds 2004; IFOAM 2004). Buck, Getz & Guthman (1997) identified the Bay Area in northern California as one of the most significant centres of organic production and consumption in the us. My study focuses on Seattle and presents evidence that it is an organic growth pole in the same league as San Francisco, because so many Seattleites are concerned with food-related issues including animal welfare, environmental sustainability, social justice and nutrition. These ecotopic attitudes (Callenbach 1975) manifest themselves in behaviours linked to alternative food networks (AFNs), booming farmers' markets - and Puget Consumers Co-op, the largest in the US with 38,000 members and $93m sales which promotes organic and local foods, preserves farmland, and joined a boycott of organic-industrial milk brands because customers feared violations of USDA 'access to pasture' grazing rules in what I term the organic pasture wars (Pollan 2001; Cornucopia Institute August 10, 2006; USDA 2002; PCC 2006a&b; Scholten 2007e). Personal and family health is part of Seattle's turn to organics, but grassroots resistance to vertical integration in globalising food systems, evidenced by some Greens' vow to go beyond organic in USDA organic rules, may be termed altruistic, i.e. marked by care for others and the environment. Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK is, like Seattle, a former node for coal, steel and ships, but its champions such as Siemens have not been the economic drivers that Boeing and Microsoft have been on Puget Sound. Tyneside's consumption may have less to do with altruism than food scares such as anthropogenically-exacerbated mad cow disease (BSE/vCJD) which raised reflection among rich and poor, and induced vegetarianism in many young women (Whatmore 2002; Atkins & Bowler 2001). Foot and mouth disease, which spread from Newcastle in 2001, exacerbated doubts on food safety, and drove a turn to natural foods. Thus, while Newcastle is not claimed to be the equivalent of Seattle, both post-fordist cities host similar actors, often women, whose geographical imaginations transcend political economy (Marsden, Munton & Ward 1996). Ironically fieldwork was completed shortly before discovery of BSE near Seattle in 2003. The thesis brings risk theory into discussion of food. Its theoretical touchstone is the risk society thesis of Beck (1986) and Beck, Giddens & Lash (1994), attended by insights of Mary Douglas (1996) and Deborah Lupton (1999). Methodology includes interviews, focus groups and questionnaires from 404 UK/US respondents. Snowball sampling (Atkinson & Flint 2001) targeted groups in a range of stereotyped relationships to risks:• Academics: stereotypically risk-averse, undergraduates to professors, teachers & educators;• Firefighters: variably risk-embracing, or managing risk for career advancement' (Lupton, 1999: 156);• Motorcyclists: risk-embracing 'edgeworkers' justifying risk in work or hobbies (Lyng, 1990: 859);• Others: not fitting above groups, e.g. academic bikers, or motos with higher degrees if also teachers. Key claims are that Newcastle's organic use (three-times that found in Edinburgh a decade before) is on a continuum toward Seattle which has better prices and availability - evidence that the organic diet can be multi-ethnically democratic and not limited to elites (Tregear et al. 1997; Goodman 2004; Hartman 2004; Scholten 2006a & b). After a BSE scare, consumers often flirt with organics from afar before returning to conventional diets. But repeated scares may permanently dislodge the commodity fetish of industrial food, and as consumers' knowledge grows, more of them adopt food from trusted local farmers which better satisfies values such as health, local economic security, and ecological sustainability (Caplan 2000; Winter 2003). Seattle's political power as an organic pole is world class, but Newcastle also shows ethical strengths in AFNs and fair trade. In the new bio-fuel boom Seattle and Newcastle can learn from each other to resolve global issues such as food miles. [math mode missing closing $]

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2007
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Sep 2011 18:29

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