9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN05 Sociology of Consumption

2009-09-03 13:30:00 2009-09-03 15:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 13:30 - 15:00 Conditions of Sustainable Consumption Building II, C5.02

Consuming food and global elite culture

This research is concerned with the experiences and attitudes of the policy elites involved in negotiating international food safety standards, through the example of the Codex Alimentarius Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology. Through semi-structured interviews it analysed the ethics and beliefs of the scientists, civil servants, business and NGO representatives on their understandings of highly contentious issues around GM risks, politics, economics and their own activity as policymakers. This paper focuses on their attitudes to food.

This paper contributes to social science debates about the recent politicisation of the agro/food system within society being translated into an increasing variety of eco-labels. This may suggest a reaction against industrial agriculture and its environmental, health and economic impacts. Consumption has been problematised and, for some, choosing such foods is a way of supporting alternative and more progressive methods of production and wider social change. This paper uses convention theory (Lamont and Thevenot, 2000) to analyse the ?justifications? that policymakers use to assess whether an action is beneficial to the common good, their views on these debates about food, and whether their own consumption reflects similar concerns.

This paper engages with two important academic and policy debates which influence my respondents? relationship to food and their attitudes towards consumption. These are their evaluation of the relationship between technology and nature, and their conceptualisation of consumers? interests and roles within society. The extent to which they distinguish between food products and their method of production is central to understanding these attitudes. This debate over the potential power of the consumer and its normative implications raises important questions of the rights and responsibilities of consumers.

Certain policymakers expressed market and industrial ?justifications?, distinguishing the food product and its qualities from its method of production. Food consumption was conceptualised as a private individual act and consumers should not be legitimately concerned with the method of production of their food and its impact on the environment or communities. This reflects the WTO policy which does not view method-of-production as a legitimate concern for government as it could be used to block trade.