9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN05 Sociology of Consumption

2009-09-03 15:30:00 2009-09-03 17:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 15:30 - 17:00 Sustainable Consumer Activities Building II, C5.02

Future patterns of sustainable food consumption. How consumers´visions are embedded in practices

The global consequences of environmental problems are widely recognised in both political agendas and in people´s everyday life. As food consumption forms a significant part of the environmental load of households, the sustainability of what we eat is an increasingly topical question. The starting point of our paper is the theory of practice as a fruitful theoretical approach to ecologically and socially sustainable food consumption. We analyse consumers´ ideas and notions on future food consumption from the perspective of practices understood as ideas, skills and materials changing in time.

The empirical data of the study were collected as part of a collaboration between multidisciplinary BRIGADE and MIRHAMI 2030 projects. The paper presents results from a sub-study of the project that investigates the social and cultural conditions for sustainable food choices. The study mapped consumers´ ideas about future food consumption by inviting people to construct images of the future and think about activities relating to cookbooks, kitchens, grocery shopping, food packaging and meals. Altoghether 53 people participated in six focus group discussions held in autumn 2007.

The results show that in consumers´ ideas the changes in practices were linked with the technological and material transformations envisioned for the future. The dreams of the future depict utopias in which smart and sustainable technology is innovatively applied to promote a more fun and easy-going everyday life that enables people to use their skills, knowledges and creativities. In addition, the discussions reflected consumers´ ideas of diversification, fragmentation and "hybridisation" of food cultures that were presented as idealisations of mass consumption vs. luxury consumption.

These exercises suggest that consumers´ images of future food consumption are embedded in practices that are at the same time are changing and stable. Through these materialised practices consumers also identify their various roles as users, consumers and citizens in constructing the future. In order to discuss sustainability we need to recognise the ways in which practices act as carriers of change.