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'Alternative' food forges new attitudes

New research into the growing use of alternatives to supermarkets has revealed how organic box schemes, farm shops and market garden projects change people’s attitudes to food.

The study, led by Dr Moya Kneafsey of Coventry University, and part of the Cultures of Consumption research programme funded by the Economic & Social Research Council and the Arts & Humanities Research Board, found that ‘alternative’ food networks:

- encouraged people to see food shopping as something sensual and pleasurable rather than just part of a mundane routine;

- made people think they were getting greater choice and variety of different foods (even though they were actually more limited than that offered by a supermarket – which helped them to get into healthier, more experimental cooking habits);

- can lead to anxiety. As people become more aware of how food is produced, they can experience unexpected feelings of responsibility or guilt or ethical anxieties and worry more about the effects of consuming non-organic produce etc;

- develop a greater sense of belonging to a local community and place, and encourage more relationships between people, with food producers and with other members of communities;

- don’t just appeal to the stereotype of middle-class consumers, and other groups shouldn’t be dismissed as not being interested;

- and that the organizers of the networks themselves were determined to stay small, in order to keep hold of the same sense of ‘connection’ with consumers and a local area.

Dr Kneafsey said: “More and more people in the UK are obtaining their food through ‘alternative’ food networks. It reflects the anxieties associated with food in society, but also for many people it is a case of wanting to make a connection with the people and places involved in the production of what they’re eating. Many of the consumer we talked to for this report reported the pleasure they got from buying, preparing and eating food which hadn’t come from supermarket shelves.”

Tim Blanchard | alfa
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