What if the Trucks Stop Coming? – PhD thesis by Cheron Constance

On Wednesday 21 June 2017 at 13.30 hrs Cheron Constance will defend her PhD thesis entitled ‘What if the trucks stop coming? Exploring the framing of local food by cooperative food retailers in New Mexico’ in the Auditorium of Wageningen University. The ceremony will be live streamed by WURTV but can be viewed later as well.

The full thesis will be available online after the defence ceremony.


Summary of the thesis

Proponents of local food cite a variety of economic and environmental advantages of short food supply chains. Consumer interest in local food has also offered a point of differentiation for many players in the food industry, including restaurants and grocery stores. Engaging with local food has significant challenges, however, and many production and distribution systems engender and support more diffuse food provisioning, not less. Though food can travel thousands of miles from its point of origin to consumption, many cooperative (co-op) grocery stores have long sold locally-produced food and have deep ties to their supplier communities. This thesis offers case studies of two co-ops in the natural and organic food sector and examines how they think about and work with local food. The theories of embeddedness (after Polanyi) and diverse economies (from Gibson-Graham) undergird the analyses of these co-ops’ involvement with local food and how the cooperative business model relates to it.

Embedded in a crisis, IRSA (3)

The majority of our purchases, be it food or something else, are done through market relations which are increasingly void of the personal, of long-term social relations and social investment. Whereas early theories on the social embeddedness of markets (Polanyi and Granovetter) are popular again amongst academics nowadays, I wonder if we can actually really imagine how deep embeddedness could or should go in the face of abstract and almost anonymous transactions through which we procure everyday. How often are we in situations where the relationship is as important as the product acquired, maybe even unrelated to the product acquired? Our current routines and realities shape how we interpret literature and imagine the possible.

Efficient food procuring – a chore that needs to be done – does make it quite impossible for me to imagine a buyer – seller relation that goes beyond regularity and chitchat. Why would I invest more than knowing my local butcher by name and where he gets his meat and a comment on the weather while buying meat, my local veggiebox, eggs and cheese (yes we have an unusual butcher in town) on my way home from work?

My Spanish colleagues told me that they are in the midst of finding out how to come by in an economy and democracy that is imploding. No money to buy in the supermarket? Get yourself a network! my colleague Ignacio exclaimed referring to those who would previously looked down on his ‘anarchist’ ideas. And land. The first land occupations are occurring in Andalusia he told me, mimicking land rights claims of the Movimiento Sem Terra from Brasil.

“Unpacking the spatial fixes of the previous regime” is how Terry Marsden called this in his keynote. The re-orientation of property rights and regimes has not received enough attention from research in the last 20 years. But cutting through the established property rights concepts and practices is needed urgently he added. This counts as well for concepts of market relations it seems to me.