Organic Food, Aesthetics and Distinction: Farmers' Markets Displays in Shanghai
In this paper I shed light on the tensions between small, uncertified organic farmers in Shanghai and their collaborators who help them market produce. In the face of increasing food safety concerns in China, many people are opting out of the conventional food system including former white collar professionals who have abandoned urban, middle-class lifestyles to grow their own organic produce. Many of their customers are also consumers who have chosen to opt out of the conventional food system through their consumption. In China the price of organic produce can be up to sixteen times more expensive than conventional food. Thus, organic food is mainly affordable to middle-class consumers or above. These consumers also have demands regarding aesthetics and presentation that distinguishes the goods they consume from other goods. The centre managers at the shopping centre where the farmers gathered every Saturday to sell their produce expected the produce to be displayed in a style that was more similar to produce displays in a boutique food shop rather than the more rustic displays preferred by the farmers. Based on 12 months of ethnographic research in Shanghai, I show that the tensions over the aesthetics of the farmers’ produce at the market reflect the conflict between the demands of middle-class Chinese consumers who desire to be aesthetically distinct from other consumers of lower social class, and the farmers who have abandoned lives aspiring to such distinctions.
Key Words: Organic food, Farmers’ Markets, Distinction, Shanghai, Small Farmers
Leo Pang is an Independent Scholar.Leo holds a PhD in Anthropology from SOAS and an MPhil in Anthropology from The Chinese University of Hong Kong as well as a Graduate Diploma of Gastronomy from the University of Adelaide. His main research interests are food and globalization, and sustainable food producers and farmers’ markets
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