This article examines how commodity status is achieved and how value is articulated across three food provisioning practices and ideologies in China: nationally certified food, local government-sponsored organic food near Shanghai, and an alternative food movement comprising small-scale and independent organic farmers in Shanghai and the surrounding countryside. Understanding value across these three cases requires asking how the social relations of production and the rural labor involved in domestic food production are rendered visible, or not, to urban shoppers. Drawing on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork as well as on work experiences with transnational food corporations in China, this article illustrates that government initiatives alienate rural labor in an effort partially designed to manage social harmony, while independent organic farmers “bring the rural back.” This analysis adds to our understanding of urban/rural relations in China today. It also shows that for alternative notions of value to flourish, gifts may intentionally moonlight as commodities.

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