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.
Contending the Rural: Food Commodities and Regimes of Value in Contemporary China
Sacha Cody has published in Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology (winning the Nadel Prize for ethnographic writing), China Story Journal, and Student Anthropologist. His book on alternative food movements and urban/rural relations in China will be published in 2019. Sacha has taught food and related courses at East China Normal University, Fudan University, and New York University Shanghai and will be teaching at the Australian National University later in 2018. He contributed to the edited volume China's Evolving Consumers: Eight Intimate Portraits (Earnshaw Books, 2018) and is a co-founder of The Bianlun, a news service analyzing Chinese language debate of current affairs. He is currently investigating the internal and international storytelling practices of Chinese enterprises.
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Sacha Cody; Contending the Rural: Food Commodities and Regimes of Value in Contemporary China. Gastronomica 1 August 2018; 18 (3): 42–53. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2018.18.3.42
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