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food, geography of

  The study of the spatial and environmental aspects of food production, provision and consumption.

Food is a necessity of life, but its importance goes beyond physical nourishment. Its production, distribution and preparation is estimated to account for over half of all the work done in the world today (Grigg, 1995, p. 338). Moreover, food practices are imbued with symbolic significance and are a prime means through which social relationships are developed, as the writings of sociologists and anthropologists have emphasized. Despite this importance, however, food is not the basis of a sub-disciplinary body of research within human geography. There is no single geographical literature on food, with its own coherent themes and problematics. In part this may reflect the very ubiquity of food-related activities. Food is implicated in almost every sort of geography imaginable. It is simultaneously economic, political, cultural, social and biological. It travels through a host of different spaces in its life from farm to fork. It can only be understood in the context of a range of wider social, political and economic relations. Food is not, then, a subject matter that sits easily within neat conceptual and spatial boundaries.

One result of this can be a tendency to view food less in its own terms and more as an illustration of other geographical topics. For instance, Bell and Valentine\'s survey of writings on food consumption, which moves through a series of spatial scales from the body up to the world-system, is exemplary in its documentation of how a range of geographical issues can be thought about through the example of food (Bell and Valentine, 1997). The positive effect of this is that writings on food have considerable pedagogic potential for the geographer. However, as Fine (1993, p. 670) notes for the social sciences more generally, it can also result in food being \'simply the raw material for applying theories that have nothing as such to do with food\', to the extent that food studies comprise \'a disparate set of theoretical and empirical case studies, any one of which, in principle, has more resonance with a similar application to some other non-food item than it does to some other [study of] food\'. Certainly, many geographical analyses of food have emerged through its use as an indicator of culture areas, as an example of the geographies of consumption and /or commodity chains, or through its presence in other more primary concerns such as the geography of retailing or agricultural geography. In turn, the more coherent debates on food geographies that do exist, for example those on foodways or the agro-food system, operate in isolation from each other with distinct empirical and conceptual concerns.

Nonetheless, past and present studies of the geography of food do cohere around four key issues:

The spatial distribution of foods and dietary practices: the principal concern here \'is how what people eat and drink differs from one part of the earth\'s surface to another\' (Grigg, 1995, p. 339). There is a limited tradition of such work at the regional scale, especially within France (Thouvenot, 1978) and the United States (see foodways for further details), and this has recently been extended by analyses of international differences in diet (see Grigg, 1995). Variations are emphasized in calorific and nutritional intake, in specific food practices and preferences, and in food institutions such as restaurants (Pillsbury, 1990). The overall effect is to highlight the continuing variations in food habits even in an age of intensified globalization and, to a lesser extent, to identify associated inequalities in dietary intake (see also famine).

The spatial constitution of the food system (see also agro-food system): here the emphasis is on the changing geographies of the systems linking food production and consumption. Generally, the modern food system can be characterized in terms of \'de-localization\', with a consequent distinction and distanciation of food producers and consumers. In this light, particular attention has been paid to: the technological, commercial and political factors shaping the \'food regimes\' that connect producers and consumers (Friedmann, 1991); the historical transformations in these regimes, especially at the global scale (see for example Bonanno et al., 1994); the power relations operating between the different institutions and actors within the food system, especially producers, retailers and consumers; and the environmental and developmental consequences of dominant food regimes.

The production of space and place through food: of central concern are the material and imaginative geographies established through food production, promotion and consumption. For example, studies have emphasized the role of food in establishing gendered experiences of domesticity, urban public spaces of conviviality (Capron, 1997), senses of regional and national identity, and understandings of globalization (Cook and Crang, 1996) (for a fuller review of literature on all these scales see Bell and Valentine, 1997).

The \'refashionings of nature\' associated with food (see Goodman and Redclift, 1991): emphasizing how food practices and attitudes need to be contextualized in terms of broader engagements with nature, key geographical issues here include: the historical and cultural geographies of plant and animal cultivation, domestication and consumption; the industrialization and commodification (see commodity) of the natural world promoted by the modern food system; and the relationships established between external and internal natures through discourses of health, body and dietary ethics.

In summary, food practices are profoundly geographical. In turn, the geographies of food are multi-faceted. However, whilst each of these facets has been the subject of a growing body of geographical research in the last decade there is as yet a paucity of work that ties them together in a sustained fashion. (PC)

References Bell, D. and Valentine G. 1997: Consuming geographies: we are where we eat. London: Routledge. Bonanno, A., Busch, L., Friedland, W., Gouveia, L. and Mingione, E., eds, 1994: From Columbus to ConAgra: the globalization of agriculture and food. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. Capron, G. 1997: Les cafés à Buenos Aires: une analyse historique de la construction sociale et culturelle de l\'espace public et de l\'urbanité. Géographie et Cultures 24: 29-49. Cook, I. and Crang, P. 1996: The world on a plate: culinary culture, displacement and geographical knowledges. Journal of Material Culture 1: 131-53. Fine, B. 1993: Resolving the diet paradox. Social Science Information 32: 669-87. Friedmann, H. 1991: Changes in the international division of labor: agri-food complexes and export agriculture. In W. Friedland, L. Busch, F. Buttle and A. Rudy, eds, Towards a new political economy of agriculture. Boulder: Westview Press, 65-93. Goodman, D. and Redclift, M. 1991: Refashioning nature: food, ecology and culture. London: Routledge. Grigg, D. 1995: The geography of food consumption: a review. Progress in Human Geography 19: 338-54. Pillsbury, R. 1990: From boarding house to bistro: the American restaurant then and now. Boston: Unwin Hyman; Thouvenot, C. 1978: Studies in food geography in France. Social Science and Medicine 120: 43-54.



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