“It’s hard to be strategic when your hair is on fire”: alternative food movement leaders’ motivation and capacity to act

Agriculture and Human Values 35 (3):595-609 (2018)
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Abstract

Despite decades of struggle against the industrial food system, academics still question the impact of the alternative food movement. We consider what food movement leaders themselves say about their motivation to act and their capacity to scale up their impact. Based on semi-structured interviews with 27 food movement leaders in Michigan, our findings complicate the established academic narratives that revolve around notions of prefigurative and oppositional politics, and suggest pragmatic strategies that could scale up the pace and scope of food movement impacts. In contrast to the apolitical perspective some scholars see guiding alternative food movements, local leaders we interviewed see the food system from a structural-political lens. Though some see strength in fragmentation, most are not under the illusion that they can work alone and aspire to build their collective strength further. Concerns about organizational survival and conflicting views about the goals of the food movement, however, present ongoing challenges. Ultimately, we argue that there is a middle ground food movement leaders can walk between prefigurative and oppositional politics, one that still attempts to intentionally change the state, while also maintaining the inventiveness that can come from autonomous, grassroots initiatives. Specifically, interviewees suggested that increased strategic capacity around policy advocacy, critical food systems education, and negotiation could help them extend cross-movement networks and mainstream more equitable food policies, while continuing to experiment with customized solutions.

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