• Niagara alternative food projects : networks, discourses and nature /

      Department of Sociology (Brock University, 2004-07-14)
      This thesis undertakes an exploration of the nature of alternative food projects in Niagara. A review of various theoretical approaches to the study of food and agriculture, suggests that actor-network theory offers the most useful lens through which to understand these projects. In particular, actor-network theory facilitates non-dualistic theorisations of power and scale and a commitment to the inclusion of non-humans in the 'social' sciences. The research is based on 19 in-depth interviews with actors involved in various urban and rural projects including community supported agriculture, community gardens, chefs using local seasonal food, a winery that grows organically, the good food box, a value-added small business, and organic producers. The analysis consists of four themes. The first analytical section pays special attention to the prominence of agri-tourism in Niagara, and examines the ways in which the projects in the sample interact with agri-tourist networks. In the second section the discussion focuses on the discourses and practices of resistance among Niagara alternative food actors. The participants' interviews suggest there are more discourses of resistance toward agri-tourist than toward dominant food networks. The third section questions commodity chain theorisations of alternative food projects. In particular, this section shows how the inclusion of non-human actors in an analysis confounds conceptualisations of 'short' and 'local' chains. The final analytical section assesses relations of power in Niagara alternative food projects. Three important conclusions arise from this research. First, Niagara alternative food projects cannot be conceptualised as operating at the 'local' scale. Broadening the scope of analysis to include non-human actors, it becomes apparent that these projects actually draw on a variety of extra-local actors. They are at once local and global. Second, the projects in this sample are simultaneously part of alternative, dominant and agri-tourist networks. While Niagara alternative food projects do perform many of the roles characteristic of alternative food systems, they are also involved in practices of development, business, and class distinction. Thus, alternative food networks should not be understood as separate from and in direct opposition to dominant food networks. Despite the second conclusion, this research determines that Niagara alternative food projects have made significant strides in the reworking of power. The projects represented in this thesis do engage in resistant practices and are associated with increased levels ofjustice.