Food Cultures and Critical Sustainability: Humanities Special Issue

Deadline: 1st June / 1st December 2019
Contact: Steven Hartman, Mälardalen University; Parker Krieg, University of Helsinki; Lea Rekow, BifrostOnline/Green My Favela

Food Cultures and Critical Sustainability: Humanities Special Issue

Dear Colleagues,

In January 2019, the EAT-Lancet commission released a two-year study on “Food in the Anthropocene,” arguing that “civilization is in crisis,” and that the urgent need for both healthy diets and balanced planetary resources not come at the expense of accelerating trends which are unprecedented in human history (Lucas and Horton 2019). The global food regime is a matter of growing concern within the urgent horizons of climate change and biodiversity loss, among other critical planetary challenges. Not only do carbon dioxide emissions from global food production and distribution rival those of the transportation sector, but agricultural production is responsible for chemical build-up in freshwater systems, intensified deforestation, topsoil loss, habitat loss and associated species extinction. At the same time, agricultural practices associated with maximizing crop yields to meet the requirements of industrial-scale food production and market targets face increased vulnerability to pests and disease. According to one recent study, the significant rise in global atmospheric methane levels from 2007-2014 marks a trend dominated by increased biogenic emissions from agricultural sources (ruminants and rice paddies) (Nisbet, et al. 2016).

As meat remains a dietary mainstay in many industrialized nations, topics such as resource use and abuse, cruelty to animals, ethical preferences, nutrition and public health, supply chains and availability of food become central to questions of sustainability. Food and foodstuffs play into local, national and international economic systems as traded commodities and consumer products, but one of the principal ways people encounter food is through culture, just as one of the key ways food impacts people’s lives is through dietary impacts on public health as these play our at various levels in society (individually and as structured by class, gender, ethnicity, nationality and culture). It can be argued that the disconnects between these levels of abstraction and daily lived reality are themselves central to the challenges and crises in which Food in the broadest categorical sense is fundamental. Disciplinary scholarship within many fields of humanistic inquiry, as well as border-crossing interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research prominently anchored in humanities disciplines, can help to usher in new understandings and approaches to study of food cultures and how these play out in numerous socio-environmental challenges locally, regionally and globally.

We ask:

  • What role can or does culture play in transforming the relations between societal challenges and environmental crises where food is a central factor?
  • How can new food systems be developed that hold greater promise of sustainability than the dominant global system at present?
  • Can new consumption practices be enabled at scales that make a difference globally? If so, how?

The aim of this Special Issue is to explore how cultural inquiry into food contributes to the critical imagination and implementation of sustainability. We want to consider specific ways in which the humanities (in conversation with social sciences, natural sciences, technical and medical fields, and the arts) can enable global achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or how they might cast a salutary critical light on the limitations, gaps or contradictions inherent in these Global Goals as presently conceived. We welcome critical submissions about the cultures of resource use, restoration, and sustainable food production/consumption: meat, seafood, dairy, fruits, vegetables, cereals, medicinal aromatic plants, edible oils, wines, juices. While contributors may wish to explore the potential of a single site-based or time-based case study, they are welcome to address more than one time frame and/or geographical focus if the study so justifies. Comparative histories, for instance, show how past production practices can inform the present cultural economy of food in a place, while future projections can consider food systems capable of emerging from present practices. Likewise, comparative cases focusing on local, national, or cultural geographies and their respective socio-political systems may offer instructive similarities or differences in response to shared environmental trajectories. We encourage theoretical and empirical approaches from the environmental humanities that address materiality, class, gender, race, de/coloniality, and the nonhuman, but ask that all contributions address both food production and consumption to one extent or another as justified by the cases under discussion.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:
urban farming
factory farming
resource depletion
meat production and consumption
animal domestication
cruelty to animals
species extinction
food security
informal / community gardening
indigenous foodways
veganism/plant-based diets
agroforestry / foraging
experimental / future food
water use
agricultural labor
activism and advocacy
diet and nutrition
food and public health
environmental impacts of food production and consumption
climate change and/or biodiversity implications of food systems

The editors are seeking submissions that are 5,000-8,000 words in length, including bibliography and references. Please submit a 300 word abstract by 1 June 2019. Submission deadline for final papers is 1 December 2019. See website details for submission:

Dr. Steven Hartman
Dr. Parker Krieg
Dr. Lea Rekow
Guest Editors

Posted on May 9, 2019