Challenging Ethics: Paddock to Plate
13 July 2020
What are the tensions and ethics of fresh food supply chains?
Organic Food, Aesthetics and Distinction: Farmers' Markets Displays in Shanghai
In this paper I shed light on the tensions between small, uncertified organic farmers in Shanghai and their collaborators who help them market produce. In the face of increasing food safety concerns in China, many people are opting out of the conventional food system including former white collar professionals who have abandoned urban, middle-class lifestyles to grow their own organic produce. Many of their customers are also consumers who have chosen to opt out of the conventional food system through their consumption. In China the price of organic produce can be up to sixteen times more expensive than conventional food. Thus, organic food is mainly affordable to middle-class consumers or above. These consumers also have demands regarding aesthetics and presentation that distinguishes the goods they consume from other goods. The centre managers at the shopping centre where the farmers gathered every Saturday to sell their produce expected the produce to be displayed in a style that was more similar to produce displays in a boutique food shop rather than the more rustic displays preferred by the farmers. Based on 12 months of ethnographic research in Shanghai, I show that the tensions over the aesthetics of the farmers’ produce at the market reflect the conflict between the demands of middle-class Chinese consumers who desire to be aesthetically distinct from other consumers of lower social class, and the farmers who have abandoned lives aspiring to such distinctions.
Key Words: Organic food, Farmers’ Markets, Distinction, Shanghai, Small Farmers
Leo Pang is an Independent Scholar.
Leo holds a PhD in Anthropology from SOAS and an MPhil in Anthropology from The Chinese University of Hong Kong as well as a Graduate Diploma of Gastronomy from the University of Adelaide. His main research interests are food and globalization, and sustainable food producers and farmers’ markets
The Fresh Food Revolution; Challenging the Ethics of Paddock to Plate
'Paddock to plate' is part of the fresh food revolution. Eating is no longer just about viewing food on a plate in isolation; it's a holistic experience that extends beyond the table and the kitchen.
Diners are increasingly embracing the ethical connection of paddock to plate and palate desiring to know all the production-chain elements of the food on their plates so they can make informed decisions about what they eat. Desiring produce with low food miles, high-end restaurants now offer fruit and vegetables from their own gardens and weekend food markets cater to the consumer who demands organic locally grown produce.
The 'paddock to plate' philosophy incorporates mounting emphasis on taste, nutrition, value, freshness, sustainability and animal welfare. But what about human welfare. As part of the production chain, are consumers concerned about the people who grow, harvest or catch their food and the conditions under which they work?
Since slavery has been officially abolished, enslavement no longer revolves around legal ownership of another human being. In today’s world the chains that hold humans are more often psychological than they are physical. Fearing deportation if complaints are made, migrant workers in the fresh-food supply chains are often subjected to exploitation working long hours for low wages, and sometimes no payment at all. While adherents to religious cults obediently toil for no pay to provide wholesome food sold in restaurants and markets.
This paper argues that ‘the paddock to plate’ movement with its emphasis on taste, low food miles, nutrition, sustainability and animal welfare can co-exist with the ethics of exploitation, child labour, deprivation and punishment for those labouring to meet our demands for ‘wholesome’ food.
Diana Noyce holds a Master’s degree in Gastronomy from the University of Adelaide and has been researching and teaching food history and food culture for a number of years. She lectures at various institutes as well as cruise ships on aspects of food and culture and has presented papers at several conferences both in Australia and overseas, in particular, the International Commission for Research into European Food History, the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, and the Symposium of Australian Gastronomy. Publications comprise book chapters, various journal articles including online journals as well as newspapers.
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