Food systems are embedded in moral economies of shared ideas and values. Most academic analyses and industry discourses ignore this and focus instead on productivity and trade, while food activists issue prescriptive moral assertions. This panel explores moral dimensions of actual agri-food systems.
Agriculture and food provisioning systems are widely understood as managed technological interventions into ecological processes and as commercial systems of food distribution and consumption. As anthropologists, over a century of comparative analyses of human societies have taught us, however, that food systems are also embedded in moral contexts of shared ideas, values and social practices. Moral economies are thus universal aspects of all agri-food systems. As agrarian technologies, ecologies and economies have changed over the past century, they divorced themselves from traditional social and cultural contexts. The serious moral implications of these new, industrialised food systems have been obscured, especially by lobbyists from food and agricultural input industries. Much of the economic analysis of food systems too has tended to focus on productivity and trade liberalisation, leaving critical debate on moral issues to food, farmer and environmental activists or to humanitarian aid organisations. The moral arguments of food system critics, however, are generally not well supported by evidence-based understanding of how actual moral economies work in practice, or how disjunctures between different moral universes at local, national and international levels may arise, causing adverse outcomes for farmers, businesses and consumers alike. We invite papers that explore ethnographically the moral dimensions of any aspects of agri-food systems and/or that seek to apply the theoretical insights of moral-economic analysis to agri-food systems.