Edited by Guy M. Robinson and Doris A. Carson
Chapter 21: The changing dynamics of alternative agri-food networks: a European perspective
Alternative food systems, or networks (AFNs), have been of increasing academic interest since the main ‘productivist’ agricultural regime was challenged in the early 1990s. AFNs represent forms of food provision that operate through a variety of short food supply chains and are thus different from conventional (productivist) agri-food systems that have dominated the agri-food landscape of most developed market economies. The chapter begins by reviewing changing theoretical approaches to the study of AFNs in Europe and critiques the simplistic conventional-alternative binary often referred to in the literature, emphasising instead the complex, dynamic and hybridised nature of many agri-food systems. Drawing on a range of case study evidence from the UK, the chapter then traces the evolution of research on AFNs, from an initial interest in ‘locality’ foods, with its focus on the rural development dynamic and regional benefits of encouraging regional speciality food and drink products, to more recent interest in ‘local’ foods, where the building of capacity in local communities and the health and educational benefits of local food and drink products are emphasised. This evolution reflects a change in approach to studying AFNs, away from an analysis of the weaker dimensions of food networks and towards the stronger dimensions of food networks. Nevertheless, the conventional-alternative divide in agri-food systems remains a battlefield that is likely to intensify with increasing concerns over food security issues and the need to feed an ever-expanding global population. The chapter closes with some suggested future research directions for the study of European AFNs.
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