The Brave New Worlds
of Agricultural Technoscience
Changing Perspectives, Recurrent Themes,
and New Research Directions in Agro-Food Studies
At the turn of the millennium, even casual acquaintance with the media in advanced capitalist economies reveals the palpable unease and mistrust enfolding the nature-society coproductions more conventionally known as agro-food systems. This unease is more acute in Western Europe, where cases of “extreme food events” and the systemic breakdown of food provision, particularly in livestock production, have occurred with disturbing frequency in recent years. A litany of these “extreme food events” would include mad cow disease in Britain and its pandemic translation throughout Western Europe in 2000–2001, episodic yet recurrent food-contamination scares, the Belgian dioxin crisis, and 1999 reports of untreated sewage, septic tank residues, and slaughterhouse effluent being used in several animalfeed-processing plants in France. Nor is food safety the only register of public disquiet, which would give the entirely misleading impression that this mistrust can be rectified by appropriate regulatory measures and better riskmanagement techniques.
Mistrust of industrial food-provisioning, at least in Western Europe, also reflects ethical opposition to the environmental harms wrought by industrial agriculture and intensive-confinement livestock practices, and fears that the centralizing and homogenizing forces of agro-food globalization are threatening the material and symbolic content of foodways, which are potent bearers of cultural identity. To adapt Jean Brillat-Savarin's aphorism, there is unease about what we eat, how we produce it, and what it means for what we are and might become. More than ever, food is a signifier for political, social, and cultural struggles over the metabolic reciprocities between nature and society, which are the material and discursive metrics of everyday life. As Daniel Miller (1995) and others have realized, personal choices about food can give voice to socioecological commitments whose cumula-