Dining on the Social Economy: Local, Sustainable Food Systems and Policy Development

By Sumner, Jennifer | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Dining on the Social Economy: Local, Sustainable Food Systems and Policy Development


Sumner, Jennifer, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Abstract

Although the social economy has a long historical connection to food, these links have not been well explored or understood, particularly with respect to social policy. But given the well-documented range of negative impacts brought on by a world economy dominated by large multinational corporations engaged in global trade, social economy organizations associated with food are more necessary than ever. This paper will examine the connections between the social economy, sustainability, and sustainable food systems, before moving on to look at the role of the social economy in our current global unsustainable food system and in a projected local, sustainable food system. It will conclude with a discussion of the social economy and the enactment of local sustainable food policy that can model alternatives to help reorient the economy and social institutions toward ensuring everyone is fed within the ecological limits of the planet.

Résumé

Si les liens entre l'économie sociale et l'alimentation sont loin d'être nouveaux, ils restent peu étudiés ou peu compris, surtout en matière de politique sociale. On n'ignore pourtant rien des répercussions néfastes de notre économie, où le commerce mondial est le fait de grandes multinationales, et dans un tel contexte, on a plus que jamais besoin d'organismes d'économie sociale en rapport avec l'alimentation. Nous commencerons par nous pencher sur ce qui unit l'économie sociale, la durabilité et les systèmes alimentaires durables. Nous comparerons ensuite le rôle de l'économie sociale dans le système alimentaire non durable actuellement en place à l'échelle mondiale et celui qu'elle jouerait dans un système alimentaire durable local. Nous terminerons par une discussion sur l'économie sociale et la mise en place d'une politique alimentaire durable à l'échelle locale, capable de créer des solutions qui contribueront à réorienter les institutions économiques et sociales, afin de veiller à ce que l'alimentation des êtres humains s'inscrive dans les limites écologiques de la planète.

Introduction

The social economy has been defined as economic activity neither controlled directly by the state nor by the profit logic of the market - activity that prioritizes the social well being of communities and marginalized individuals over partisan political directives or individual gain (McMurtry, 2010). This economic activity can take many forms: co-operatives, credit unions, non-profit mutual associations, public-sector nonprofits, and mutual insurers.

Food production and consumption has long been associated with the social economy, from the earliest co-ops in England to counter the adulteration of food, and in Canada to protect farmers and fishers against the predations of big business. More recent examples include the soup kitchens of the Great Depression, consumer co-ops, and that ongoing symptom of neoliberalism - food banks. Like other forms of the social economy, such food-related institutions not only help to address the "great and permanent evils" (Polanyi, 2001, p. 136) of a market economy, but also model a working alternative to that economy.

This article will link food and the social economy, and explore the challenges and opportunities for social policy focused on local, sustainable food in a world increasingly structured to accommodate global trade. It will begin by examining the connections between the social economy, sustainability, and sustainable food systems. With this context established, the article will look at the role of the social economy in our current global unsustainable food system, and in a projected local sustainable food system. It will then discuss policy development for a local sustainable food system anchored in the social economy.

The Social Economy, Sustainability and Sustainable Food Systems

The social economy can be understood as part of a larger category called the civil commons. Conceptualized by philosopher John McMurtry (1999), the civil commons involves co-operative human constructions that protect and/or enable universal access to life goods. …

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