Characterizing Alternative Food Networks in China
Amid the many food safety scandals that have erupted in recent years, Chinese food activists and consumers are turning to the creation of alternative food networks (AFNs) to ensure better control over their food. These Chinese AFNs have not been documented in the growing literature on food studies. Based on in-depth interviews and case studies, this paper documents and develops a typology of AFNs in China, including community supported agriculture, farmers’ markets, buying clubs, and recreational garden plot rentals. We unpacked the four standard dimensions of alternativeness of AFNs into eight elements and used these to examine the alternativeness of AFNs in China. We argue first that the landscape of alternativeness varies among different networks but the healthfulness of food is the most prominent element. Second, there is an inconsistency in values between AFN initiators and customers, which contributes to the uneven alternativeness of Chinese AFNs. Third, Chinese AFNs are strongly consumer driven, a factor that constrains their alternativeness at present. The inclusion of “real” peasants in the construction of AFNs in China is minimal. This paper adds to the existing literature on AFNs with an analysis of recent initiatives in China that have not been well documented before. By unpacking the dimensions of alternativeness into specific elements, this paper also provides an analytical framework for examining the alternativeness of AFNs especially nascent ones that have not developed a full spectrum of alternativeness.