Food safety in urban China: Perceptions and coping strategies of residents in Nanjing

China Information, 2017 (online first)

Food safety has become an increasingly pressing sociopolitical issue in China due to the outbreak of food safety scandals since the 2000s. Existing studies have highlighted the socio-economic context of this issue, its drivers and implications. Yet, few studies have examined the perceptions of food safety conditions and strategies undertaken by consumers in their daily lives to cope with the challenge. Based on a city-wide survey of 1210 households and 36 interviews in Nanjing, China, this research adopts an ‘everyday’ perspective of analysis to investigate Nanjing residents’ perceptions of, and strategies to cope with, the food safety challenge. Perceptions include the severity of the food safety problem, the least safe foods, as well as causes and responsibilities. Coping strategies include various approaches to food access and food preparation. This article also compares the validity of potential sources of trust in food. On the one hand, the study demonstrates how the structural changes in China’s food system (i.e. chemical intensive food production and elongated food supply chains) constitute the major problems and causes of food safety issues. On the other hand, it reveals the considerable latitude within which Nanjing residents proactively exercise their agency when facing food safety challenges.

Zhenzhong Si, Jenelle Regnier-Davies, Steffanie Scott