Own grown food in post socialist countries: good news for sustainability

Home cooking, Czechia style, Photo: Tereza Cerna 2011

We’ve just published another paper coming out of our long running work on the culture and politics of sustainability in post socialist central Europe. Myself and Petr Jehlicka have long been interested in the very high proportion of fresh fruit and veg people are growing themselves (over 40% people growing over 40% of their needs). This is true in town and country and across all income groups. Its a massive figure compared to the UK or US and it seems Tesco and co. can’t make a dent in it. And very few of them seem to give a monkeys about ‘sustainability’ or ‘environment’. They just do it. Am working on another paper this week that expands on why, and why that might be important for sustainability policy debates elsewhere. But for now here’s the abstract and link to the paper. Soon I’ll post a version of the essay that appears in the new ‘ATLAS’ publication (ATLAS Is the probable subject of next post). In this paper Petr and I have worked with the Prague based social scientist Tomas Kostelecký.

Jehlička, P., Kostelecký, T. & Smith, J., 2012. Food Self-Provisioning in Czechia: Beyond Coping Strategy of the Poor: A Response to Alber and Kohler’s “Informal Food Production in the Enlarged European Union” (2008). Social Indicators Research. Available at: http://www.springerlink.com/content/lj6535tl7q322778/ [Accessed February 21, 2012].

Food systems are of increasing interest in both research and policy communities. Surveys of post-socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) show high rates of food self-provisioning. These practices have been explained in terms of being ‘coping strategies of the poor’. Alber and Kohler’s ‘Informal Food Production in the Enlarged European Union’ (2008) offers a prominent account of this argument, supported by quantitative data. However, evidence from our case study of food self-provisioning in one CEE state–Czechia–contradicts their findings. Newly commissioned survey data, as well as a fresh look at the data they were working from, demonstrate that rather than being motivated by poverty, these widespread practices serve as a hobby and as a way of accessing ‘healthy food’. With food self-provisioning becoming an increasingly prominent subject in advanced industrial countries, in terms of both health and environmental policy, we propose that much greater care is taken in researching and interpreting the reasons for differences in food systems. Our findings are that environmentally sustainable and healthy self-provisioning in Czechia is motivated by a range of reasons, and practised by a significant proportion of the population across all social groups. This conclusion questions linear narratives of progress that figure ‘western’ practices as advanced or complete or automatically desirable, and contributes in a modest way to a decentring of narratives of progress.

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