Bringing green food to the Chinese table: How civil society actors are changing consumer culture in China
Angela Leggett – 2017
Environmental and health effects of China’s rapid economic growth since the 1980s have been especially tangible in the food sector, with ‘green’ products emerging as alternatives for consumption networks wishing to avoid ‘conventional’ foods produced using chemicals. Despite state support for increased sustainability in large-scale farming over the past decade, formal institutional voids remain, with regard to consumer trust and small-scale farmers. Green food consumption is increasing in China, as civil society actors work to fill voids and promote green purchasing behaviour. In this article, I investigate how civil society organisations are changing Chinese consumer culture around green food through two stages of empirical research. Qualitative content analysis of microblogs of four Chinese environmental non-governmental organisations was conducted in 2013, and insights were further explored through fieldwork interviews and participant observation in Beijing during 2016. Responding to previous consumer behaviour studies which over-emphasise individual rationality, marginalising contextual and collective aspects, this analysis adopts Bajde’s enrichment of Consumer Culture Theory with Actor Network Theory to explore microelements and macroelements, their interrelations and processes of change. Based on co-production of subject and object within Consumer Culture Theory with Actor Network Theory, this study analyses engagement with and re/creation of materials, discourse and social meanings by green food consumption networks, including non-governmental organisations, farmers, retailers and consumers. Although findings reflect particularities of the Beijing cultural context, themes parallel wider phenomena at the national and international levels.