, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 511-522
Date: 08 Aug 2007

Shopping for change? Neoliberalizing activism and the limits to eating non-GMO

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Abstract

While the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and the spread of genetically engineered (GE) foods has gone largely unnoticed by the majority of Americans, a growing number of vocal civil society groups are opposing the technology and with it the entire conventional system of food provision. As with other alternative food movements, non-GMO activists focus on changing individual consumption habits as the best means of altering the practices of food manufacturers and thereby what and how food is produced. In this paper I argue that the increasing use of consumerist tactics reflect the neoliberalization of food activism in the United States – a process that rather than heralding sustainable agricultural and economic futures may reinforce the status quo. Using the emerging non-GMO movement, and the associated market for non-GMO products, I challenge the assumptions that consumer sovereignty and freedom of choice will bring about the small-scale, localized alternatives espoused by activists and scholars in the field. Specifically, I explore three critical limitations of contemporary alternative food politics. First, the neoliberalization of activism shifts the responsibility for social reforms from the state and manufactures to individual consumers, bringing with it important social justice implications. Second, focusing on choice opens new spaces for the profit without seriously threatening contemporary market structures or agro-ecological practices. Third, contemporary consumerist politics focus on eating right not less and thereby provide few alternatives to the current trends towards convenience and processed foods.

Robin Jane Roff is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Geography at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada. She received a Bachelors of Art in Geography and Political Science from the University of Toronto in 2003. Her research focuses on the political-economy of American food and the dimensions of counter-culture and environmental activism in late capitalist societies. Her dissertation, which examines on the power and influence of the American anti-biotechnology movement, is currently funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.