Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 143–162 | Cite as

Victual Vicissitudes: Consumer Deskilling and the (Gendered) Transformation of Food Systems

  • JoAnn JaffeEmail author
  • Michael Gertler


A considerable literature addresses worker deskilling in manufacturing and the related loss of control over production processes experienced by farmers and others working in the agri-food industry. Much less attention has been directed at a parallel process of consumer deskilling in the food system, which has been no less important. Consumer deskilling in its various dimensions carries enormous consequences for the restructuring of agro-food systems and for consumer sovereignty, diets, and health. The prevalence of packaged, processed, and industrially transformed foodstuffs is often explained in terms of consumer preference for convenience. A closer look at the social construction of “consumers” reveals that the agro-food industry has waged a double disinformation campaign to manipulate and to re-educate consumers while appearing to respond to consumer demand. Many consumers have lost the knowledge necessary to make discerning decisions about the multiple dimensions of quality, including the contributions a well-chosen diet can make to health, planetary sustainability, and community economic development. They have also lost the skills needed to make use of basic commodities in a manner that allows them to eat a high quality diet while also eating lower on the food chain and on a lower budget. This process has a significant gender dimension, as it is the autonomy of those primarily responsible for purchasing and preparing foodstuffs that has been systematically undermined. Too often, food industry professionals and regulatory agencies have been accessories to this process by misdirecting attention to the less important dimensions of quality.


Consumer deskilling Consumerism Food system Gendered relations of consumption McDonaldization North America Provisioning 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Social StudiesUniversity of ReginaReginaCanada
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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