“Conservative” ideology and the politics of local food
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Analysis of conservative political participation in local food initiatives tends to be critical and dismissive, positing this participation as self-serving, individualistic, exclusionary, nativist, or reactionary. While there are nefarious aspects to certain forms of conservative local food politics, my research at three farmers’ markets in the Upper Midwest reveals that self-identified conservatives can and do hold more nuanced positions. Those with whom I met recognize the need for both local and broader change, are concerned about marginalized and struggling people, are troubled by the impacts of conventional agriculture on the health of farmers, consumers, and other species, and are humble and willing to listen to other perspectives. Most analyses of food systems miss these nuanced perspectives because they approach American political ideology through a rigid left–right binary. Using more fluid approaches to understanding political ideology can create room for recognizing the complexity and diversity of views pigeon-holed under the label of “conservatism.” Along with these different approaches, a politics of empathy and mutual respect across ideological difference can help reveal common values, concerns, and aspirations for changing the food system. Recognizing these commonalities can help build a broader base of support for food system transformation.
KeywordsLocal food Political ideology Conservatism Farmers’ markets
I am grateful to all the participants in this study who were willing to share their time, perspectives, and experiences with me, and the many advisors, colleagues, and reviewers who helped greatly improve this article over time. I am also thankful to the Trewartha Graduate Research Fund through the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Geography for helping to fund this research.
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