The culture in agriculture – Jane Dixon – Food Thinkers

The culture in agriculture – Jane Dixon – Food Thinkers

Jane Dixon on The culture in agriculture

At some point, food studies courses examine what is cultivated, how, by whom and under what policy and environmental conditions. Together these elements make up the agricultural dimension to the food system. All too frequently, the broad question of ‘why’ particular approaches to cultivation are adopted is ignored or is reduced to contemporary economic forces, as in commodity chain research. This particular question is however key for public health ecologists interested in food system transformation for the benefit of food and nutrition security and food system sustainability. In this talk, I argue that any food system transformation requires renewed recognition of, and respect for, the cultural dynamics within farming systems. These dynamics can be a force for change or for the status quo.

As cultivators, farmers are pre-eminent cultural actors. They are as much artisan, creator, scientist, educator as they are an economic unit. Older farmers, in particular, are repositories of extensive knowledge about, and transmitters of value systems regarding, nature-society interactions and the impact of economic and social policies on a range of matters from the rearing of animals to the future of rural society. Their styles of farming, and associated rhythmic activities and value systems, are pivotal to food system (un)sustainability.

In order to fully appreciate the reasons for the adoption of particular farming approaches, it is necessary to have some insight on the cultural histories of specific agricultural sectors and spaces. Many such histories go back centuries, and they can help to explain bio-security disease outbreaks in the present as well as current attitudes towards animals, environments and markets and the structure of diets. This point will be illustrated with reference to pastoralism, harvesting of wild foods, and the rearing of small animals.

The talk will conclude by asking for debate around the following questions:

  • How important are agri-cultural histories, and what do they imply for agri-food futures?
  • Is there a benefit in making considerations of producer cultures more prominent in food policy, land use policy and rural policy; and what do such considerations mean in a world of global value chains and global food standards?
  • Should farming be considered a cultural industry as well as an economic sector?
  • Are agri-cultural considerations important for public health?

About the speaker

Associate Professor Jane Dixon is Senior Fellow at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University. For 13 years, she has conducted research at the intersection of sociology and public health, with a focus on the cultural, social and health impacts of food system transformations. Her work is unified by an interest in the manner by which corporate strategy, government policy and civil society influence cultural trends, and in the resulting social and health inequalities.

Her fieldwork now takes place mainly in Australia and Thailand. In recent applied research, she has been an advisor to the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office and has served the International Union of Health Promotion and Education in two capacities: membership on their Global Working Group on the Social Determinants of Health and drafting their Food Systems Position Paper.

Jane also joined the FRC for a Food Bites to give us a snapshot snapshot of what the current issues in the food system are and what civil society organisations and academics could be doing to work towards solutions.

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