Tag Archives: economy

You are what you eat: fresh food provisioning and food markets

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The traditional fresh food market; how modest it seems, spreading into high streets and town squares, drawing in consumers with its array of colours and smells. This familiar scene, however, is at the centre of ongoing debates about fresh food provisioning in England, highlighting a complex relationship between economics and culture.

In the wake of last month’s BBC Food and Farming awards, Smith et al’s (2014) Area paper on fresh food provisioning and markets gives an insight into the socio-spatial dynamics of fresh food markets in England. The paper investigates the connective spaces that link markets and consumers, and the ways in which fresh food moves through the marketplace. Food provisioning by traditional food markets, it argues, is affected by political, economic, cultural, and material concerns.

In England, traditional food markets were long considered places where low-income shoppers could buy affordable fresh food. How things have changed! Some markets have been, what Smith et al (2014:122) call, “(re)gentrified”, becoming places where more wealthy shoppers can buy high-quality, fashionable food. Food markets are therefore placed in a precarious position between the traditional and the modern. Furthermore, due to the external influence of powerful multi-national supermarket chains, some fresh food markets are under threat, whilst others are being forced to adapt to changing demands.

Some people do, of course, resist the increasingly dominant supermarket. Last month’s BBC Food and Farming awards marked its 15th culinary celebration and provided, perhaps, a bit more optimism about the state of fresh food provisioning in this country. Amongst the awards were ‘best food market’ (for the best regular market that brings together the local community and provides “fresh, quality, affordable food”), ‘best food producer’ and ‘best drinks producer’ (for producers using quality ingredients to create a quality, fairly-priced products). There was a clear emphasis on quality, sustainability, and affordability of local products.

Smith et al stress that traditional markets illustrate how place and culture are entwined with food sourcing. Demand for food depends on locals’ tastes for organic, local, seasonal, or ‘exotic’ produce. Thus, the type of food provided by food markets varies according to the changing socio-demographics of the market’s consumers; markets must adapt to changing shopping habits. Smith et al argue that food markets as socio-economic spaces all behave differently, adapting to change based on their geography and history. Every town or city reacts differently to effects of retail restructuring, market systems, and consumption practices. Equally, for some places, local food markets are vital to maintaining their distinct identity and local pride. Thus, the popular idiom ‘you are what you eat’ could be extended to link food consumption with local identity. Fresh food, therefore, takes on a very cultural form; cultural meaning and economic value become complexly linked.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The importance of the cultural meaning imbued in food was evident amongst the winners at the BBC Food and Farming awards.  Doncaster market was crowned ‘best food market’. It is the largest market in the North with over 400 stalls providing quality, good-value local and imported goods. Likewise, the winners of ‘best food producer’ and ‘best drinks producer’ were commended for their skill in hand-making locally-sourced products. Here the importance of hand-made produce further shows the conscious decision of some to boycott mass-produced supermarket goods. A particularly interesting award from a geographical point of view was the ‘best food initiative’; an award for the initiative that is making a positive difference to our relationships with food. Stressing the importance of producer-consumer relationships, the ‘best food initiative’ went to a scheme that brings together producers and consumers at a pop-up market, where consumers collect pre-ordered local produce from their neighbouring producers. This fits perfectly with Smith et al’s argument that fresh food moves through connective spaces – such as food markets – between producers and consumers.

It is clear that the fresh food market is an important feature of the economic, social, and cultural landscape of many English towns. It is also a vital actor in both local and national concerns about food consumption, identity, health, politics, and economics. With so much hidden complexity in such humble spaces, it is certainly some interesting food for thought.

books_iconSmith, J., Maye, D., and Ilbery , B. (2014). “The traditional food market and place: new insights into fresh food provisioning in England”, Area, 46(2):122-128.

60-world2http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zxv3j

 

Moving towards a living wage in the UK

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

4.9 million people in the UK earn less than the living wage (image credit: By George Hodan, via Wikimedia Commons)

On 18th October 2014, thousands of people took to the streets of London for a mass demonstration, arguing that “Britain Needs a Pay Rise” (BBC News, 2014). In their 2008 report for the Institute for Public Policy Research, Working out of Poverty, Lawton and Cooke found that, for the first time, more people in work are below the poverty line than those out of work. A report by The Resolution Foundation, Low Pay Britain 2014, states that as many as 1 in 5 workers or 5.2 million people earn less than than £7.70 an hour. Last year, the number of people in low-paid work (defined as less than two thirds of median hourly pay) rose by 250,000.

Wills and Linneker, writing in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers in 2014,  describe a living wage as one that reflects the local cost of living and the real cost of life. It is an instrument of pre-distribution, rather than using the state’s mechanisms to re-distribute wealth as a way of alleviating in-work poverty. Wilkinson and Pickett (2010) argue that Governments would be better advised to minimise the production of inequality to start with, rather than spending billions of pounds in welfare initiatives to ‘mop-up’ after the party.

Wills and Linneker write that in the UK, the living wage campaign has targeted both private and public sector employers, and the campaign is gaining pace. The Greater London Authority (GLA) has applied the living wage across its own supply chain to include the Metropolitan Police Authority, the London Fire Brigade and Transport for London. The Living Wage Foundation has been pivotal in deepening the impact and spreading the demand of the campaign through the participation of a wide coalition of champions, including Trust for London, Save the Children, Queen Mary, University of London, KPMG and Linklaters.  Flint et al. (2014), writing in the Journal of Public Health, find significant differences in psychological wellbeing between those who did, and didn’t, work for London Living Wage employers.  Recent figures show that the campaign has a long way to go.

Wills and Linneker argue that, “in the context of a Conservative-led coalition government, along with on-going economic malaise and a weak trade union movement, the demand for a living wage probably represents the best route to reducing the extent and impact of in-work poverty, and ultimately, the degree of inequality within the UK” (2014: 187-188).  By taking on a geographical perspective, the authors find that the living wage is a spatial intervention, which attempts to set a new moral minimum for wages across a labour market in a particular locality. They highlight how the impact of the living wage at one scale is very different to that experienced at other dimensions, and this shapes the arguments to be used in its defence. The living wage also raises important questions for geographers seeking to understand poverty and its potential solutions, as it can “put the scourge of economic injustice and inequality at the heart of political campaigning at all spatial scales” (2014: 192).

60-world2Low paid Britons now number five million, think tank concludes BBC News, September 27

60-world2A. Corlett and M. Whittaker 2014. Low Pay Britain 2014. The Resolution Foundation

books_iconE. Flint, S. Cummins and J. Wills 2012. Investigating the effect of the London living wage on the psychological wellbeing of low-wage service sector employees: a feasibility study. Journal of Public Health. 36 (2):187-193. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdt093

60-world2K. Lawton and G. Cooke 2008. Working Out of Poverty: A study of the low-paid and the ‘working poor.’ Institute for Public Policy Research.

books_icon

R. Wilkinson and K. Pickett K 2010. The spirit level: why equality is better for everyone Penguin, London

books_iconJ. Wills and B. Linneker 2014. In-work poverty and the living wage in the United Kingdom: a geographical perspective. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers39 (2): 182–194. doi: 10.1111/tran.12020. 

izabeladelabre

September 24, 2014

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

People’s Climate March, New York City March 2014 (image credit: South Bend Voice Flickr)

On the eve of the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September, the city saw an estimated 400,000 people take to the streets in the largest climate change march in history. Marchers gathered in cities across the world to call for ambitious action on climate change policy: 40,000 in London, and 30,000 in Melbourne. In Tanzania, the Maasai marched across their traditional lands to draw attention to the protection of their homelands in the Serengeti from climate change impacts.

These marches indicated the public’s frustration of political failure to reach, and implement, effective climate deals, and this anxiety is compounded by stark warnings from the academic community.  In Nature Geoscience, Friedlingstein et al. (2014) write that global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production have, on average, grown by 2.5% per year over the past decade. Two thirds of the CO2 emission quota consistent with a 2°C temperature limit has already been used, and it is predicted that the total quota will likely be exhausted 30 years from now, using 2014 emissions rates. Friedlingstein et al. find that carbon intensity improvements of emerging economies have been lower than anticipated, and warn that without more strict mitigation measures, these trends will continue.  Therefore, they stress, a break in current emission trends is urgently needed in the short term, to keep within the 2°C temperature limit.

The Global Carbon Budget 2014 found the top five CO2 emitters to be China, USA, EU, India and the Russian Federation. In a BBC article, Professor Corinne Le Quéré from the University of East Anglia stated that a significant proportion of China’s emissions were driven by demand from consumers in Europe and the USA: “In China, about 20% of their emissions are for producing clothes, furniture even solar panels that are shipped to Europe and America.”  Writing in Geography Compass in 2008, Kaplinsky stated that the distribution of income in China moved from being one of the world’s most equal to one of the world’s most unequal economies in a couple of decades. Kaplinsky argued that China and other Asian emerging economies must be included in discussions of global governance.  Six years later, during this week’s Climate Summit, China for first time pledged to take action on climate, with the aim for reducing its emissions of carbon per unit of GDP by 45% by 2020.

Given the impacts of globalization on climate, poverty, and inequality, and considering the scale of the impacts of climate change, the report New Climate Economy: Better Growth, Better Climate puts forward areas in which international co-operation has the potential to make a significant impact on the prospects for low-carbon and climate-resilient growth, as well as a ten-point action plan. The report states that national economic policies will need to be significantly revised in the next 15 years, when the global economy is expected to grow by more than half. On the day of the report’s release, President Obama tweeted, “This study concludes that no one has to choose between fighting climate change and growing the economy”.

Writing for The Guardian Sustainable Business, Professor Tim Jackson argues that the report is framed around the “dubious claim that we can have our cake and eat it,” and highlights how improving our prosperity might not be at all synonymous with growing the economy. Lord Stern, one of the authors of the New Climate Economy report states that in order to prevent runaway climate change, we need to develop broader measures of success, widen our vision of prosperity and return to core values, but it is critical that growth is included as an objective. The two defining challenges of this century are poverty and climate change, and “if we fail on one, we fail on the other.”

 

60-world2P. FriedlingsteinR. M. AndrewJ. RogeljG. P. PetersJ. G. CanadellR. KnuttiG. LudererM. R. RaupachM. SchaefferD. P. van Vuuren and C. Le Quéré 2014. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targetsNature Geoscience. Advance online publication doi:10.1038/ngeo2248 

books_iconR. Kaplinsky 2008. Globalisation, Inequality and Climate Change: What Difference Does China Make? Geography Compass 2(1): 67–78.

60-world2C. Le Quéré, R. Moriarty, R. M. Andrew, G. P. Peters, P. Ciais, P. Friedlingstein, S. D. Jones, S. Sitch, P. Tans et al. 2014. Global carbon budget 2014 Earth Systems Science Data. Discussion Paper, 7: 521-610.

60-world2The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate 2014. Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report

60-world2China’s per capita carbon emissions overtake EU’s BBC News, September 21

60-world2Hundreds of Thousands Converge on New York to Demand Climate-Change Action Time, September 23

60-world2Lord Stern: global warming may create billions of climate refugees Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22

60-world2The dilemma of growth: prosperity v economic expansion Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22

60-world2UN climate summit: China pledges emissions action BBC News, September 24

Western Nations Negotiate Economic Regulation

By Georgia Davis Conover

The United States and Europe are at odds over financial regulation in the wake of the worldwide economic downturn.  European and U.S. regulators do agree that some common framework is necessary to keep corporations from simply moving operations to countries with little regulatory control over business.  Regardless, the two sides do not agree on just what that means.  One of the sticking points in the discussion between U.S. officials and their European counterparts is U.S.-based hedge funds.  European regulators want to impose tougher restrictions on these investment groups but have offered to take a more relaxed position on market activities that are more strictly regulated in the United States. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has opposed this plan arguing that differing regulations between countries could jeopardize the ability of U.S. corporations to conduct business efficiently.

While negotiators attempt to create some sort of plan for regulating the economy in Europe and the United States, economic geographers recognize that economies differ in different places, and that decisions made at the international level have variable impacts at the local level.  Manuel Aalbers demonstrates these multi-scalar processes by pulling together various economic geography literatures in the context of mortgage lending.  His work describes how various states, cities, neighborhoods and financial centers have been differentially impacted by the mortgage-lending crises and the down turn in credit lending.   As Aalbers notes, his work is intended to help geographers and non-geographers alike understand the spatialization of the current economic downturn.

Read more in the Washington Post.

Read Aalbers, Manuel. 2009. Geographies of the Financial Crises. Area 41(1): pp. 34.42.