The Everyday Life of Food: The Cultural Economy of the Traditional Food Market in England

Smith, Julie K. (2011) The Everyday Life of Food: The Cultural Economy of the Traditional Food Market in England. PhD thesis, University of Gloucestershire.

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Rapid transformation in the food retail supply system, accompanied by rational economic efficiency, has marginalized the role that traditional markets play in the UK food distribution system. Yet these markets survive, some even thrive, implying that traditional food markets cannot be defined simply in terms of their distribution function. Traditional food markets are part of the surrounding food retail environment and whether they survive or thrive is dependent on wider economic and societal dynamics and change. This thesis links the micro-level activities of traditional food market exchange with how food systems, power structures and consumption practices interact and transform each other over time and space at the macro-level. The research provides the first detailed assessment of traditional food markets in England and examines their contemporary role in fresh food provisioning. The thesis proposes a cultural economy framework that examines how food retail restructuring and changing patterns of fresh food consumption have affected the internal and external spaces and places that support the everyday economic processes and cultural practices of traditional food market exchange. The research employs a mixed methods approach with three inter-related phases. First, the construction of a database of UK food markets identified 1,124 traditional food markets operating in the UK and the empirical analysis, using geo-coded data and more detailed location quotient (LQ) analysis, mapped the geographies and concentrations of traditional food markets and their links with wholesale markets and farmers' markets. Second, data drawn from an email questionnaire survey with traditional food market managers examined the effects of retail restructuring and changing fresh food shopping habits on these markets. In the third and final phase, detailed analysis from case study research in two contrasting traditional food markets, in the North East and Eastern regions of England, examined how the market as place significantly shapes the distributive processes and practices of buying and selling that transform fresh food into the `market product', and also explored the reciprocal relations between the economic and the cultural and between value(s) and exchange. The research findings provide new insights into the traditional food retail sector. The database and email survey analysis reveal how market geographies have been affected by regulatory, economic and cultural change and demonstrate how market and place are entwined in a relationship that has adapted to retail restructuring and changes in fresh food provisioning. Detailed case study analysis reveals how traditional markets are intimately linked with the regions and cities where they are located and how different geographies, histories and approaches to food and farming have moulded the relationship between market and fresh food over time. Although the overall economic value of fresh food sold on traditional markets is reduced in real terms, its symbolic value as `the market product' is not. Historically and culturally, the traditional market may be considered part of a `traditional' food system that aimed to provide fresh and affordable food to all, but the contemporary market is a different place. The findings reveal a marketplace frequently articulated through parallel fresh food trading and shopping experiences at the supermarket and the farmers' market and informed by practical and local knowledge systems. Knowledge systems help define food-provisioning expertise in the traditional food system and the value put on fresh produce depends on both economic and less tangible factors bound up with cultural and moral understandings. How fresh food is assigned monetary, social and symbolic value by market actors' everyday practices demonstrates a `sliding scale' of moral and monetised values as fresh food takes on cultural form The value(s) assigned to fresh food traded on the market fundamentally shape how it performs in the contemporary context and ultimately determine whether its role in fresh food provisioning declines, survives or thrives.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Advisors:
Thesis AdvisorEmailURL
Uncontrolled Keywords: Food industry and trade, England; Food markets, England
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HF Commerce > HF5001 Business > HF5428 Retail Trade
S Agriculture > SB Plant culture > SB175 Food crops
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > Countryside and Community Research Institute
Depositing User: Phil Davis
Date Deposited: 21 Mar 2016 12:04
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2021 21:34

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