Sustainable consumption, the middle classes and agrifood ethics in the Global South

Person looking at food options in a cafeSustainable food consumption spaces and practices in the Global South are of critical importance. Expanding middle class consumption in Global South countries is seen simultaneously as providing a potential stimulus to global economic growth and a threat to environmental sustainability.

In response, this project evaluates the mobilisation and practice of sustainable consumption in the Global South through an examination of systems of food provision and regulation, everyday consumer habits, and trends and fashions in food consumption.

The research is essential to understand how sustainable food consumption is mobilised and practised in distinct Global South contexts, how this might be affected during times of increasing political instability and social precarity, and how this relates to the wider context of global population growth and globalising consumerism.

Pilot research in the case study countries, Brazil, China and South Africa, suggests that digital technologies are increasingly interwoven into societies and food systems as follows: consumers share, receive information about, purchase and review food online; food retail companies optimise their distribution with the help of IT technology; and state procurement systems increasingly move online.

Recognising these realities, the project investigates the interconnectedness of online and offline spaces of sustainable food consumption in the Global South.

The project looks closely into the institutional and cultural drivers of sustainable food consumption by analysing  policy and media reports, business strategies, codes, campaigns and initiatives in the policy and popular domain. It also focuses on consumer habits and everyday trends in middle class residential areas of Guangzhou, Rio de Janeiro and Johannesburg. It also analyses fashion and trends, using text mining of social media to trace lines of influence in sustainable food consumption.

Finally to reach out widely,  it gathers quantitative data through a web-based survey of the drivers of sustainable food consumption and the behavioural intentions arising from these. By examining three countries, the project will be able to compare the potential of different drivers of food sustainability.

Project details

  • Principal Investigator: ProfessorAlex Hughes, Newcastle University
  • Funded value:  £590,751
  • Funded period: May 2018 – April 2020
  • Funder: Economic and Social Research Council