Social economy of food initiatives that are nourishing communities through “power-with” practices
From 2014 to 2019, Nourishing Communities: Sustainable Local Food Systems Research Group explored food initiatives in the social economy, many of which use practices like bartering, gifting, and self-provisioning, that remain under-recognized for their economic value. Nourishing Communities considered how these organizations may contribute to food security, community development, and environmental remediation, especially for marginalized groups. Its researchers collaborated with such organizations to complete participatory action projects and a range of products to communicate the initiatives’ impacts. As three of those researchers, we subsequently synthesized the material from these outputs to show the resources, barriers, and impacts of the respective initiatives. This meta-analysis reveals that these initiatives not only produce economic, social, and environmental benefits, but also work to organize human relations. Beyond considering how initiatives in the social economy of food interact with the market economy, we use Karlberg’s schema of power to illustrate their potential to reconceptualize human relations. Here we find them gravitating towards “power with” practices that emphasize cooperation over competition. Throughout, we employ the concept of framing to propose ways in which that re-conceptualization might “grow legs” and extend further into larger social discourses. In so doing, we find the initiatives strategically invoking alternative framings of work, knowledge, social relations, and value in order to explain the impact of their own work. Although further research is needed regarding the meaning that impact and power hold for social economy initiatives, this research contributes to scholarly debates surrounding the potential of food initiatives in the social economy.