Exploring the Online Farmers’ Market: Neoliberal Venture Capital Meets the Alternative Food Movement
Muirow, Arianna Rachel
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This research examines the recent merger of alternative food networks (AFNs) with technology startup food delivery companies. Rather than situating these new “online farmers’ markets” within a binary alternative-industrial framing, this work explores the ways in which these new market models bridge alternative-industrial food systems as a new hybrid entity, the tech-AFN. I find three interconnected themes at play. The first is the tension of scaling up local food systems caused by these technology companies’ attempts to both connect with and support place-based alternative food networks while simultaneously striving towards neoliberal goals of replication and geographic growth. These tensions of scale are also deeply tied to localized food system connections to place, highlighting dichotomies between the alternative food movements on the East and West coasts of the United States and refocusing debates on the value of “local” food towards the value of place. Second, the translation of the AFN to digital space appears to amplify existing inequalities in food access as well as inequities due to digital divides broadly. Consumers participating in the tech-AFN, however, may have a higher engagement in social and political activism than traditional “ethical” food consumers, likely due to increased opportunities for multi-directional knowledge flows. Finally, the hybrid tech-AFN embodies a deeply-rooted clash of ideologies around the role of “food as commodity” and the value of the “technological fix,” both concepts have traditionally been promoted through a neoliberal food system approach operating in opposition to alternative food movement goals of food equity, workers rights, and long-term ecological sustainability.
- Geography