'Sustainable’ food corporations and sustainable food systems: on the possibilities of engagement for food systems change Public Deposited

The topic of private actors, particularly retail grocers, as agents in sustainable food systems has been given much attention in agrifood scholar literature. However, much of this attention has focused on large transnational corporations and the detrimental effects they have on sustainable food systems. There are other private actors in the food system, actors who position themselves as “sustainable” food companies and promote their efforts to contribute to sustainable food systems. This study problematizes that agrifood scholars are not considering the role of self-identified “sustainable” food companies in creating sustainable food systems. Using discourse analysis, I examine agrifood scholar perceptions of retail supermarkets and food service companies. Then, I narrow to two examples, Whole Foods Market (WFM) and Bon Appétit Management Company (BAMCO) to explore agrifood scholar characterizations of these companies. Finally, I turn to the discourse of WFM and BAMCO to study how they characterize their engagements in building sustainable food systems that prioritize social justice and environmental sustainability. In this research, I find that 1) Agrifood scholars clearly identify unprecedented levels of power and control by private actors, including retail supermarkets; 2) As retail supermarkets assume a role of influencing production and consumption beyond their historic role in distribution, they play a critical role in agrifood system transformation; and 3) In studying company engagements, I find that companies are engaging in some activities identified by scholars as crucial for building food system sustainability. This study concludes that there exists an opportunity for additional agrifood research into the role “sustainable” food companies might play in creating sustainable food systems.

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