Urban food initiatives as spaces 'in the meantime' for otherwise possibilities - Evidence from Rotterdam

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The modern food system, driven by profit maximisation and set in a capitalist framework, has resulted in significant socio-environmental issues. In response to these shortcomings, urban food initiatives, part of alternative food networks, have emerged as locally-based solutions that attempt to change, undermine or otherwise disrupt modern food systems through alternative models of provisioning, distribution and consumption. However, a broader frame of reference is required in food and sustainability discourses, advocating for a deeper transformation that challenges the structural logics of capitalism which are driving unsustainability, and enabling the creation of alternative realities beyond capitalism. By applying a complementary lens on transformation and drawing insights from the theoretical concepts of ‘unmaking’, and ‘prefiguration’, the research question explores how the everyday practices of urban food initiatives have been challenging and transforming capitalist processes by opening up alternative ways of being and doing. Data was elicited mainly from participant observation and semi-structured interviews with participants from two urban food initiatives in Rotterdam; a non-profit organisation that provides free food to a wide range of people in different settings, and a community garden. Rather than a confrontational stance, the urban food initiatives under study take a pragmatic approach to social change by addressing social issues in their communities in the ‘here and now’. Although processes of unmaking were evident in their practices, urban food initiatives face contradictions that may reinforce neoliberal subjectivities and may succumb to external pressures. Despite this, they embody alternative ways of being and doing through building commons, ethics of care and relationships with human others and non-human beings which offer hopeful possibilities beyond capitalism. For this reason, the urban food initiatives under study are symbolic of a range of spaces and subjectivities that have developed ‘in the meantime’ to provide for those in need, and which may be connected to larger non-capitalist configurations and imagined futures. By adopting an inclusive ontological reframing, this research may thus be seen as a component of a wider interdisciplinary effort aimed at a future in which the negative aspects of capitalism are recognised, addressed, and changed to create alternative narratives and practices. Keywords: urban food initiatives, alternative food networks, transformations to sustainability, unmaking processes, prefiguration, alternative organising, critique of capitalism
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