An unsustainable state: contrasting food practices and state policies in the Czech Republic

Jehlicka, Petr and Smith, Joe (2011). An unsustainable state: contrasting food practices and state policies in the Czech Republic. Geoforum, 42(3) pp. 362–372.



This paper brings together consideration of food policies and practices and of post-socialist transition to raise neglected questions about means of nurturing more sustainable food systems in the developed world. The last three decades have been marked by the growing salience of food as a political and scholarly concern. While market-based alternative food systems have been heralded for their potential to promote environmental sustainability, the benefits of non-market practices such as household food self-provisioning and barter have been assumed rather than being the focus of research. In the western context, both types of food consumption have positive connotations. Although food self-provisioning in European post-socialist societies is a more wide-spread practice than in western societies, it has been on the periphery of research. The existing literature has conceptualised them as ‘coping strategies’ or as a legacy of irregular supply of goods in the state socialist era. Drawing on empirical research in the Czech Republic, we are proposing a novel approach to the phenomenon of household food production in post-socialist societies as a practice compliant with principles of sustainability. First, we highlight the large extent and social inclusivity of food self-provisioning in Czech society to demonstrate how post-socialist societies are a repository of a rich set of sustainability-promoting consumption practices in relation to food systems. Second, we show that international and domestic policy actors in these societies have ignored these alternative, socially inclusive and environmentally effective practices in favour of far less effective market-based sustainability oriented food policy initiatives. The paper promotes a more integrated view of non-market and market approaches in the pursuit of more sustainable food systems.

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