(Un)sustainable food consumption dynamics in South and Southeast Asia

Financed by: the Swiss Network for International Studies
April 1 2013 – March 30 2015

In emerging economies, particularly among the growing middle classes, changing labor markets and production processes along with rising purchasing power is translating to a “moving up” on the energy and protein ladder, resulting in negative social and environmental impacts. While researchers and policy-makers express concern over these un-sustainable trends, little empirical data exists at the sub-national level on the challenges and opportunities these new consumption patterns represent and what roles households might play in redirecting these trends. This project will contribute new disciplinary and inter-disciplinary research on consumption patterns, practices and policies in two mega-cities of South and Southeast Asia: Bangalore, India, and Metro Manila, the Philippines, among the emerging middle classes, to help inform transitions to more sustainable pathways. The focus is on food consumption in relation to “sustainable consumption” policies.

Comparative fieldwork will be conducted among middle-income households in two research sites – Bangalore and Metro Manila – epicenters for rapidly changing consumption patterns. The expertise of researchers in Switzerland will be complemented with that of researchers in Bangalore and Metro Manila in an innovative research approach that combines conceptual frameworks from the environmental and social sciences. Three levels of analysis will be integrated, towards inter-disciplinary research. Approaches from Industrial Ecology will assess patterns of resource consumption in the home (energy, water, food types), and the socio-technical interface (housing and kitchen type, appliances, technologies). Through discussions with and observations among household members (nuclear or extended family unit, domestic workers), Social Practice Theory approaches will be applied to understanding the socio-cultural meaning of food consumption in the home, as well as change and continuity in practices. Drawing from the Anthropology of Policy, the pathways of circulation and domestication of international and national policies relevant to “sustainable food consumption” (labelling, waste management, etc.) will be revealed and interpreted.

(Un)sustainable food comsumption


Participants: Marlyne Sahakian, Loïc Leray