Let a Thousand Rice Paddies Bloom: Social Eco-preneurs, Food Activism, and Market-driven Sustainable Food Movement in Guangzhou

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Amity Doolittle
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This paper analyzes the changing nature of environmental activism, as it relates to food safety and sustainable agriculture, in Post-Socialist China. Drawing upon social movement and political protest theory, as well as 14-weeks of ethnographic fieldwork in Southern China amongst sustainable food and agriculture activists, eco-preneurs, environmental health advocates, as well as local concerned citizens, I argue that the development of food and agriculture social enterprises by local individuals is creating opportunities for Chinese citizens to engage and develop their "ecological Elastic Self." This new process of identity formation and sociation arises from involvement in informal modes of interaction, often exhibited in "alternative" food groups. By providing a space and network for Chinese citizens to engage with environmentalist ideas, and to experience new forms of identity formation and sociation, these organizations represent a response to government censorship on protest and social organizing activities surrounding China's numerous food safety and environmental crises. In a country where civil society is not as robust as those in countries of the Global North, the ambiguous nature of these social enterprises as neither NGOs, nor purely for-profit businesses, allows them to effectively evade government censorship and control in China while promoting their environmentalist agenda.