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Trusting the Hand that Feeds You 2015 : Understanding the historical evolution of trust in food


When Sep 7, 2015 - Sep 9, 2015
Where Brussels, Belgium
Submission Deadline Dec 15, 2014
Final Version Due Jul 1, 2015
Categories    food history   food safety   history of consumerism   trust vs. distrust in food

Call For Papers

The interdisciplinary research group Social & Cultural Food Studies (FOST) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) invites papers and panel proposals for its 2015 conference Trusting the hand that feeds you. Understanding the historical evolution of trust in food, which will held in Brussels from 7 to 9 September 2015.

Both popularized and scientific literature often assumes that present-day Western consumers are guided by fears and anxieties when shopping for daily meals. Consecutive food scandals and food scares are seen to have created people’s distrust in the food chain. Without confidence in the ability of producers, processors, retailers and the government to assure the quality and safety of food, shops and supermarkets would have to operate differently than they do today. Trust is a conditio sine qua non for the food chain, since direct control by every individual consumer is impossible. Yet, this does not mean that consumers have blind faith in production and processing systems. Since everyone needs to eat, consumers use personalized, and often simplified, guidelines to make sense of a complicated world and assure themselves the food they are eating to be of acceptable quality. New scandals or food scares can create panic, crushing sales figures. Some stakeholders within the food chain have made insecurities a part of their marketing strategies, and use labels, brands, promises of authenticity or lack of distrusted technologies as a selling point for their products. Trust and ease of mind in the quality and safety of food have an economic value, which can just as easily be a force of destruction or of added value.

A distinction is often made between an idealised past, in which food fears were non existent and when everything looked simple, on the one hand, and the contemporary system in which consumers attempt to orient themselves in a mix of anxieties, complexities, risks and a lack of direct control on the other hand. Often, this is linked to the lengthening of the food chain (i.e., the growing distance between producer and consumer). Historical research has shown this division to be too simplistic, revealing that fear has had a large impact on the structuring of the food chain. So what has changed? And when and why? Which other forms of control did exist? Which role did trust, and thus also distrust, play in the past? How has this evolved to the current relationship between the food chain and the consumer? We also need to focus on ideas and representations of what good and safe food mean. We wish to track historical evolutions in the nature of the bonds of trust between consumers and the food chain. In doing so we aim at answering questions of how perception concerning food quality and safety was affected by changes in control over food, and the food chain.

This meeting will focus on the relationship between consumers and the food chain since Antiquity: focusing on food producers, processors and distributors and how this has evolved throughout the whole of international human history to understand how different actors and cultures created trust. Research papers on contemporary issues are welcome, yet are required to also focus on the historical issues described above. Papers and proposals for panel sessions are invited on any issue related to the following themes in which trust plays a central role:

The changing nature of food production:
Food and technology
The role of trust in the industrialisation of food production
The role of trust in food retailing
Food safety: issues of quantity and quality
The role of science for trust in food quality and safety

Representation and social construction of food quality and safety:
Food quality and safety in media
Representation of food scares and scandals
Social construction of scandals, food quality and safety

Marketization of food:
Branding of food products
Selling trust to consumers
Selling alternative food products

Reactions of fear and anxieties:
Fearing food: fears and facts
The role of counter-movements and alternative networks
The role of local, regional, national and international governments
The role of fear and trust in food heritage

Trust versus Distrust:
The creation and effects of uncertainty in the food chain
Trust and Distrust as actors: the effects of distrust on food
The role of public regulators and other third parties: Who trusts whom in terms of what and under which circumstances?

What to Send:

Abstracts of maximum 400 words should be submitted by the 15th of December, 2014. If an abstract is accepted for the conference, a full draft paper should be submitted by the 1st of July 2015. Abstracts should be submitted to the organising chairs via; abstracts may be in Word or PDF formats with the following information:

a) author(s), b) affiliation as you would like it to appear in programme, c) email address, d) title of proposal, e) body of proposal, f) up to 10 keywords. E-mails should be entitled: ‘Trusting the hand that feeds you’ Abstract Submission +name(s) of author(s).

Please use plain text (Times Roman 12) and abstain from using footnotes and any special formatting, characters or emphasis (such as bold, italics or underline). Confirmation of receipt will be send within a week. If you do not receive a reply, you should assume we did not receive your proposal. We suggest, then, to resend your proposal.

Visit the FOST website (, the FOST research group’s Facebook page ( or the conference website ( for regular updates!

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