Parsing the Palate: A Mixed Methods Analysis of the U.S. Food Advocacy Network
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The U.S. food system is afflicted by a variety of social, ecological, and economic predicaments including hunger, food access inequalities, soil and water degradation, and lack of community control over food. Scholars and activists agree that in order for U.S. food movement actors to affect significant system-wide change, players must bridge a multitude of issue areas and ideological differences. Despite thorough analyses of local and regional food systems, little research has been conducted on either national level advocacy perspectives or the ties that bind and divide food advocacy coalitions. This dissertation's central research question examines how the U.S food advocacy movement works to resist the hegemonic domination of the national food system by state and corporate actors. To answer this question, this project develops a social network analysis of 71 national-level food advocacy actors, compiles web-based issue and tax data, and conducts 36 semi-structured interviews with senior food activist staff. Social movement literature and Antonio Gramsci's concepts of counter-hegemonic movements and wars of position inform the findings and reveal the national food movement's nascent propensity to unite cultural and class struggles to create significant pressure for systematic change in the U.S. food system. Additionally, this research tests existing theoretical work related to the food advocacy network and distinctions between interest group and social movement type organizations. This dissertation reveals that despite most activists' conviction that a constellation of agri-business and state policies dominate the U.S. food system, significant network rifts, framing dilemmas, strategic conflicts, and resource complexities prevent national food activists from generating a robust challenge to hegemonic food system actors.