Food Cultures and Critical Sustainability: Humanities special issue

deadline for submissions: 
December 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Humanities for the Environment
contact email:

Dear Colleagues,

In January 2019, the EAT-Lancet commission released a two-year study on “Food in the Anthropocene,” arguing that “civilization is in crisis,” and that the urgent need for both healthy diets and balanced planetary resources not come at the expense of accelerating trends which are unprecedented in human history (Lucas and Horton 2019). The global food regime is a matter of growing concern within the urgent horizons of climate change and biodiversity loss, among other critical planetary challenges. Not only do carbon dioxide emissions from global food production and distribution rival those of the transportation sector, but agricultural production is responsible for chemical build-up in freshwater systems, intensified deforestation, topsoil loss, habitat loss and associated species extinction.  At the same time, agricultural practices associated with maximizing crop yields to meet the requirements of industrial-scale food production and market targets face increased vulnerability to pests and disease. According to one recent study, the significant rise in global atmospheric methane levels from 2007-2014 marks a trend dominated by increased biogenic emissions from agricultural sources (ruminants and rice paddies) (Nisbet, et al. 2016).

As meat remains a dietary mainstay in many industrialized nations, topics such as resource use and abuse, cruelty to animals, ethical preferences, nutrition and public health, supply chains and availability of food become central to questions of sustainability. Food and foodstuffs play into local, national and international economic systems as traded commodities and consumer products, but one of the principal ways people encounter food is through culture, just as one of the key ways food impacts people’s lives is through dietary impacts on public health as these play our at various levels in society (individually and as structured by class, gender, ethnicity, nationality and culture). It can be argued that the disconnects between these levels of abstraction and daily lived reality are themselves central to the challenges and crises in which Food in the broadest categorical sense is fundamental. Disciplinary scholarship within many fields of humanistic inquiry, as well as border-crossing interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research prominently anchored in humanities disciplines, can help to usher in new understandings and approaches to study of food cultures and how these play out in numerous socio-environmental challenges locally, regionally and globally. 

We ask:

What role can or does culture play in transforming the relations between societal challenges and environmental crises where food is a central factor?

How can new food systems be developed that hold greater promise of sustainability than the dominant global system at present?

Are there limits to local consumption practices, new and old, that prevent them from making a difference at national and international scales? If so, what are these limits? 

The aim of this special issue is to explore how cultural inquiry into food contributes to the critical imagination and implementation of sustainability. We want to consider specific ways in which the humanities (in conversation with social sciences, natural sciences, technical and medical fields, and the arts) can enable global achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or how they might cast a salutary critical light on the limitations, gaps or contradictions inherent in these Global Goals as presently conceived. We welcome critical submissions about the cultures of resource use, restoration, and sustainable food production/consumption: meat, seafood, dairy, fruits, vegetables, cereals, medicinal aromatic plants, edible oils, wines, juices. While contributors may wish to explore the potential of a single site-based or time-based case study, they are welcome to address more than one time frame and/or geographical focus if the study so justifies. Comparative histories, for instance, show how past production practices can inform the present cultural economy of food in a place, while future projections can consider food systems capable of emerging from present practices. Likewise, comparative cases focusing on local, national, or cultural geographies and their respective socio-political systems may offer instructive similarities or differences in response to shared environmental trajectories. We encourage theoretical and empirical approaches from the environmental humanities that address materiality, class, gender, de/coloniality, and the nonhuman, but ask that all contributions address both food production and consumption to one extent or another as justified by the cases under discussion.

 Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • urban farming
  • factory farming
  • fisheries
  • resource depletion
  • meat production and consumption
  • animal domestication
  • cruelty to animals
  • species extinction
  • food security
  • informal / community gardening
  • indigenous foodways
  • veganism/plant-based diets
  • permaculture
  • agroforestry / foraging
  • experimental / future food
  • water use
  • agricultural labor
  • activism and advocacy
  • diet and nutrition
  • food and public health
  • environmental impacts of food production and consumption
  • climate change and/or biodiversity implications of food systems

The editors of the Food Cultures & Critical Sustainability special issue weclome contributions in connection with the conference “Food Futures: Humanities and Social Science Responses” organized by the Humanities for the Environment Asia-Pacific Observatory (Taiwan) in November 2020 (, though participation in the conference is not a requirement for submission to this special issue.

Author information:

The editors of the special issue are seeking submissions that are 5,000-8,000 words in length, including bibliography and references.

Submission deadline for final papers is 15 December 2020.

This call extends the original call for papers that went out in 2019.

Proposals and papers originally considered as part of the earlier call may be resubmitted, if authors have extended or improved upon them in response to earlier review.

Papers already accepted from the previous call require no further action from their authors.

About the journal

Author’s guidelines can be found at