Beanstalks and trust in Chinese and Brazilian food systems

Abstract / Resumen / Resumo

The growth of Chinese cities to an expected 860 million people has generated unprecedented demand for Latin American agriculture products, but the intensification of industrial farming has provoked shortages of safe and healthy food in both regions. For Brazil, the deficiencies result from the loss of rural livelihoods to export-oriented soy and cattle farming, resulting rural-urban migration, and the consequent destruction of peri-urban family farms as cities grow. For China, agricultural industrialization has involved greater reliance on chemical inputs and contamination with pollutants, provoking widespread public distrust in the safety of food. Through case studies from Beijing and Rio de Janeiro, the article examines efforts to address these concerns through localized urban food programs that build trust between producers, consumers, and governments. I call the protagonists behind these initiatives beanstalks, arguing that they represent a new variety of globally networked intermediary. Like the fabled beanstalk climbed by Jack, they link local realities to a wider universe of promise and peril.