Working Out the Alternatives: Crisis Theory, Political Praxis and the Right to Food in West Virginia

Authors: Heidi Gum*, West Virginia University, Bradley Wilson, West Virginia University, Joshua Lohnes, West Virginia University, Thomson Gross, West Virginia University, Tyler Cannon, West Virginia University , Amanda Marple, West Virginia University, Alanna Higgins, West Virginia University
Topics: Planning Geography, Economic Geography, Development
Keywords: Food access, Food desert, Food Insecurity, Social Justice, Appalachia, Collaborative action
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom D, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Over the past two decades Central Appalachia has experienced a painfully devastating economic crisis. Divestment in coal and manufacturing have resulted in widespread unemployment, massive state revenue losses, and cascading effects on social services and community life. In the face of dead end capitalism, food access in the region has become both a concern (food insecurity, public health) and a new economic prescription (agriculture, food systems development). Addressing the problem of food deserts and promoting regional food systems has implicated strange bedfellows from state officials to farmers, charitable agencies to healthy food advocates and market actors to self-provisioners in unique ways. In this paper we describe the initial results of an action research program designed to study and transform dominant conceptualization of the contemporary food crisis in West Virginia. We offer a critical reflection on the development, implementation and outcomes of a series of 6 “healthy food access workshops” with a total of 200+ participants from 2016-2018. Our workshop’s explicit focus on challenging expertise, income-inequality, social justice and the role of the state in structuring foodways in West Virginia also engendered promising conversations about “the right to food” that have unlocked the potential for new forms of collective action. The concept of the right to food is not a panacea but that reckoning with a praxis-based approach to research that asks informants to wrestle with "crisis theory" yields new understandings of the limits of alternative food strategies and the political possibilities of engaging creatively with dominant food and economic systems.

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