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Origin food schemes and the paradox of reducing diversity to defend it

Mariagiulia Mariani, Claire Cerdan & Iuri Peri (2021)

Sociologia Ruralis, 61(2), pp. 465-490.

Abstract. Origin food schemes (OFS) aim to protect and promote a unique product resulting from a specific place and know-how whose qualities are objectified in the product specifications. This paper explores the standardisation effects of OFS on the diversity of local practices and knowledge by analysing the emergence of the specifications of four origin cheeses recognised as Geographical Indications and Slow Food Presidia (Chefchaouen goat cheese in Morocco, Piacentinu Ennese in Italy, and Béarn mountain cheese and Ossau-Iraty in France). Results confirm that specifications directly preserve some genetic resources, taste, and know-how, whilst they also show that traditional production practices are taken into account differently, depending on negotiations among stakeholders during which opposing motives, strategies, and forms of knowledge may emerge. We argue that paradoxically this process results in adapting and reducing existing diversity, including in OFS that are more oriented towards localising practices and promoting a diversity of tastes.

Extract: “Thus, producers define voluntary and proactive standards to demonstrate in what way their foods differ from and are superior to conventional commodities (Brunori 2006; Guthman 2007; Holloway et al. 2007). Specifications objectify, measure, and communicate those differentiated quality attributes to consumers (Busch 2000; Vuylsteke et al. 2005; Bowen and De Master 2011) within a ‘quality convention’ (Boltanski and Thevenot 2006). In this way, the quality attributes are stabilised and reproduced over time. To obtain a premium price, these differences are ‘acknowledged, highlighted and marketed’ (Ilbery et al. 2005, p. 118)” (p. 467)

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