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Have Your City and Eat It Too: Los Angeles and the Urban Food Renaissance


Time and time again, the residents of Los Angeles have used the promises of the “garden city” and urban agriculture to imagine a way out of the persistent problems of urban life. In the contemporary moment, alternative food system activists are again working to create a cultural movement committed to “slow,” local and small-scale community-based urban food systems – which, paradoxically, they are organizing through sophisticated digital tools and global social media. This study argues that, beyond debates over urban diets, food is a lens through which post-industrial imaginaries of an egalitarian digital society are fused with pre-industrial imaginaries of utopian, agrarian communities. The consequence of these entangled visions is a unique set of practices that attempt to inject a sense of radical possibility into an urban geography that is itself the result of decades of struggle over land use, livelihoods, and urban culture. Drawing on a combination of archival research, ethnography, interviews and a survey, this dissertation examines how planners, boosters, government officials, and ordinary citizens have sought to wield food and agriculture in the city as a force to ameliorate the economic, social and ecological alienation that can dominate urban life. This study shows that the political, class and racial underpinnings of urban food movements are far more complex and contingent than normally understood, and the case of Los Angeles reveals both deeply conservative, reactionary moments and unprecedented coalitions emerging to make claims on the right to self determination, health and progressive social change in the city.

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