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How Can Cheese Be Made Sustainable? An Actor-Network Analysis

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posted on 09.08.2018, 15:02 authored by Hannah Brooking
The notions of eco-localism and sustainable intensification have emerged as approaches for sustainable food and sustainable agriculture in the sustainability literature. With regard to these two notions, a lot of the focus in the literature has been on the farm or the dairy but this study seeks to explore their applicability to the study of the production, distribution and consumption of cheese, moving beyond the farm gate. This study examines the discourses of sustainability within three different cheese actor-networks including the degree to which various discourses of sustainability are embedded in the actual practices and products produced. This interdisciplinary study also investigates the sustainability issues and potential solutions for achieving sustainability as well as providing a system development system that has a potential for making actor-network theory (ANT) more practical. Cheese is thought to be notoriously unsustainable, as on average 10 litres of milk is needed to make just 1kg of hard cheese and there are concerns over the amounts of methane and other greenhouse gas emissions as well as environmental waste across the network. Cheese is important for sustaining rural livelihoods and important for employment, especially in the context of concerns over milk prices, falling farm incomes and reductions in dairy farming. Many dairy farmers are therefore looking to diversify and add value to their milk production, by turning to cheesemaking. The Specialist Cheesemakers Association (SCA) has recorded an increase in both enquiries from dairy farmers and new members joining (Specialist Cheese makers Association, 2015). This study explores the adoption of two approaches that can combine as a set method to explore sustainability. These two approaches are Actor Network Theory (ANT) and the computer science system development methodology, i*. ANT is used in combination with i* to develop a methodological framework. This research applies this framework to eco-localist and sustainably intensified cheese networks from production to consumption, from farm-to-fork. A collection of semi-structured interviews, questionnaires and ethnographic observations were used to assemble information on sustainability challenges within milk production, cheesemaking, distribution and sales. This research produced a sustainability framework and determined that ‘sustainable cheese’ is not a fictitious agri-food but it is hard to achieve ‘sustainability’ as there is no finite end. The study also identified sustainability problems for eco-localist and sustainably intensive cheese actor-networks and explored potential ways to demonstrably improve the sustainability of cheese.



Phillips, Martin; Chitchyan, Ruzanna

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Department of Informatics

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University of Leicester

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