Limiting the Anthropocene? ‘Alternative’ food production and living with the capitalist imperative

Jonathan Beacham


In this paper I offer a critique of the concept of the Anthropocene through an engagement with Marxian political geography and political ecology in the world of ‘alternative’ food production. Whilst the historical development of agriculture marks one of the main stepping stones towards entering our so called Anthropocentric age, we face at our current juncture various significant challenges around climate change and food security in being able to feed the global population. Differing ways of producing food - taking on this ‘alternative’ designation versus a hegemonic agro-industrial mainstream - have been argued to provide potential (if not full) solutions to these difficulties. However, maintaining this ‘alternative’ identity through a variety of organic, small scale, low input and ‘sustainable’ production methods is often challenged by the systemic logic of capitalism and it remains a liminal position. Reflecting upon a case study of alternative food production in Lancashire, England, I outline a number of strategies used by producers when faced with decisions that contradict their broad moral aims but are necessitated by the capitalist profit imperative. I suggest that these dilemmas provide a productive ‘way in’ to thinking through how material historical and economic forces are felt by lay actors on the ground. I argue that the concept of the Anthropocene has so far failed to stimulate humanity in reconsidering our place in the world, which in itself serves to disrupt and limit the analytical space available for understanding the powerful material forces at work in the process of creating what Jason Moore calls capitalism as a ‘world-ecology’. I finish by suggesting that a Marxian perspective continues to provide a more successful standpoint by which to understand the issues we face and how we might move beyond a state of endemic global economic, environmental and ecological crises.

Anthropocene - political ecology - food - capitalism - alternatives