Discounts as a barrier to change in our food systems

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Despite the wealth of discussion and ideas on how food systems might change, and all the plans and schemes created to provide solutions to unsustainable food systems, very few researchers have examined the accounting practices that define socio-economic relationships around food. In this paper, I show that the imperative for each entity in food supply networks to obtain a discount on costs involved in food supply in order to survive on very thin margins, inhibits large scale change. The approach here is introductory, providing an explanation of the accounting issues involved for a non-accounting audience, and an illustrative case study is used to show the embeddedness of always ‘getting a discount’. The case study is drawn from interview data with those involved in intermediary companies and in alternative food distribution in Canada and the USA. The difficulties faced by organisations distributing food on a more local level and the lack of lasting and widespread change despite their endeavours, is shown to linked to the inevitability that they too need to ‘get discounts’ to survive. This interdisciplinary study is important in order to provide context for sociological thinkers and activists seeking to understand the barriers to change in food behaviours and food strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalSociological Research Online
Early online date24 Mar 2023
Publication statusEarly online - 24 Mar 2023


  • accounting
  • embedded practices
  • food systems

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