Actor-Network Theory, Artisan Food Processors, and Food Safety Inspectors

I completed my PhD in 2013 in the agrifood studies program of an interdisciplinary social sciences department at Michigan State University, the Department of Community Sustainability (formerly Community, Agriculture, Recreation, and Resource Studies). My dissertation research has concerned artisan food processing and food safety regulation in Michigan. Artisan production operations, for purposes of this research, are operations which involve handcrafting methods and in which the producer is closely involved at each step of the process.

This PhD was a mid-career move. The idea originated during the bright, frigid winters that I loved throughout the many years I lived in Duluth, Minnesota. Working with the Lake Superior Chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, I spent the growing season each year helping create and support direct market opportunities—farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, and other ways of promoting fresh local produce. Yet the growing season was just a few months long. In the off season, at some point between canning tomatoes and snowshoeing to the compost bin in my backyard, I began to wonder: Why aren’t there more commercial processing operations? Why hasn’t regional food processing seized people’s imagination the way fresh produce has? Eventually, after swearing for years that I would never do a PhD, these questions took shape as a dissertation topic.

My research is qualitative, using a theoretical approach drawn from science and technology studies, in particular from actor-network theory. I am interested in the interactions between producers and food safety inspectors during enforcement of regulations, and I am intrigued by the idea that policy is made in enforcement just as it is made in more formal policymaking processes. I hope that this research informs policies to encourage this segment of the agrifood sector in Michigan and the US.

This work has been supported by a University Distinguished Fellowship from Michigan State University, with grants from the National Science Foundation (Award # SES-1230878) and the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (Award # GNC10-134), and funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

I am now furthering this work in the capacity of Business Development Facilitator with the Organic Processing Institute in Middleton (Madison), Wisconsin.

“...I am intrigued by the idea that policy is ‘made’ in enforcement just as it is made in more formal policy-making processes.”