A “Lasting Transformation”: From food stocks to feedstocks’

O-brien, Martin Anthony (2013) A “Lasting Transformation”: From food stocks to feedstocks’. In: Waste Matters: New Perspectives on Food and Society. Sociological Review Monographs, 34 . Wiley, Hoboken, NJ, USA. ISBN 978-1-118-39431-1

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In this article I link surplus food with the politics of capitalist production and consumption in order to shed some useful light on the strange case of food not being food once it has been discarded but not thrown away. I develop an analysis of waste policy as a dimension of capitalist surplus management (after Sweezy, 1962) by reconfiguring Claus Offe’s (1984) essay on the state and social policy and construe waste policy as effecting a ‘lasting transformation’ of non-accumulating capital into accumulating capital. My intention is to provide a sketch of the labyrinthine semantic and political structures that are emerging around waste, in general, and waste food, in particular. I show that transforming waste food into capitalist surplus is a multi-layered and multi-stranded endeavour that is embedded in larger political, economic and cultural arrangements and cosmologies. The article explores the transformation of waste into surplus by exploring, first, waste as an imaginary construct; second, the strange case of discarded food not being discarded (and not being food, either); third, the convoluted cosmology of European waste policy; and, fourth, aspects of political sociology which help to reveal the status of waste as a source of capital accumulation. I conclude by proposing a sociological account of food waste that situates the critique of excess not in the ignorant, sordid voraciousness of individual citizens but in the structures and institutions of capitalist accumulation.

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