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Building Nature's Market: The Business and Politics of Natural Foods

Building Nature's Market: The Business and Politics of Natural Foods

Previous price: $38.00 Current price: $35.00
Publication Date: November 20th, 2017
University of Chicago Press
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For the first 150 years of their existence, “natural foods” were consumed primarily by body builders, hippies, religious sects, and believers in nature cure. And those consumers were dismissed by the medical establishment and food producers as kooks, faddists, and dangerous quacks. In the 1980s, broader support for natural foods took hold and the past fifteen years have seen an explosion—everything from healthy-eating superstores to mainstream institutions like hospitals, schools, and workplace cafeterias advertising their fresh-from-the-garden ingredients.

Building Nature’s Market shows how the meaning of natural foods was transformed as they changed from a culturally marginal, religiously inspired set of ideas and practices valorizing asceticism to a bohemian lifestyle to a mainstream consumer choice. Laura J. Miller argues that the key to understanding this transformation is to recognize the leadership of the natural foods industry. Rather than a simple tale of cooptation by market forces, Miller contends the participation of business interests encouraged the natural foods movement to be guided by a radical skepticism of established cultural authority. She challenges assumptions that private enterprise is always aligned with social elites, instead arguing that profit-minded entities can make common cause with and even lead citizens in advocating for broad-based social and cultural change.

About the Author

Laura J. Miller is associate professor of sociology at Brandeis University. She is the author of Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Praise for Building Nature's Market: The Business and Politics of Natural Foods

“Despite all of the contradictions and disputes with which proponents of natural food movements must grapple as players in the market, Laura Miller believes that their ethical impetus absolutely can pay off in the long term. With its historical depth, her book fruitfully contributes to an evaluation of contemporary social movements that, through an impact on individual choices, seek to effect social change.”
— Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

“An engaging account of the natural food movement from its origins in the 19th century to the present. Laura Miller challenges the dominant narrative about the corporate cooptation of the contemporary food movement using historical data to argue instead that private profit-seeking interests have long played a vital role in advancing the cause. . . . Miller crafts a good case. The book is very well researched, drawing on
original archival sources as well as interviews with movement and industry actors.”
— American Journal of Sociology

“Highly recommended.”
— Choice

“An important contribution to the literature on food movements and food consumption and packaging, detailing the tensions that emerged at various critical junctures in the US marketplace. . . .The strength of Miller’s contribution rests on her focus on the intricacies and ironies of a movement that challenged the prevailing cultural orthodoxy that industrialization and technology were instruments of “progress,” but also relied on technological innovations and capitalist markets to grow and sustain their movements.”
— Consumption Markets & Culture

“This rigorously researched book is dense with data presentation that is highly informative and detailed. . .Miller shows the natural foods movement, though celebrated today, was long considered the territory of religious fanatics, crackpot nutritionists, and (gasp!) long-haired hippies. . .She poses a question that channels the sentiment expressed by the Talking Heads, asking, “Well how did [the natural foods movement] get here?”.”
— Mobilization

“In a superb follow-up to her brilliant book on bookselling, Miller has produced a fascinating account of how natural foods were transformed from a marginal and idiosyncratic consumer segment into the cutting edge of consumer culture. By beginning with the industry’s early history, Miller is able to show continuities in culture and values, as well as illuminate longstanding tensions between commercial interests and movement crusaders. A major contribution to the fields of culture and consumption, this book is also essential reading for scholars interested in food studies, social movements, and economic sociology.”
— Juliet Schor, author of Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth

“Many contemporary grocery stores carry a wide range of delicious natural foods, but the remarkable history of these foods is largely undocumented. Miller’s carefully researched history of natural foods in the United States changes that. This book offers readers an eye-opening look into the intimate connections between food ideals and market forces. We learn that the natural food movement has a long-standing relationship with capitalism, but Miller disabuses us of the notion that this relationship is simple, straightforward, or entirely negative. This is an impressive scholarly contribution, and an outstanding example of research connecting private lifestyles to public issues.”
— Josée Johnston, coauthor of Foodies and Food and Femininity

“Miller masterfully documents the curious history of the natural foods movement in the United States, showing how its advocates have shifted strategically from ‘doing without’ to ‘doing good,’ and from ‘looking good’ to ‘eating well,’ while challenging the authority of experts, corporations, and the state. She creates a complicated picture in which the marketplace legitimizes a marginal culture, and consumers seek both virtue and pleasure.”
— Sharon Zukin, author of Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places

“If you think that markets and movements don’t mix, think again. In Miller’s entertaining and authoritative account of natural foods, we see business sustaining long-term dissent. Building Nature’s Market is a must-read for social movement scholars, as well as anyone concerned with economic culture.”
— Lyn Spillman