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Durham University

Research & business

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Publication details for Professor Peter Atkins

Bourdieu, J. Bruegel, M. & Atkins, P.J. (2007). ‘That elusive feature of food consumption’ historical perspectives on quality, a review and some proposals. Food & History 5(2): 247-267

Author(s) from Durham


Food quality is always acknowledged as a significant factor in everyday lives, and it often appears in some ad-hoc form or another in the study of economics. Its very fuzzyness may account for its ubiquity. Clarification becomes imperative, and this paper inventories shared features of past research to propose a common research agenda. Its premise is that “quality” requires definition, that definition is conventional and thus negotiated, and that institutions both publicize and enforce agreements on its contents. Qualification in all its guises (certification, geographic provenance, industry labels ...) and venues (state, private, third-party…) relies on an institutional frame that is all the more necessary as markets collapse when consumer confidence in foods disappears. That is why the arbitrage between public health and market efficiency emerges as a major issue when it comes to the definition of food quality.