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Geography Compass

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Political ecology, Agriculture -- Social aspects, Food industry and trade -- Socioecological aspects, Agriculture -- Industrial relations


The variegated landscape of food production and consumption reveals a great deal about socionatural relations and processes of urbanization and globalization under capitalism. Food production has changed dramatically over time, shifting away (but never fully divorced) from the rural agrarian landscape to spaces that are characterized as industrial and/or urban. Workers transform nature at each stage in the food production process, not only on farms but also in processing plants, grocery stores, restaurants, and other spaces. This paper draws on urban political ecology (UPE) to position labor as central to understanding the socioecological relations embodied in food systems. It puts UPE in conversation with agrarian political economy, a decidedly un‐urban body of literature that nevertheless offers critical insight into the obstacles (and opportunities) that nature and labor pose to food systems development in an urbanizing world. Employing UPE's dialectic conception of humans and nature, this paper highlights the role that non‐agricultural and urban‐based food labor plays in an increasingly complex global political economy of agrifood. Seeing both the “labor” and “nature” of food from the farm all the way to the table can reveal the myriad transformations, exchanges, and socioecological relations operating within the food system.


This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Coplen, A. K. (2018). The labor between farm and table: Cultivating an urban political ecology of agrifood for the 21st century. Geography Compass, 12(5), e12370., which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving [link to].



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