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  • Food Systems:(Im)practical Interactions
  • Alfonso Morales

virgilee's smile brightens the gloaming, some sunlight penetrates the low-lying clouds, but a persistent mist hides merchants from one another. She sweeps her arm around this eerie scene and conjures up the attraction of the Market.

So many people learned about business here, their kids are now in business all over the City. You're free here; everybody is doing their own thing at their own pace. Folks working here want to be successful. At work you go by the other guys' rules, you're free here for a few hours, like being out in the woods, you can come in the middle of the week and it's private here and people don't notice you, it's therapeutic like being in an oasis. You meet so many people it really is the melting pot. For one day you are all equal, during the week most people are blue collar but here they are pampered, one day a week these working-class people are catered to and relax and take care of business, look at the way they stroll.

(personal communication, 15 December 1990)

The same description can be had of marketplaces historically, and around the world. Are such places as transitory as the mist that soon melts away? Consider the description of the very same place some ninety years ago now, by Chicago School sociologist Louis Wirth:

In spite of its prosperity, the Rialto of the ghetto—Maxwell Street—is fast passing away. As the immigrants get into closer touch with the outside world, they see that after all the ghetto offers but limited opportunities for success. They establish themselves in stores and offices in other parts of the city and become large-scale merchants, real estate dealers. . . . A few immigrants still drift to the push-carts, but generally only for a short time, until they have accumulated sufficient wealth to move elsewhere.

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He based this sensible observation on shaky assumptions about the future: immigration would diminish, vendors would be mostly men, the "ghetto" would disappear, and income opportunities would be broadly available and sufficient to accumulate wealth. I offer this incomplete interpretation not to disparage a brilliant scientist who was familiar with opportunities in bureaucratically organized businesses that would dominate income-earning activities; indeed, many later theorists of economic development shared his prediction. Instead, my purpose here is to show how pragmatism has served me in theorizing about these situations, to demonstrate how it has aided in reconstructing perceptions of these people and their activities, and to show how it informs my applied research with market managers in helping them reconceive their behavior and activities.

Generally speaking, the problem is of two parts that in summary are put in terms of two "Little Philosophical Verses" (Henson 695):

Try James' brisk and bracing brew!Pragmatism's good for you.It bucks you up, it sees you through(And that's exactly why it's true.)

Compared to:

Hempel and Feigl, Feigl and NagelPhilosophize according to Regel:Tho' substantive metaphysics inveigle,It is their constant care to bear in mind that the logicalanalysis of the language of science bakes no bagel.

Indeed, our particular problem is in the reasons for and processes associated with the "baking" and how those "see you through."1 A positivist, that is, an impractical course of investigation into the food system will bake no bagel—that is to say, though logical, the framework it privileges is fiction over the fact of the empirical matter because, conceptually, it will rely solely on the scholars' logical edifice and consign the inconvenient to an error term or a misplaced understanding of the practice and those studied; and methodologically, it will fail at what pragmatist chefs privilege—which is close observation of an established idea in practice, the interactions and processes of that practice, and how the purposes have served change and produce variation in idea and practice.

I learned from a variety of authors how social scientists "bake" and the consequences of different recipes, and my experience in basic and applied science has reinforced my choice of pragmatism. In short, social scientists...


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