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From Icon to Iconoclast? The Solidarity Economy and NYC Pizza Supply Chain Transformation

Name: 

Alexandra Sullivan

Department:

Earth and Environmental Sciences

Project Title:

From Icon to Iconoclast? The Solidarity Economy and NYC Pizza Supply Chain Transformation

I educate, conduct research, and do service work at the intersection of food, environment, and society. I’ve developed curriculum for and taught multiple age groups about agroecology, nutrition, culinary skills, supply chains, foodways, and food justice and democracy. I’ve also conducted both natural and social science research and organized events in these areas. Furthermore, I’ve also had varied experiences in hospitality, from cashiering to coat-checking to bartending to managing a small business. I’m looking forward to continuing and expanding my dynamic and holistic work.

Project

My dissertation evaluates the supply chains of three New York City “alternative” pizzas (farm-to-table, vegan, and worker rights-oriented) for the robustness of their challenge to the conventional models of pizza production through the use of a solidarity economy framework. As an iconic product of conventional food systems, mass consumption, convenience, and American (especially New York City) food culture, pizza is a useful object for imagining high-impact, wide-ranging food systems transformations. The project involves creating metrics based on four relevant solidarity economy principles (cooperation, ecological health, social justice and well being); using these metrics in surveys of representatives of each supply chain step (production, processing, distribution, sale, consumption, and waste disposal) for the three main pizza ingredients (flour, tomato sauce, and cheese); incorporating industry, cultural, and policy research; and then comparing alternative, conventional and ideal NYC pizza supply chains.

Could alternative versions of iconic convenience foods be robust enough transform the conventional food systems behind these foods? My dissertation looks to answer this question by applying a solidarity economy framework to New York City “alternative” (e.g. organic, farm-to-table, worker-oriented, vegan) pizza supply chains. As a popular convenience food consumed by demographically diverse populations and embedded in industrial food systems, pizza is a useful object for imagining wide-ranging food systems transformations. Since solidarity economies across the world have successfully interconnected, collectively empowered, and scaled up organizations with disparate goals, I postulate that searching alternative food supply chains for solidarity economy values is an appropriate framework for determining the their ability to contend with conventional ones.

My work this summer involved conducting surveys, organizing past data, and beginning to consult secondary sources. After receiving IRB approval in late June, I solicited survey participation from NYC pizzerias that met my selection criteria. The pizzerias are the starting point for creating nine supply chain narratives (for wheat flour, tomatoes, and cheese for each of three pizzerias) with as much detail as possible regarding selected solidarity economy values (cooperation, ecological health, social justice, and well being). The other points in the supply chains are waste managers, distributors, importers, processors, and finally farms and seed companies. Using secondary sources, I will also be creating supply chain narratives for two or three types of conventional NYC pizzas to use as references for comparison.

It took a few tries to find owners/managers of three alternative pizzerias who were willing to participate, but eventually I found some who were genuinely interested in the project. They spent 45 minutes to an hour with me answering my survey questions and led me to/connected me with their distributors, importers, and waste managers. I’ve surveyed several representatives of these companies, and I’m about 25% done with the total surveys I need for my case study narratives. Thus far, I’ve been pleased by the enthusiasm and magnanimity of my participants. They gave very thorough answers, offered future assistance, and many of them refused participation compensation (a $20 restaurant giftcard)! I’ve also noticed strong local networks amongst NYC independent pizzeria owners/managers and between pizzerias and their ingredient distributors and importers (located in the New York metropolitan area). There seems to be an exchange of knowledge (i.e. cooking techniques) and resources (i.e. equipment, furniture, decor) amongst pizzerias, and a lot of personalized attention given to these pizzerias by their distributors and importers.

In between conducting surveys, I’ve been organizing and coding some ethnographic observations I’ve done in the past few years at pizzerias across the U.S. (mostly in NYC) and collecting secondary source data for my supply chain narratives (e.g. marketing materials, industry publications, academic research). After I complete the surveys and conduct some cultural and policy research, I’ll be able to build and map my narratives and analyze all my data. In my dissertation, I’ll describe the American and NYC “pizzascape”, compare all the supply chain narratives to each other and solidarity economy-based ideal ones. I’ll then explore how business practices, consumer desires and trends, NYC and American pizza culture, and municipal and federal policies affect the degree to which alternative pizza supply chains might be embedded in the solidarity economy. Then I’ll discuss how these supply chains could be altered to be more aligned with solidarity economy principles and potentially transform pizza in general.

About the author: Stefano Morello

Stefano Morello is a doctoral candidate in English with a certificate in American Studies at The Graduate Center, CUNY and a Teaching Fellow at Queens College, CUNY. His academic interests include American Studies, pop culture, poetics, and digital humanities. His dissertation, “Let’s Make a Scene! East Bay Punk and Subcultural Worlding,” explores the heterotopic space of the East Bay punk scene, its modes of resistance and (dis-)association, and the clashes between its politics and aesthetics. He serves as co-chair of the Graduate Forum of the Italian Association for American Studies (AISNA) and is a founding editor of its journal, JAm It! (Journal of American Studies in Italy). As a digital humanist, Stefano focuses on archival practices with a knack for archival pedagogy and public-facing initiatives. He created the East Bay Punk Digital Archive, an open access archive of East Bay punk-zines, and worked as a curator and consultant for Lawrence Livermore’s archive at Cornell University. He was a Wellcome Trust Transdisciplinary Fellow in 2019-2020.