Striving for Sacred: Negotiating the Tensions of Sustainable Agriculture

Katrina Quisumbing King*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay is an account of how young people, deeply committed to sustainability, struggle to live according to their beliefs. In light of a growing population, limited arable land, and possible food shortages, an organization known as Students for Sustainable Agriculture (SSA) responds to the threat of industrial agriculture. These students strive to do what is good for the earth, good for their bodies, and good for their community. They do so by revering food and creating a set of practices that distinguish them as believers in sustainable agriculture. Still, practical difficulties of everyday life make it difficult for them to live by the rules they create. As students living in a wealthy country, contending with environmental degradation, SSA’ers attempt to negotiate their moral commitments with what they can effectually realize. To align their practices with their articulated morals, SSA’ers make alternative consumption choices. Like others who struggle to live according to a set of principles that run counter to what is easy and convenient, these students strive to live true to their beliefs. They try to avoid losses in moral strength, and they repent for situations in which their actions contradict the rules that govern their moral world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)396-418
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Contemporary Ethnography
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • everyday
  • identity
  • moral world
  • social change
  • sustainable agriculture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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