Food Safety in Vietnam's changing Urban Foodscape: Food Access and Inequalities in Ho Chi Minh City

Food Safety in Vietnam's changing Urban Foodscape: Food Access and Inequalities in Ho Chi Minh City
Positioned at the interface between critical development studies and food studies, this thesis explores the topic of food safety in contemporary Vietnam from the perspective of urban residents. Amid the rapid socio-economic transformations since the country’s integration into the global capitalist economy in recent decades, food safety has become a prominent public- health concern. In Vietnam, public concern over food safety entails issues as diverse as deficient hygiene of street food, pesticide residues in vegetables, growth hormones in meat, and counterfeit products. Concerns over the effects of unsafe food range from food poisoning to long-term consequences such as cancer caused by chemical residues. This thesis contextualises the ubiquity of food safety concerns in public debate and people’s everyday lives in the complex interplay of changing food production and provisioning, neoliberal consumer discourse, and governmental ‘modernisation’ policies.
Based on ethnographic research conducted in Ho Chi Minh City between 2015 and 2017, this thesis examines the perspectives of diverse groups of urbanites on food safety issues. On the one hand, this thesis looks at people’s strategies of negotiating food safety concerns in the course of everyday contact with food. On the other hand, this dissertation also considers structural limitations to the consumption of safer food. The research sheds new light on mechanisms of access to and exclusion from safe food by contextualising people’s varying room for manoeuvre in responding to food safety anxieties within the growing socio-economic disparities surfacing in the rapidly changing market economy. The concept of ‘foodscapes’ is used to frame the discursive, structural, and material aspects of food and its safety from various perspectives. Combined with conceptualisations of the ‘politics of place’ and the ’politics of space’, it makes visible the relevance of ‘place’ and social proximity in negotiating what is considered ‘safe’ food; access to (increasingly privatised) ‘space’ within HCMC’s foodscape; and underlying power structures. Overall, this dissertation addresses larger development issues around the unequal effects of ‘modernisation’ and global market integration on different groups of people by way of food.


Nora Katharina Faltmann

Defended in

1 Jan 2022 – 30 Nov 2022

PhD defended at

University of Vienna, Department of Development Studies


Social Sciences




Urban / Rural