Another foodwork symposium to follow up on our Sussex Foodwork event but this one is focused on sustainability and hosted by Maud Perrier at Bristol Uni. Please tweet and do other social media things. Divya Sharma from SPRU at Sussex will be speaking about Farm work, care and activism: The shifting gendered moral economies of agroecological transformation in Northern India and Elaine Swan will be speaking about her new project on Tower Hamlets and the Women’s Environmental Network and Bangladeshi women. More details below and register at eventbrite
Food sustainability discourses, spaces and movements often have exclusionary effects and reproduce classed, gendered and racialized hierarchies, bodies and markets (Slocum, 2008; Paddock, 2016; Pilgeram, 2012; Guthman, 2008). Moreover, calls for a return to more time and labor intensive food practices add to women’s already overburdened workload in food production, procurement and preparation providing an unsatisfactory solution to reforming industrial food systems (Kimura 2011; Johnston, Szabo and Rodney 2011). At the same time, women of colour are at the forefront of attempts to change food systems and consumption practices individually and collectively and to establish environmentally sustainable and socially just food cultures (Swan et al., 2018; Brady et al., 2012). Critical race and feminist food scholars have emphasized the gendered and racialized social relations which reproduce the unequal division of labour in the home and the invisibilization and devaluation of feminized, racialized and classed food work but these insights have yet to be fully connected with the scholarship on the challenge of food sustainability.
During this one day workshop, we explore how foregrounding the gendered, classed and racialized dimensions of foodwork provide an important perspective to consider ongoing debates across academic, public and policymaking about ways of increasing sustainable food production and improving food justice. The concept of Foodworkchallenges binaries of productive and reproductive work, and the formal and informal economy and speaks to pressing political themes of work, embodiment, class, race, emotional labour, and debates on the sensory, political, material and discursive (Swan and Flowers 2017; Sayers 2010), and captures the multiple labours across sites of production, planning, budgeting, procurement, preparation, cooking, consumption, digestion, cleaning up and waste (Sobal, 2017; Brady et al., 2012; Flowers and Swan, 2018).
What are the unequal divisions of labour shaping sustainable food discourses, practices and spaces? How do feminist, postcolonial and critical race perspectives disrupt the whiteness and middle-classness of (some) food sustainability movements and practices? What are the gendered, classed and racialized labours involved to transform food cultures and systems (Sachs at al., 2014; Kimura, 2011; Johnston, Szabo and Rodney, 2011)? What are the hierarchies between different types of sustainable foodwork? We wish to explore how sustainable foodwork occurs across the sites of unpaid labour in the domestic sphere, the food industry, agriculture, the health sector, the digital sphere, popular culture, schools, food social entrepreneurship and food activism amongst others.
Dr Elaine Swan, University of Sussex
Dr Jessica Paddock and Dr Egle Cesnulyte, University of Bristol
Beth Benker, University of the West of England
Dr Esther Muddiman, Cardiff University
Dr Divya Sharma, University of Sussex
Dr Naomi Milner, University of Bristol
Sustainable Orientations: Race, Gender and Food Partnerships Elaine Swan, University of Sussex
In this paper, I draw on ethnographic research of a food partnership based in Tower Hamlets, London, ‘hosted’ by the Women’s Environment network (WEN), a 30 year old UK national, feminist, environmental not-for-profit organisation which seeks to inform women about global environmental issues, especially connected to food production, consumption and waste. Food partnerships are place based, cross-sectoral, multi-level networks delivering food interventions according to the Sustainable Food Cities framework (Moragues-Faus and Marceau, 2019). In particular, I explore how gendered and racialised food and sustainability knowledges might be considered ‘vernacular designs’, ‘localised solutions emerging from the creative remixing of existing objects, traditions and ways of making’ (Vanni, 2018). As a feminist organisation, WEN has been interested in food knowledge production and sharing along feminist lines, and at a local level, ‘transnational experienced based knowing’ of say Bangladeshi and Caribbean gardening has ‘produced communally situated knowledge in East London’ (Vehviläinen, 2017). But to date, such feminist, gendered, racialised and transnational food knowledges are marginalised and obscured in food partnership policy making and food strategies. As Krishnendu Ray (2016) has written, social scientists assume that taste, dreams, beauty and aesthetics are marginal to minoritised migrants because their lives are seen to be structured simply by poverty and suffering. Accordingly, in this paper, I explore how British African Caribbean and Bangladeshi women’s skills and expertise in food growing, sustainability and food health have been routinely neglected through what Sara Ahmed (2006) calls ‘an orientation’, which puts ‘white’ objects closer, excluding others.
Informality and diversification: Living with and responding to food insecurity across the Turks and Caicos Islands. Jessica Paddock and Egle Cesnulyte, University of Bristol
Increasing food insecurity in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) – a British overseas territory south of the Bahamas – is chiefly linked to environmental and political economic change. On the one hand, the TCI are experiencing climate change-related environmental degradation (soil erosion, loss of fisheries); on the other hand, TCI’s dependence upon food imports (90%) means that formal structures of accessing food are defined by the corporate (mainly US) food regime, and the little food produced by the national food industries (fish and seafood) is largely re-directed to the growing industry in tourism. In a country with multiple geographical barriers (the TCI is composed of 40 different islands and cays), social inequalities (Gini index is stable at 65 for the past few decades) and large undocumented migrant population, this means that formal channels to access food are too expensive for many, while subsistence agriculture is increasingly disappearing not only due to the environmental change, but also due to land appropriation for real estate. This leaves large segments of society dependent upon covert, informal trade with fishermen coming from the Dominican Republic and Haiti for nutritious and appropriate foods. We suggest that further examination of informality in the trade of food commodities as well as increased diversification of trade relations with the wider Caribbean – an example of islanders’ resistance and resilience to global environmental, economic and political shocks – is important for understanding the potential to develop fair and sustainable future foodways. In this presentation, we reflect upon our first pilot research field-trip in relation to ongoing debates across academic, public and policymaking about ways of increasing sustainable food relations of production and improving food justice.
A Case Study of Distancing and Financialisation through Middle-Classed Routine Food Choices in Bristol, UK. Beth Benker, UWE.
My presentation would focus on a case study of distancing among middle-classed individuals living and working in Bristol, U.K., and is orientated towards solutions – namely understanding how far the ideal of agrarian urbanism (Parham, 2015) is from those outside environmental interest groups. Interviews are analysed through Bourdieusian (Bourdieu,1984) frameworks. Based on 20 interviews, with equal gender split, the research focuses on the routine/daily habits of single and cohabiting households of food preparation, procurement and eating. Interviews found that food choices were primarily based on flavour preference, with environmental factors “losing” against competing interests; weight maintenance, convenience, animal welfare, human welfare and price. The majority of participants demonstrated a pseudo anti-capitalist narrative through which they brought up sustainability concerns, but these did not translate into routine choices, preferring instead to rely on convenient food choices. Further, convenience foods, understood in context of distancing and financialisation (Clapp, 2016), were utilised throughout the interviews and were occasionally avoided only for short periods to save money. Convenience foods were taken up/viewed through different gendered priorities; ease, weight/appearance maintenance and cost; men using them much more regularly to avoid preparation labour. This includes meal box schemes; in which basic food preparation is completed. Further, there were a hierarchy of food retailers prioritised for geographical convenience in all of the interviews; demonstrating how deeply convenience guides food choices. Convenience food was, for all participants, preferred over sustainable food choices and completing the associated labour. Women were much more likely to prepare their own and other’s food from scratch, meaning that men are much more likely to utilise unsustainable, distanced convenient foods. Put simply, these findings offer a snapshot of contemporary, urban, routine food priorities – when unhindered by financial hardship. These will be foundational in considering ways forward, particularly focusing on sustainability aims in urban environments.
Best intentions and breaking points: mothers and sustainable food work. Esther Muddiman WISERD, Cardiff University School of Social Sciences
The issue of food sustainability has become increasingly prominent on the public agenda, and in addition to macro-level changes, transitions at the level of everyday practices are vital. Domestic households are major consumers and how families choose what to buy and how to dispose of waste can have a huge environmental impact. Taking a relational and practice based approach, this paper draws on empirical research with twenty families to explore how the sustainability agenda permeates family food practices, and the ways in which these practices are classed and gendered.The relationship between families and food is one of the most socially significant, highly charged and politically contested issues in contemporary Britain (Jackson, 2009) and many argue that routine activities – such as cooking and eating together – are significant for the formation of family identity (Finch, 2007; Moisio et al. 2004). My data suggest that the contemporary environmental significance of food practices is seen as an extension of the feminine caring role. Parenthood magnified both mothers’ and fathers’ concerns about environmental sustainability. However, whilst fathers spoke positively about opportunities to engage with their children to discuss environmental issues around the dinner table, mothers described a significant tension between their ideals and the pressures experienced in their daily practices of meal planning, shopping, preparing food and catering for the tastes of different family members. Barriers to sustainable food practices were felt most keenly by working-class mothers. Indeed, whilst middle class parents focussed on the new and different ways to consume afforded by the sustainability agenda, and constructed environmentally-conscious selves around these practices, for the less affluent buying organic, Fairtrade or locally produced food often felt out of reach. Instead, working class parents were more likely to highlight practices that combine frugality and sustainability – including reducing their energy usage – rather than practices that incurred paying more to feed the family. The accounts of middle class parents also suggest that the adoption of sustainable food practices helped them to ‘offset’ or assuage a sense of guilt about other resource-intensive behaviours such as owning a car and taking family holidays abroad. I conclude by considering how spaces for sustainable food work can be expanded and shared more equally across the family.
Farm work, care and activism: The shifting gendered moral economies of agroecological transformation in Northern India. Divya Sharma, University of Sussex
It is now widely recognized that the so-called Green Revolution, an energy and water intensive agricultural intensification project unfolding since the 1960s, displaced and devalued women’s work in Northern India. As synthetic agrochemicals, tractors and combine harvesters entered the fields, labour of women particularly from landowning households, gradually became dispensable on monocultural farms. A profound shift in relations between work and care accompanied the reorganization of farming, including complex transformations such as nuclearization of households, ‘individuation’ of risk and precarity, reshaping notions of drudgery as well as autonomy and status. In this paper, I trace these shifts through oral history narratives of older women from landowning and landless households in the south-west cotton-belt of Punjab, a region that was the epicenter of the Green Revolution. Further, I examine how these memories intersect with the critique of industrial agriculture articulated by a grassroots movement for agroecological sustainability that has been active in this region since the early 2000s. Even as the primary focus of the movement is on ecological degradation and economic crises faced by farmers, the mobilization practices of women activists within the movement invoke and challenge old and new forms of gendered hierarchies entwined with rethinking farming and food practices.
Constructing a more-than-human commons through experimental food practices: Insights from the Somali Kitchen and Permaculture movement in El Salvador. Naomi Milner, University of Bristol
In this paper I revisit two collaborative food projects, grounded in very different geographical realities, but connected by common concerns – specifically, with the alienation of people from decision-making in terms of food availability and production. The first project emerged out of a process of community mapping and community researcher training within a Somali women’s project in Bristol, as part of the larger Productive Margins project, which focused on addressing regulation through experiences of marginalisation and poverty. The second recalls a collaboration with agroecology and permaculture collectives in El Salvador, which explored how colonial histories and memory were being renegotiated through innovative soil and seed practices. In both cases we follow experimental practices led by women that arose from collective dialogue over the limiting relationships of power and visibility that define dominant – especially ‘cheap’ — food production in their contexts. These practices open up exciting avenues for rethinking a ‘more-than-human commons’, or commoning as a basis to reorienting the design of food systems to relational, community, and ecological concerns. On the other hand, emphasis on lively materiality and practice can obscure the labour relations in play and paint an overly hospitable culture of reception to such novel approaches. In both contexts these collectives have formed out of anger and resistance to the structure of food provisions, as well as to cultural stigma and gender violence. Meanwhile, valorising the experiment can miss the precarity out of which such experiments arise. Many of the women involved in these projects juggle multiple jobs, are single parents, and have learned skills in social enterprise in conditions of austerity. Reflecting on these contradictions I highlight the importance of food – particular foods – as ‘boundary objects’ in given contexts. This leads me to offer insight into the taste, feeling, and fabric of food justice.