Monday, December 19, 2011

Oh, hi

So.  I was going to do a PhD.  Then I wasn't.  Now I am.  It's a long and complicated story which I won't go in to, but as a result of this journey I had to completely detach from the idea of doing a PhD... and from any motivations that I might have had based on ego.  If you grow up in a family like mine - with three previous generations of PhDs, with a mother, grand-parents and great grand parents who are/were academics, it gets kind of entrenched.  It's like this is what you're supposed to do to be a satisfactory individual, and if you don't, well... maybe you just should.  Here's a picture of the lotus temple at the last KiwiBurn.

Anyway.  So it would sound pretty cool to say "I have a PhD", but it's not really a good reason to spend three/four years of my life pouring my energy into research through an institution which I don't really believe in, which is probably out-dated, now that the internet exists.  I don't believe in gate-keeping knowledge, I believe it should be free.  I don't want to be an academic or spend my life institutionalised (although it has been most of the time so far).  Here's a blurry photo of the temple burning:

The only reason I'm wanting to do this research now is because I love my topic and I found out the other day that my scholarship has been extended, and I now have two awesome supervisors, so all I need to do is get enrolled.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thought for food

I'm currently in the process of applying to enroll in a PhD, a much more difficult task than I imagined as it seems I'm expected to know, more or less, what I'll be doing for the next 3 - 4 years.  The more I think and learn about 'free food' the bigger the topic gets and I don't really want to limit it - because it's all so interesting!

I'm not sure if anything is actually free... there is always energy going into producing food, and often energy exchanged for it.  Sometimes that energy is in the form of formal currency, sometimes it is in other forms such as labor or other goods.  I don't know if food that is given away with nothing expected in return is actually the main kaupapa for what I want to research, but I do want to focus of food that's outside the corporate food industry.

This is the outline I have come up with so far:

Contemporary grass-roots initiatives focussed on the democratisation of nourishment or ‘free food’ have become increasingly more common in recent years in correlation with increases in food prices and growing awareness of social, cultural, evironmental and ethical problems with the global corporate food system (Hassanein, 2003; Germov & Williams, 2004; Scrinis, 2008).  The intention of this research is to analyse a collection of these initiatives in light of the understandings around the food systems in advanced capitalist countries of some of the people involved.    The concept of global food scarcity has long been held as a common lay belief, although, as early as the 1970s criticism emerged arguing that the myth of food scarcity has been perpetuated by the corporate food industry, which relies on it to sustain market value (Moore Lappé & Collins, 1977).  This system has been shown to be excessively wasteful, as over-produced food is discarded rather than flooding the market, as Colquhoun (2007) describes: “between 30 and 40 percent of the food produced in Britain is never eaten, and the amount thrown away has increased 15 percent in the last decade” (p.372).  Stuart (2009) estimates that in the United States around 50 percent of all food is wasted.  As Shantz (2005) states: “It is not surprising that within societies of mass consumerism, consumption practices would be key areas of struggle. Indeed the rise of mass consumerism has given rise not only to corresponding criticisms of consumerism, but to movements organizing to challenge regimes of mass consumption” (p.1). Along these lines freeganism[1], food foraging, guerrilla gardening and community gardens have sprung up and grown in recent years, creating their own informal economies as alternatives to participation in the corporate food industry.
While there has been considerable recent research into freegan activities such as dumpster diving, a practice and philosophy that has grown widely in recent years (Rush, 2006, Darrell, 2009, Shantz, 2005), many other activities, organisations and practices that could be classed as being situated within the wider 'free food movement' have yet to be explored.  These include food foraging networks, community gardening, land sharing programs, renegade or guerilla gardening, free stores and so on.  While some research had been undertaken into some of these (Shantz, 2005; Rush, 2006; Hassanein, 2003), others are yet to be explored from a sociological perspective or similar social science paradigm.  This research will fill in some of the gaps in the literature regarding these concepts as well as explore the connections between these different practices, particularly focusing on shared values and philosophical views.  This research can also be considered socially important due to the absolute necessity of food and the flaws in the current global food system which have led, on the one hand, to excessive food waste and simultaneous starvation and malnutrition (Stuart, 2009).  This imbalance is a serious social justice issue and this thesis intends to explore grass-roots and community-based alternatives which work outside the market system and attempt to fill some of the gaps it creates. 
This research will employ a variety of relevant research methods in order to undertake comparative case studies in New Zealand and internationally, predominantly, in advanced capitalist societies where food is not necessarily scarce but where a false scarcity is created by the market.  The internet, with its immense potential for information sharing and communication, is an important vehicle for the formation and growth of food democratisation initiatives.  Therefore, as part of this research, online initiatives will be explored alongside face-to-face initiatives.

Key arguments:
  • 1. The global corporate food industry creates a state of false scarcity in order to maximise profits which means that nourishing food is less accessible to people of low socio-economic means.  
  • 2. Food democratisation initiatives create abundance through growing food or redistributing food that would otherwise be wasted
  • 3. These initiatives can be considered part of a wider social movement resisting global capitalism through proactive, constructive, productive grass-roots food activism

Research questions
  • What is the relationship between global capitalism and food?  
  • How does the global corporate food industry create food scarcity in order to maximise profits?
  • In what ways have people responded to the inequities within the global distribution of food (commodity chain and food scarcity)?
  • What is the relationship between the democratisation of food and food scarcity?
  • What groups and initiatives are involved in the democratisation of food?
  • What political and ethical values do different food democratising initiatives share (and what values differ)?
  • How can these micro level grass roots initiatives create wider social change? 
  • How can they be supported or set up?
  • What motivates the initiatives at the micro level?
  • How can the discourses of these initiatives contribute to the critique of global capitalism?

[1] Freegans live on food that would otherwise be wasted, for example, food found in supermarket rubbish bins.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Feijoa Season!

I love feijoa season.  As a child we always had an abundance of these beautiful fruits falling from the old tree in the back garden ranging from sweet and fermenty to tart and zesty.  The tree is long gone now but somehow I still manage to be gifted bags and bags of feijoas when they're in abundance, sweetening the chill of early autumn.  I posted about feijoas last year and all the things I was doing with the skins.  The fizzy feijoa drink is my easiest and most delicious invention.  All I do is put the empty skins in a jar with a bit of brown sugar and leave them for a few days.  All the delicious flavor comes out of the skins and into the liquid which I strain off and put in a seal-able bottle and leave for another day or two before putting in the fridge.  This is a bit like making water kefir or kombucha but no culture is needed.  Feijoa skins, like grapes and plums, are naturally coated in yeasts that make them self-ferment (that's why they look frosted).  The results range from a sweet fizzy drink that my three year old loves, to a more sour cider or sparkling wine type beverage that is very drinkable and still probably quite low in alcohol (although I've never tested it).

I also intend to make feijoa ice cream by blending feijoas with cream, egg, lemon juice and agave nectar.  I tried the Rush Monroe's version of this the other day and it was divine! I was also thinking of trying feijoa curd.  Does anyone have any experiences of this?  Any other ideas for using excess feijoa bounty?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


There it is! One thesis - the product of 15 months of madness, help from friends, cooking, eating, internetting and blogging.  I handed it in about two weeks ago but I've been on holiday from my mind for a bit, and, therefore, a neglectful blogger.  Thanks so much for all the comments, insights and discussions! I wasn't aware  when I started this blog that it would become such an integral and exciting part of my research - I was surprised that anyone would want to read it, let alone engage and contribute in such inspiring ways :)

It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders and now I'm floating around, loosely orbiting the world which I once inhabited, it's quite nice.

So now what?  I am having a break before starting my PhD... on free food social movements!!! I'm not sure whether to keep this blog with the same name, change the name to something more fitting or start a new blog for a fresh start - any recommendations?

If you want to read my thesis I would be happy to email it to you - just let me know.

Aroha nui!!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pictures and planning

This picture is of the drunken cherries/ strawberries I made as xmas presents.  I also made chocolate & honey lip balm, skin soothing balm and chocolates, images of which are dispersed through this otherwise non-related post :)

I am currently in the process of writing the abstract for my thesis.  I just have a few more tiny steps to take - formatting, writing acknowledgements, and so on and then I will send it off to the printers.  We are looking for a suitable external examiner to mark it, but I'm not in a great hurry as I've already been accepted for a PhD scholarship :)

I'm intending to, first, have a break, and then study free food social movements  for the next three years.  Do I sound as crazy as I feel?  Either way, it will be lots of fun!   I intend to write about the democratisation potential of the internet, the concepts of abundance and scarcity, and look at various free food movements as case studies, both on and offline, and, hopefully in various countries.  I will probably keep this blog running as part of it or start a new blog - we'll see how it goes.  I'm very excited - but also overwhelmed with all my various projects.  Other than academic aspirations I have lots of things on my 'to do' list: I want to renovate the bathroom and finish writing my novel, and further down the list I want to learn to play guitar, learn to speak French (and lots of other languages) and write some non-fiction books about food.  Now do I sound crazy?

If anyone wants to read my thesis it will, eventually, be up on the Waikato university library website, but not until it's marked and so on.  I am happy to email it to people to read before that if you want.

And here are some photos of some of our xmas fare:


Thai carrot and capsicum salad