Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What am I doing and where am I going?

When I first had this idea for a PhD topic I was pretty excited about it.  Now I'm at that natural point, which occurs early on in any thesis, of wondering what the hell I'm doing.  Defining my topic is tricky.  I want to look at free food, at food activism, at food democratisation (what does that mean?)... what's all this about food sovereignty?  I've come across twenty or so books published in the last three or four years with this in the title... and pretty much nothing on food democratisation.

Before I go completely insane and words stop having any coherent meaning at all I need to re-capture that excitement.  What was it that inspired me?  Who do I want to interview?  What is it, particularly about 'free food' - outside of the monetary system that is so special when there's lots of really neat local ventures that use ordinary money that I could also be tempted to look into?

Kaiwhenua organics down the road, Mike who sells his organic milk raw and Aaryn who bakes sourdough bread in the traditional wood-powered bakers oven he built himself would all make really awesome case studies, and there's no reason why I couldn't write about them in the future.  But I probably need to stick to the 'free-food' concept lest my thesis becomes too sprawling.

So what is free food?  Although I don't like the sentiment of they saying "There's no such thing as a free lunch", I agree that nothing is really free, that is, everything is interconnected.  Food has to be produced by someone/something drawing resources from somewhere else - even wild foraged food is produced within and by its eco-system.  I want to focus on food outside of the monetary system, but community garderners may spend money on garden supplies.  Even freegans subsisting entirely out of supermarket dumpsters are likely to use money for petrol get to the dumpsters - if they're car-free they may need bike repairs - there are very few people in industrialised capitalist society that don't use money at all.

I want to focus on practices that either generate food (largely) outside of the corporate food system and aren't bought or sold using conventional currency or that glean food that would otherwise be wasted, and, therefore, do not contribute to the corporate food system.  I'm interested in concepts such as abundance, scarcity, freedom, community and participation - and I'm interested in what people involved in this sort of thing think and their lived experiences.

Well, that clarifies things a bit.  I suppose, in looking at the literature, there's not much written specifically on this topic - especially in New Zealand - and so everything I'm reading is sending me in a slightly different direction which makes my head spin and my brain turn to jelly.  Maybe it's time to invest in some ginkgo tea - or better yet - find a ginkgo tree and forage.

6 comments:

  1. Kia ora Isa,

    This post has really got me thinking and I hope you don’t mind if I share my thoughts.

    Firstly, I think your thesis topic is awesome!
    I am interested in food democratisation (I hadn’t heard of this term until I came across your blog) especially in terms of food justice and food security.

    For me the ‘democratisation’ aspect is key as the current economic system is both denying many people access to good quality food and rapidly destroying planetary health. I worry too that in the future food is likely to become more expensive due to peak oil and unpredictable climatic events. This means moving towards food democratisation now, is in my mind, both urgent and a gift to future generations.

    I am excited about this project in Auckland: http://www.fruittrees.org.nz/ and others like it springing up around the country.

    To me the difficult question is how do you truly define ‘free’ within, as you mentioned, a capitalist context. Not an easy task! For example, freeganism is still dependant on undemocratic, unsustainable modes of food production (including conventional agriculture, food miles etc.).
    Community orchards on the other hand, may initially require financial outlay, but later become a regenerating free source of food - enriching the local environment & community. So I think of community orchard fruit as more ‘free’ than dumpstered food in that its production doesn’t ‘cost’ the earth and its fruition is part of creating a world where access to food is egalitarian.

    I’m also interested in the ways that foraging can increase urban food democratisation – LA’s Fallen fruit: http://www.fallenfruit.org/ is an interesting example of this that you might be aware of. Their fruit foraging map became so popular that it became harder for people to find any fruit to harvest. Consequently they encouraged residents to plant accessible fruit trees along their property boundaries which in turn increased the foragable fruit bounty!! Here in Christchurch I discovered a herb garden planted along a front fence with a small sign identifying the various herbs and inviting me to pick some to take home! It was heartening.

    Finally, have you read The Thrifty Forager, if not I think you might like it.

    Sorry to ramble on, I’ve just been thinking about the lack of food justice initiatives here in Aotearoa and I find this topic so interesting.

    Looking forward to reading more as you research progresses. Enjoy your gingko tea!

    Mariana

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kia ora Mariana,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that, as freeganism is reliant on a wasteful system, it could be considered less 'free' than community gardening and other similar practices. In the Ethics of what we Eat, Singer and Mason point this out and also note that for the freegans they researched, what they eat is only the tip of the iceberg - doesn't contribute to the corporate system - but they are also involved in other activism. This would be interesting to explore.

    Thanks for the link to Fruit Trees in Auckland. There is a similar project in Nelson:
    http://www.transitionnelson.org.nz/open-orchard
    (I think this is the one)

    It's great to see so many of these sorts of things cropping up. Although I'm not researching charity based action there are Community Fruit groups in several cities who harvest fruit that would be left un-picked in people's gardens and distribute it to charity or make jam to sell and donate the proceeds. Have you heard about this?

    I will look into The Thrifty Forager. It sounds good.

    Isa

    ReplyDelete
  3. I just want to meet Aaryn and his baker's oven :p I've just started making sourdough and have been thinking about a pizza oven for a long time, but I'd rather have a baker's oven if it's different.

    I'm not sure there is ever 'free' food. There's always a cost, just not necessarily to the person who eats it. The help-yourself herbs cost someone the time and effort to plant and care for them. The fruit costs someone's labour to harvest and distribute. And so on. Even that fruit not dropping and rotting costs the earth it's natural compost. Just not money.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm interested in the http://www.fruittrees.org.nz/ idea. I suggested this years ago and was told that it wasn't a workable idea as the fruit that fell and was not eaten would need to be taken care of, the trees would need to be pruned and kept pest free, and thus people would have to commit to taking care of the trees for their life span (the trees, not the people) and if people put trees on their grass verge and then moved out the next tenants would have to be responsible, and thus, it was deemed, it was unworkable. I think it's a great idea. I wish our lemon tree was in the front yard so people could help themselves. And I'd love to grow a feijoa hedge to feed the neighbourhood.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Some reflection here Isa: http://lettersfromwetville.blogspot.co.nz/2012/05/thoughts-on-isas-free-food-study.html

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Cally, I'm sure you can meet Aaryn (I'm not sure if that's how his name is spelt) and check out his oven. He bakes on Fridays and people come and pick up the loaves they ordered. I agree that there are always a transactions (for lack of a better word) around food - but it is possible for it to be liberated from the corporate system.

    Fiona, it's great that the idea is workable. I wonder if the community that springs up around it will take care of the trees (in a way that neo-liberal ideology could never account for). At the moment I live in native bush so we can't really do as you say and plant fruit trees on non-existent verges, but if I could I would!

    Thanks, Sandra. I'm excited to read your reflections!

    ReplyDelete