A moveable feast : towards a better understanding of pathways to food citizenship

  • Gabrielle O'Kane

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Although the globalised food system delivers unparalleled food variety and quantity to most in the developed world it also disconnects consumers from where, how and by whom food is grown, which discourages food citizenship. This thesis explored people’s participation in their usual food procurement environment and their relationships to food, which revealed pathways to food citizenship. This research used narrative inquiry methodology and purposive sampling to gather stories through focus group conversations. Fifty-two people voluntarily attended focus groups comprised of food procurers from one of five sources: community gardens, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA),farmers’ markets, fresh food markets or supermarkets. A narrative was constructed for each of these groups of food procurers; their commonalities and particularities were illuminated through a final interpretive narrative. The findings showed that people’s meaning-making of food can be very complex and at times contradictory, both within and across the different food procurement environments. Food procurers, who actively participated in their chosen food system, enjoyed a ‘contemporary relational food culture’ and more consistently and enthusiastically enacted food citizenship. There is a continuum of engagement with food citizenship from the community garden food procurement environment at one end and the supermarket at the other. The community gardeners made meaning of food through their connections to the earth and to others. They rejected food available through supermarkets; instead, they grew, processed and prepared their own food, a pleasurable and meaningful use of their social time. The CSA and farmers’ market groups similarly disconnected from mainstream assessments of food quality and reconnected in new ways. However, for the CSA members, these values were put aside when clock time imposed itself. Both the farmers’ market and CSA facilitated food citizenship, as the farmers made organic, seasonal, local and ethically produced food available for their customers. The farmers’ market shoppers became absorbed in their shopping experiences, where they developed relationships with farmers and a desire to support more sustainable food systems. Further along the continuum, the complexity and contradictions of food choice became more apparent in the fresh food market shopping environment. This food procurement environment did not enable meaning-making of food through intimate connections to the food producer or the place in which it was grown. Convictions about sustainable food practices amongst this group were inconsistent and often contradictory, making the path to food citizenship unclear. The supermarket shoppers at the end of the continuum expressed that supermarket food was inferior to other food, but still used it. They did not tell stories of the importance of where or by whom food was grown, but described their meaning-making of food through cooking and sharing meals. Clock time overwhelmingly prevented these shoppers from spending social time on food-related activities. This group’s disconnection from those who grew their food and where it was grown disempowered them from making sustainable food choices. This thesis provides preliminary qualitative evidence that local food systems can enable people to re-connect with their food and become food citizens.
    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBarbara Pamphilon (Supervisor), Katja Mikhailovich (Supervisor) & Misty Kirby (Supervisor)

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