By Anna Davies, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
It seems that not a week goes by without some media coverage of our unsustainable cities and unsustainable urban food systems, whether related to food waste or food poverty or indeed grappling with the challenges of connecting the two as a means to transform the abhorrent geographies of persistent waste and hunger in our urban areas. Technology is increasingly being seen as a solution to these problems, whether it’s open source mapping of public harvests or apps for food sharing, with information and communication technologies (ICT) increasingly being used as tools to help people in cities share their food with each other. However, little is known about the scale of such food sharing in cities and what impacts they have on key dimensions of unsustainable urban food systems, such as food waste, hunger, social connectivity and economic vitality. As a result, media coverage elevates a small number of high profile cases to illustrate an emergent phenomenon, but gives little indication of the extent or diversity of such activities. A broader landscape analysis is required.
In our recently published paper, Creative Construction, we document the trials and tribulations of developing the first international ICT-mediated food sharing database to try and overcome the data gaps that exist in our knowledge of ICT-mediation of urban food sharing activities. The paper outlines how food sharing activities utilizing online tools are an increasingly visible part of our everyday lives, providing new subjects, objects and relationships – essentially new landscapes – for research, as well as new conceptual and methodological challenges for researchers. It documents the co-design process and international crowdsourcing of data that was carried out in order to document more than 4000 ICT-mediated food sharing initiatives across 44 countries and 100 cities. The research was undertaken by an international team of researchers, including geographers, using a combination of coding and online collaboration with sharing initiatives and networks such as Shareable to develop a system for exploring the practice and performance of ICT-mediated food sharing in cities.
Full details of the project and the open access SHARECITY100 Database are freely available online or watch our video (above) explaining the work of the database. With articles in Swiss media, public and community radio in the States and Australia, academic blogs, sharing networks, and European science communication organisations, the SHARECITY100 Database is beginning to leave its own mark on food sharing landscapes. In just three months the database had been viewed more than 1,800 times by people from 20 countries – from South Korea and Mexico to Brazil and Canada – and in 2017 the database was shortlisted as a finalist in a European food waste solution contest run by REFRESH. We are pleased to be able to share what we are learning in such diverse venues, and really look forward to watching the SHARECITY100 change and grow based on user submissions and feedback. Food sharing is happening now, not only in your homes and with your friends, but also in urban gardens, community kitchens and online fora. We invite you to join SHARECITY in this growing conversation about food sharing and its potential contribution to transitions towards more sustainable urban food systems.
About the author: Anna Davies is Professor of Geography, Environment and Society at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. Anna’s current research interests include smart and sustainable places, environmental governance, sustainable production and consumption. She is currently Principal Investigator of the SHARECITY project funded by the European Research Council, award number: ERC-2014-CoG – Step 2 – SH3 – 646883.
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