Tag Archives: Food

Growing urban agriculture beyond the city limit

By Chenae Neilson, University of Melbourne, and Lauren Rickards, RMIT University

It is hard not to notice the rising interest and flourishing activity in cities around the world for growing food in innovative ways. Rooftop gardens, guerrilla gardens, urban apiaries, city farms, allotments, micro-livestock keeping, community and institutional gardens, as well as other evolving ways to interact with primary food production, are fast becoming a celebrated part of the contemporary city-scape.

‘Urban agriculture’ is a key term used when we talk about food production pursuits in cities and urban landscapes, wrapping together a range of models and practices – which are shaped by diverse motivations, for example improving local food security, greening cities and adapting to climate change, engaging the community and connecting to nature, to name a few.

While urban agriculture has certainly become a popular activity, it also seems surprisingly disconnected in many ways from wider agriculture established in surrounding rural hinterlands. And unlike many food production activities in the rural context, the value of urban agriculture can remain hard to pin down and articulate in the context of competing “normal” city land uses and activities, particularly in cities of the global north.

Is urban agriculture primarily about the production of food, like much of its rural counterpart? Or is it about something else, such as offering positive practices for urban communities or making a strategic claim on city space? Much research to date indicates that the answer to date largely depends on the context of where the activity is occurring and who is taking part  (Prove et al 2016). Research on urban agriculture is proliferating in geography and beyond, with many authors highlighting the multiplicity of benefits, limitations and opportunities urban agriculture generates (McClintock 2013, Mok 2013, Tornaghi 2014, Classen 2015, Weissman 2016) and the way it slips across multiple high level agendas (e.g. environment, social justice and health).

Looking at this literature and wider discourses about the topic circulating in media, policy and practitioners, we noted that, beyond agreement that urban agriculture means different things to different people, there is underlying ambiguity about how urban agriculture compares to “the rest of agriculture” and “the rest of the city”. Dealing with these questions seems to strongly shape how urban agriculture is understood in any particular context.

Our recent paper in The Geographical Journal explores this by closely examining five discourses about urban agriculture that we found at work in Melbourne, Australia, where a range of urban agriculture initiatives exist and more are underway. Through empirical analysis of these discourses about urban agriculture, the ambiguities of its relational position within both the city and the agricultural sector became apparent.

We believe that, as policy makers and practitioners vie to generate the diverse benefits and transformational opportunities urban agriculture potentially offers, recognising the common agricultural and urban context of all such initiatives may help clarify the stakes of the challenge.

These stakes include the uncertain position urban agriculture continues to occupy within both contexts. Many urban agriculture initiatives are conducted under the shadow of lingering questions about whether they will ever be regarded as more than liminal, temporary, decorative and optional activities and land uses. If urban agriculture is to step out of the margins and make a substantial and lasting difference, it will be need to appraise and manage its relationship with rural agriculture and the rest of the city.

About the authors: Chenae Neilson is a research assistant at RMIT University and a Geospatial Analyst at The Australian Bureau of Statistics. Lauren Rickards is a Senior Lecturer at RMIT University. 

books_icon Classens 2015 The nature of urban gardens: toward a political ecology of urban agriculture Agric. Hum. Values, 32 229–239

books_icon Mcclintock N 2013 Radical, reformist, and garden-variety neoliberal: coming to terms with urban agriculture’s contradictions Local Environment 19 147-171

60-world2 McMillan T 2016 Boom Time for Urban Farming National Geographic 

books_icon Neilson, C. and Rickards, L. 2016 The relational character of urban agriculture: competing perspectives on land, food, people, agriculture and the city. The Geographical  Journal. doi:10.1111/geoj.12188

60-world2 Nierenberg D, Nink E and Crelin J 2015 28 Inspiring Urban Agriculture Projects  Foodtank 

books_icon Mok H-F, Williamson V, Grove J, Burry K, Barker F and Hamilton A 2013, Strawberry fields forever? Urban agriculture in developed countries: a review, Agronomy for Sustainable Development 33 1-23

books_icon Prové C, Dessein J and Krom M 2016 Taking context into account in urban agriculture governance: Case studies of Warsaw (Poland) and Ghent (Belgium) Land Use Policy 56 16-26

books_icon Tornaghi, C 2014 Critical geography of urban agriculture Progress in Human Geography 38 51-567.

books_icon Weissman E 2015 Entrepreneurial endeavors: (re)producing neoliberalization through urban agriculture youth programming in Brooklyn, New York Environmental Education Research 21 351-364

60-world2 Winkless L 2016 Urban Farming: Fad Or Futureproof? Forbes, 9 March 2016

‘A woman’s place is in the kitchen’: Changing culinary culture

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In a recent article, Meah (2016) discusses the space of the kitchen – seemingly mundane and neglected by geographical study – and the ways in which it has evolved through time to become more than just a food preparation area for the confinement of women.

“A woman’s place is in the kitchen” is a well-known, oft-used phrase. Last month, BT Sport presenter Lynsey Hipgrave was subjected to this type of misogynistic abuse on social media following her criticism of Lionel Messi’s controversial un-sportsmanlike penalty. Amongst the sexist replies she received were; “we need sandwiches not opinions” and “somewhere there’s a kitchen and it’s missing something”.  Whilst there are some who still rigidly live by this sexist mantra, there is lots of evidence that such marginalisation of women using sexist delineations of space is starting to be dispelled. Whilst Nigella Lawson’s heavily sexualised cookery programmes do women’s cause no favours, the proliferation of successful male chefs on The Great British Bake Off, in reputable restaurants, and as celebrity chefs, suggest that kitchen culture is changing. In a recent article in the Independent, French Chef Alain Ducasse, owner of 23 Michelin-star restaurants in seven countries, suggested that the changing ‘macho kitchen culture’ was displacing the old sexist stereotype. Ducasse even highlighted a lack of female chefs in France, leading him to establish the ‘Femmes en Avenir’ (Women of the Future) programme in association with the French government in 2011. The programme encourages women in the outskirts of Paris to gain culinary qualifications, in order to pursue a career in cooking.

Meah’s (2016) article provides the historical background that explains why women have long been associated with the kitchen. Historically, the kitchen was a space occupied by working class women, either as maids or cooks for the wealthy, or in their own kitchens. The kitchen was at the rear of the house, out of public view; gendered labour concealed from the rest of society. This is similar to Erving Goffman’s (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, in which he explains how our identities are performed sometimes less explicitly, hidden from others, in what he calls the ‘back stage’. The kitchen became the symbolic heart of domesticity and the women that produced this sense of domesticity were often marginalised.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Meah (2016), however, argues that the kitchen was transformed from a space of production to a space of consumption, with the evolution of modern kitchen design in the twentieth century, the kitchen becoming an ideological battle ground. Mass housing projects during the inter-war period, she argues, favoured standardised, modernist kitchen spaces, designed to be efficient and functional. By scientifically arranging space within the kitchen to make it more productive, daily life and behaviour were also changed. Functionalist designers of the 1930s saw the repetitive and productive model of factory assembly lines as the ideal method for both easing the housewife’s work and making it more efficient. By reducing the housewife’s need to move around the kitchen, making everything within reaching distance, the routinisation of her work meant cooking was less of a pleasure and more of a practical task. Moving into the 1940s, Meah (2016) traces the emergence of the kitchen-living room arrangement, a space which enabled families to eat their meals in a separate space to the food preparation area, but a low-partition wall meant that the housewife was not isolated whilst at work in the kitchen. Open-plan living spaces, therefore, further redefined the kitchen, showing the resistance of both women and kitchen spaces.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Meah (2016) identifies another societal change, still seen today, which further changed the culture of kitchens. By the 1950s, she argues, women were engaged in paid employment outside the home, becoming increasingly independent and industrious. We see this today to an even greater extent, with the employment of women in some really prominent positions such as merchant bankers, lawyers, doctors, or business owners. The emergence of the career-orientated woman has further led to the separation of women from the kitchen, as they no longer have the time or the inclination to slave away in the kitchen for hours preparing food whilst their husbands work all day. Societal transformations in work, leisure, and gender roles have transformed the kitchen into, what Meah (2016), calls an ‘orchestrating concept’. Kitchens have become spaces where numerous practices and elements are structured and held together, making it both material and symbolic. They are arenas for the performance of everyday life; be it food preparation and eating, playing out relationships with family members and hosting parties, or many non-food activities such as watching TV, reading the paper, and caring for pets.

The personalisation, and sometimes feminisation, of the kitchen space has altered the ways in which kitchens are experienced and consumed. Most notably, the aesthetic of the kitchen is used as an expression of identity. Meah (2016) argues that the space of the kitchen has become a site of memory, a sort of private museum, in which personal objects are kept and displayed which tell personal stories. Collectible silverware, wedding china, and other gifts are often displayed in the kitchen, prized possessions that each have their own story to tell. Fridges and notice boards display collages of mementos and snapshots of lives; fridge-magnet souvenirs, postcards, children’s drawings, photographs, appointment cards, party invitations, and ticket stubs are just a few of the items that may make up such an eclectic archive of family history. This not only shows the portability of memory, but also transforms the kitchen from a space, used and lived in, to a meaningful place of personal importance.

The kitchen has therefore undergone many changes through history, becoming more than just a space for women to make food. Women have also been transformed; from passive consumers and oppressed labourers to active participants in a meaningful and constantly changing space.

books_iconMeah, A. (2016). “Extending the Contested Spaces of the Modern Kitchen”, Geography Compass, 10(2):41-55.


Guardian Sport (2016) Lynsey Hipgrave hits out at sexist abuse after criticising Lionel Messi


Casey, L. (2016) Alain Ducasse interview: The French chef on women in the kitchen, and life in Paris after the attacks The Independent

You are what you eat: fresh food provisioning and food markets

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The traditional fresh food market; how modest it seems, spreading into high streets and town squares, drawing in consumers with its array of colours and smells. This familiar scene, however, is at the centre of ongoing debates about fresh food provisioning in England, highlighting a complex relationship between economics and culture.

In the wake of last month’s BBC Food and Farming awards, Smith et al’s (2014) Area paper on fresh food provisioning and markets gives an insight into the socio-spatial dynamics of fresh food markets in England. The paper investigates the connective spaces that link markets and consumers, and the ways in which fresh food moves through the marketplace. Food provisioning by traditional food markets, it argues, is affected by political, economic, cultural, and material concerns.

In England, traditional food markets were long considered places where low-income shoppers could buy affordable fresh food. How things have changed! Some markets have been, what Smith et al (2014:122) call, “(re)gentrified”, becoming places where more wealthy shoppers can buy high-quality, fashionable food. Food markets are therefore placed in a precarious position between the traditional and the modern. Furthermore, due to the external influence of powerful multi-national supermarket chains, some fresh food markets are under threat, whilst others are being forced to adapt to changing demands.

Some people do, of course, resist the increasingly dominant supermarket. Last month’s BBC Food and Farming awards marked its 15th culinary celebration and provided, perhaps, a bit more optimism about the state of fresh food provisioning in this country. Amongst the awards were ‘best food market’ (for the best regular market that brings together the local community and provides “fresh, quality, affordable food”), ‘best food producer’ and ‘best drinks producer’ (for producers using quality ingredients to create a quality, fairly-priced products). There was a clear emphasis on quality, sustainability, and affordability of local products.

Smith et al stress that traditional markets illustrate how place and culture are entwined with food sourcing. Demand for food depends on locals’ tastes for organic, local, seasonal, or ‘exotic’ produce. Thus, the type of food provided by food markets varies according to the changing socio-demographics of the market’s consumers; markets must adapt to changing shopping habits. Smith et al argue that food markets as socio-economic spaces all behave differently, adapting to change based on their geography and history. Every town or city reacts differently to effects of retail restructuring, market systems, and consumption practices. Equally, for some places, local food markets are vital to maintaining their distinct identity and local pride. Thus, the popular idiom ‘you are what you eat’ could be extended to link food consumption with local identity. Fresh food, therefore, takes on a very cultural form; cultural meaning and economic value become complexly linked.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The importance of the cultural meaning imbued in food was evident amongst the winners at the BBC Food and Farming awards.  Doncaster market was crowned ‘best food market’. It is the largest market in the North with over 400 stalls providing quality, good-value local and imported goods. Likewise, the winners of ‘best food producer’ and ‘best drinks producer’ were commended for their skill in hand-making locally-sourced products. Here the importance of hand-made produce further shows the conscious decision of some to boycott mass-produced supermarket goods. A particularly interesting award from a geographical point of view was the ‘best food initiative’; an award for the initiative that is making a positive difference to our relationships with food. Stressing the importance of producer-consumer relationships, the ‘best food initiative’ went to a scheme that brings together producers and consumers at a pop-up market, where consumers collect pre-ordered local produce from their neighbouring producers. This fits perfectly with Smith et al’s argument that fresh food moves through connective spaces – such as food markets – between producers and consumers.

It is clear that the fresh food market is an important feature of the economic, social, and cultural landscape of many English towns. It is also a vital actor in both local and national concerns about food consumption, identity, health, politics, and economics. With so much hidden complexity in such humble spaces, it is certainly some interesting food for thought.

books_iconSmith, J., Maye, D., and Ilbery , B. (2014). “The traditional food market and place: new insights into fresh food provisioning in England”, Area, 46(2):122-128.



The $250,000 burger: towards a new moral economy of meat-eating?

Image credit: macieklew

No cows were harmed in the making of this post
Image credit: macieklew

By Helen Pallett

On Monday afternoon at a West London press conference, reporters witnessed a world first: the eating of a pioneering laboratory-grown hamburger. The carefully orchestrated spectacle also reached a further audience worldwide, as this pricey mid-afternoon snack was streamed live onto thousands of PCs, whilst others joined in the conversation on twitter with the hashtag #culturedbeef. Media reporting on this event has been quick to point out the potential of this emerging technology to alleviate pressing food security and distribution problems, and to reduce the environmental impacts of meat production. The arrival of the new burger has also been celebrated by animal rights advocates, such as the philosopher Peter Singer and the activist group PETA, as opening up a new market of cruelty-free meet.

The event has raised challenging questions which have stimulated wide-ranging debates across the traditional media and new media. Are there any meaningful differences between this stem cell burger and ‘natural’ meat? How do we know that it is safe to eat? What stance should vegetarians take? Can a lab-based food source prove to be a sustainable alternative to other low carbon, low impact diets based on low meat intake and local or organic food? And of course, does it taste any good?

The press conference focused on demonstrating the safety of the new product, but also brought together a group of food writers and journalists to attest to the meat-like taste and texture of the burger. What was not under the microscope were some of the broader moral and economic questions, covering scales beyond the object of this solitary burger, spanning temporalities beyond the specific event, and concerning the whole of the production chain. In a 2009 paper, Peter Jackson and colleagues used the term ‘moral economy’ to describe how ethical and moral concerns were expressed across time and space, and in relation to the diverse practices and processes involved in the production of different food products. Whilst Jackson’s paper was concerned with the morals and markets of the supply chains of chicken and sugar, their framework also helps to shed light on the moral economy of this newest of products.

The answers to questions such as ‘how different is this new meat?’ and ‘is it suitable for vegetarians?’ depend not only on which ethical frameworks we use but also where we choose to look, through space and time. The in vitro burger is made up of muscle tissue, the substance which would also account for the majority of any normal beef burger that you could pick up in the local supermarket. The scientists have also been careful to reassure potential consumers that there have been no ‘unnatural’ chemicals added to the burger. In this sense then, perhaps there is no meaningful difference between the two kinds of beef. But the processes that went into making the new burger, do set it apart, and this is why it is possible to claim vast environmental benefits of in vitro meat. A small amount of muscle cells are harvested from a living cow and are then nurtured in the lab so that they grow and multiply. This process takes around 3 months, much shorter than the life of the average cow when it enters the slaughterhouse. The carefully controlled laboratory process also means that there is no fat in the meat to give it flavour, so this instead came from the use of ‘natural’ flavourings such as beet.

On the question of the response of vegetarians, the the texture and taste of the burger itself has been likened to the meat substitute quorn. When we broaden our gaze to the production processes as well, the burger has been welcomed as cruelty-free (and therefore implicitly vegetarian friendly) meat by many advocates as it requires the painless removal of muscle cells rather than the slaughter of a cow. However, when the micro-scale laboratory processes which go into the production of the meat are also brought into the frame the use of calf serum – a slaughterhouse product – to nurture the stem cells comes into view.

Another aspect of the moral economy of the new burger which has been relatively unexplored in the media coverage is its situation in broader economic and market structures. The making of the in vitro burger was bank-rolled by the much-criticised Google co-founder Sergey Brin, citing animal welfare concerns but also with interests in the market potential of this emerging product. In the liberalised and globalised modern food industry does this product bring into being new moral economies or will it simply be moulded by existing ones?

books_icon Peter Jackson, Neil Ward & Polly Russell, 2009, Moral economies of food and geographies of responsibilityTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34 12-24

60-world2 The world’s first cruelty-free burger The Guardian, 5 August 2013

60-world2 First hamburger made from lab-grown meat to be served at press-conference The Guardian, 5 August 2013

60-world2 Google’s Sergey Brin bankrolled world’s first synthetic beef hamburger The Guardian, 5 August 2013

60-world2 World’s first synthetic hamburger gets full marks for ‘mouth feel’ The Guardian, 5 August 2013

60-world2 Synthetic meat: is it ‘natural’ food? The Guardian, 6 August 2013

60-world2 Lab-grown burgers cannot provide a secure future for Africa The Guardian, 6 August 2013

60-world2 PETA: Lab meat to provide methadone for meat eaters ITV News, 5 August 2013

60-world2 What is Cultured Beef? Maastricht University, accessed 5 August 2013

60-world2 Test-Tube Burger: Lab-Cultured Meat Passes Taste Test (Sort of) Scientific American, 5 August 2013

Local solutions to global food shortages

Mopane Caterpillar

A Mopane caterpillar, found in southern Africa

I-Hsien Porter

The United Nations ‘Food Price Index’ recorded food prices (particularly cereals, sugar and meat) rising to record highs.

Warnings of dangerously high food prices were driven by dry weather in Argentina, cold weather in Europe and North America, and floods in Australia. For example, Australia is the world’s fourth largest exporter of wheat.

However, our attention is rarely drawn to food consumption, rather than food production. In a paper in the Geographical Journal, Peter Illgner and Etienne Nel highlight the loss of traditional food and food consumption, which in many parts of the world has been displaced by imported Western fare.

In a case study of the Mopane caterpillar, the authors argue that edible insects have historically been important to diet in poor rural communities. If bias towards Western foods could be overcome, Illgner and Nel express the view that insects are an economically and practically viable addition to our diets. In addition, this might even empower poor communities that cannot aspire to lifestyles associated with high levels of consumption.

The Guardian (5th January 2011) ‘World food prices enter ‘danger territory’ to reach record high’.

Illgner, P. and Nel, E. (2000) ‘The Geography of Edible Insects in Sub-Saharan Africa: a study of the Mopane Caterpillar’. The Geographical Journal 166 (4): 336-351

Beanz Meanz Home; migrants, food and place

by Fiona Ferbrache

As geographers, we are aware of the problems associated with reverting to stereotypes.  However, I do wish to draw upon the notion that France is synonymous with good food, if only that you might share my surprise on finding an article suggesting that British citizens living in France are creating a high demand for food imports from the UK.  This demand has led to a successful business venture catering to cross-border grocery shopping.

The Guardian report highlights how some Britons in France are online shopping at their favourite UK supermarkets and ordering food (UK and French food – including boxes of croissant) that is then delivered to one of four specialist depots.  From here, a delivery firm, catering to these international customers, drives the lorry-load of goods to consumers in France.  Geographers might be interested to pursue these behaviours for they reveal much about affective relations between migrants and place.

Longhurst et al. (2009) do just this.  Focused on migrant women’s cooking experiences in Hamilton, New Zealand, the researchers explore the visceral experiences of food and how it can help migrant women to connect with their ‘old home’.  The research rests on migrants’ senses of food; sight, sound, smell, taste and touch and what this tells us about their emotional relations with place.

Bon appétit!

Hickman, L. (2010) Expat orders for British supermarket food surge on strength of euro: The Guardian. Wednesday 09 June, 2010

Longhurst, R., Johnston, L. & Ho, E. (2009) A visceral approach: cooking ‘at home’ with migrant women in Hamilton, New Zealand. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Vol.34, 3 pp.333-345