CfP AAG2018: Rethinking Food Access Research. Questioning food alterity: Imagining new pathways to food security

Organizers: Angela Babb (Indiana University) & Joshua Lohnes (West Virginia University)

Discussant: Alison Alkon (University of the Pacific)

Many eaters now engage with ethical supply chains as a form of resistance against the dominant or “conventional” food system (Allen, 2004; Barnett et. al, 2005). Farmer’s markets, community gardens, food hubs, CSAs and local food coalitions work to change and rebuild the food system “from below”. This struggle has redefined the politics of eating (Guthman, 2008) embodied within practices such as “voting with your fork”. Often , owever, such alternatives reinforce social divides because they fail to reach or include those most vulnerable to food insecurity, and tend to reproduce structural violence. (Slocum, 2007; Hayes-Conroy and Martin, 2010; Alkon and Mares, 2012).

How do we go beyond this critique to cultivate truly just food systems without privileged notions of alterity? How can we envision an alternative food system that engages with a more diverse cast of actors from within the existing food system? What is the impact of state based and corporate resource allocation models at different scales, and what are the opportunities for creating alternatives from within these more entrenched food spaces? How do we transform the food system without reproducing structural inequalities, particularly those borne out of racism, patriarchy, class politics and neocolonialism?  Geographers are well positioned to wrestle with these questions, particularly with regards to translating food and nutrition policy to the distribution of resources within local and regional food systems. This call for papers then seeks scholarship on the following themes:

  • Alternative food systems that promote food security/justice/sovereignty for the most vulnerable populations
  • Practicing food justice from within dominant food systems
  • Food Innovation Districts and other initiatives to change food policy
  • Community projects that specifically address structural inequality in food systems
  • Food security/justice/sovereignty initiatives that engage diverse stakeholders
  • Research incorporating race, gender, class and/or neocolonial theory into the production of alternative food spaces.
  • Alternative methodologies for analyzing or addressing issues of food security/justice/sovereignty

Please send a title and brief abstract (250 words) to and by October 15th, 2017


  • Alkon, A.H. and Mares, T.M., 2012. Food sovereignty in US food movements: radical visions and neoliberal constraints. Agriculture and Human Values, 29(3), pp.347-359.
  • Allen, P. 2004. Together at the Table: Sustainability and Sustenance in the American Agrifood System. Penn State University Press
  • Barnett, C. et. al. 2005. Consuming ethics: articulating the subjects and spaces of ethical consumption. Antipode 37 (1), 23–45
  • Guthman, Julie. 2008. Neoliberalism and the making of food politics in California. Geoforum. 39:1171­1183
  • Hayes‐Conroy, A. and Martin, D.G., 2010. Mobilising bodies: visceral identification in the Slow Food movement. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35(2), pp.269-281.
  • Slocum, R., 2007. Whiteness, space and alternative food practice. Geoforum, 38(3), pp.520-533.

CfP AAG2018: Rethinking Food Access Research. Food deserts. Whose access are we mapping?

Organizers: Angela Babb (Indiana University) & Joshua Lohnes (West Virginia University)

Discussant: Pending

Food deserts are a tangible manifestation of uneven development as post-Fordist food retail trends continue to reshape the built food environment (Bedore, 2013). Over the past two decades, public health concerns have led to a proliferation of research that highlights spatial disparities related to healthy food access (Walker et. al, 2010). Relying heavily on GIS, food retail locations and types, food costs, availability and quality are paired with demographic data including income, race, gender, health indicators and vehicle access to produce maps that highlight spaces of food dearth. The assumed scientific rigour of the food desert map lends its rhetorical power, yet food deserts have also been critiqued for producing spaces of neoliberal paternalism that bind poor eating habits to low-income communities and for naturalizing problems borne out of corporate dominance of agro-supply chains (Guthman, 2011; Shannon, 2014). When not complemented by qualitative methods, quantitative models often fail to capture the cultural and social practices that affect food consumption patterns among the poor (Pine and Bennet, 2014; Alkon et. al, 2013)

This session aims to foster dialogue on whom the food desert framework has historically served and evaluate its place in local, regional and national food access planning moving forward. While there is surely a continued role for geographers to highlight spatial disparities in the food system, the fix may not always be in the built environment but rather a focus on the component social parts producing the problem. How then do we map and communicate the production of food access problems, highlight programs that are reducing gaps and include alternative strategies that have the potential to disrupt the status quo, all while ensuring we do not reproduce existing food system injustices? How can we capture the complex spatial realities of food access beyond retail foodscapes to include other food access strategies such as charitable foods, self-provisioning, food sharing or the many non-retail based entitlements that support food insecure households (e.g. school meals, senior nutrition programs)?

Themes could include but are not limited to:

  • Foodscapes beyond the retail sector
  • Integrating alternative food sourcing strategies into food desert maps
  • The relationship between cash-equivalent food entitlement programs and the retail sector.
  • The role and impact of non-cash based food entitlements on food access
  • Experiences applying food desert frameworks to food access planning.
  • The limits of global models in addressing local level food access issues. (e.g. urban vs. rural)
  • Consumer perspectives on living in sso-calledfood deserts.
  • Mixed methods approach to food desert mapping
  • Quantitative critical food studies; critical algorithm studies

Please send a title and brief abstract (250 words) to and by October 15th, 2017


  • Alkon et. al. 2013. Foodways of the Urban Poor. Geoforum. 48: 126 ­ 135
  • Bedore, Melanie. 2013. Geographies of capital formation and rescaling: A historical­geographical approach to the food desert problem. The Canadian Geographer. 57(2): 133-153
  • Guthman, Julie. 2011. Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice and the Limits of Capitalism. UC Press.
  • Pine, A. and Bennett, J., 2014. Food access and food deserts: the diverse methods that residents of a neighborhood in Duluth, Minnesota use to provision themselves. Community Development,45(4), pp.317-336.
  • Shannon, J., 2014. Food deserts Governing obesity in the neoliberal city. Progress in Human Geography, 38(2), pp.248-266.
  • Walker, R.E., et al. 2010. Disparities and access to healthy food in the United States: A review of food deserts literature. Health & Place, 16(5), pp.876-884.

CfP AAG2018: Rethinking Food Access Research. Food Charity and Emergency Food Access

Organizers: Angela Babb (Indiana University) & Joshua Lohnes (West Virginia University)

Discussant: Dan Warshawsky (Wright State University)

Born out of crisis 30 years ago, the charitable food network in the United States is an ad hoc food safety net woven out of the gaps left by a receding state and overproduction along agro-industrial supply chains (Poppendieck, 1998). The consumptive routes opened by this vast yet poorly understood food delivery system serve 46 million people every month through 56,000 local charities spread across the country (Coleman and Jensen, 2014). 4.5 billion pounds of food were processed by the Feeding America network of food banks last year, a number that has doubled in less than a decade. Scholarship on the geography of food banking (Henderson, 2004; Warshawsky, 2010; Lindenbaum, 2016) highlights the role of these parastatal institutions in revaluing food waste, yet there are fewer studies on the spatial distribution of the affiliate agencies processing and redistributing this food to consumers across a food bank’s territory.

Local food charities serve households that market channels have partially or fully excluded. These organizations lie in a complicated position between the shadow state and alternative economies (Pine, 2016). They play a role in cultural production (McCutcheon, 2015) and have the potential to be a voice in the food justice movement (Dixon, 2015), even as they continue to reproduce a geography of survival in oft-hidden feeding spaces (Heynen, 2008). Despite this complexity, community food security planners and advocates are increasingly leaning on the charitable food infrastructure to reach low-income consumers with their programming.

This session seeks to draw together scholars focusing on emergency food networks to discuss their expanding role in the food system, their relationship to hindering or expanding food access, and whether there is a potential for charitable food networks to foster food system change. Themes may include but are not limited to:

  • Charity as a food access strategy among vulnerable households
  • The political economy of charitable food networks
  • The governance of charitable food networks
  • Structural inequity related to Race/Class/Gender/Neocolonialism within charitable food networks
  • Emergent links between charitable and alternative food networks
  • Emergent links between Charity and Food Justice
  • Opportunities and limits of advocacy within emergency food networks
  • Uneven development and food charity

Please send a title and brief abstract (250 words) to and by October 15th, 2017


Dixon, B. 2015. Rewriting the call to charity: From food shelf volunteer to food justice advocate. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development. 5(2):71-79

Henderson, 2004. ‘Free’ food, the local production of worth, and the circuit of decommodification. Environment and Planning D. Vol. 22. pp. 485­512.

Heynen, Nik. 2008. Bringing the body back to life through Radical Geography of Hunger: The haymarket affair and its aftermath. ACME: An International E­Journal for Critical Geographies, Vol. 7 (No. 1), pp. 32­44

Lindenbaum, J., 2016. Countermovement, Neoliberal Platoon, or Re‐Gifting Depot? Understanding Decommodification in US Food Banks. Antipode, 48(2), pp.375-392.

McCutcheon, P., 2015. Food, faith, and the everyday struggle for black urban community. Social & Cultural Geography, 16(4), pp.385-406.

Pine, Adam. 2016. Confronting Hunger in the USA: Searching for Community Empowerment and Food Security in Food Access Programs. Routledge

Poppendieck, Janet. 1998. Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement. Penguin Books: New York.

Warshawsky, Daniel. 2010. New power relations served here: The growth of food banking in Chicago. Geoforum. No. 41. pp.763­775.

PFat™ Futures

This blogpost is a result of a writing exercise I set myself where I took some aspects of my thesis and extrapolated them in to a bit of a dystopian future. I’ve been sitting on it for months as I couldn’t really think what on earth to do with it, but a colleague suggested I posted it here.  I would be interested in any comments / feedback from the wider food geog community, Suzanne.   <>


24th October, 2067.

To Frida.

Lovely to hear from you! Your question about my research from fifty years ago and how it relates to my current obsession with PFats™ is an interesting one and I’ll do my best to explain. It feels outlandish to be writing this, but at the time of the research, I not only took food for granted, I took choice for granted too. In no period before or since has the British population had so much abundance in food generally, or fat specifically, as in the early twenty-first century.  For most of us, our supermarket shelves, our flesh and our bellies were unctuous with oils and fats that you have never even seen, much less eaten – butter, olive oil, oilseed rape, sunflower oil, coconut oil, palm oil, avocado oil, corn oil, duck fat and more.  We could choose organic fats, extra-virgin, spray-able, high-oleic, high-omega, high in polyunsaturates, trans-fat free, gm-free, free-from, local, and even low-fat fats, and those choices were understood to matter. And, like many of my contemporaries, I was swayed by the simplistic notion that my food could, and should, be ‘natural’.  I could not have envisaged that one day I would gain a partiality for a particular brand of synthetic PFats™.

Even back then though, such a diversity of possibilities was a novel experience. When I was a child, eating had been understood to be a functional necessity, not a choice to be agonised over. Margarine typified the food of my youth – hardly an exciting taste sensation, but it did the job well enough, and was always available. Only at my socially aspirational Nan’s did I eat butter.  Olive oil was technically on offer too, but came in tiny bottles from the chemist and was used as a remedy for earache. At home and in school, as a spread, in cooking, and in ready-made products, margarine was just a ubiquitous part of my diet. Yet, by the early twenty-first century, I had come to experience the flavours, textures and odours of margarine as unpleasant and artificial.  Reflecting on this shift in my own tastes inspired the first objective of my research, which was to explore how people make decisions about what fats to eat, and the factors that generate changes in these practices.

At the time of the research, eating-well, as individuals and as a society, was something of a social obsession. In popular culture, in the media, and in policy, consumers were rebuked for being fatter than was good for health, more reliant on animal products than was good for the climate, or more dependent on global supply networks than was good for communities. Irrespective of personal circumstances, consumption practices were framed as individual choice and responsibility, a means through which we should practice care for ourselves, our families, nation, those that produce or become our food, and the future of our planet. Yet, for some, ‘choice’ was already out of reach.  Austerity was biting, food poverty and malnutrition were on the rise.  Foodbank users were expected to be grateful for calories, not to quibble about provenance or quality. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Margarine had been the winning entry in a competition launched by Napoleon III at the 1866 Paris World Fair, and was patented in 1869. Margarine was a novel food, envisaged, invented, designed and marketed as a technical solution to a food distribution problem. Since its introduction, processing techniques from deodorisation to fractionation, hydrogenation to interesterification, had been employed to modify animal and vegetable fats to produce a stable, semi-solid, long-life product with a wide range of textures, cooking and nutritional properties. The stuff of margarine proved itself to be adaptable. Yet, whatever the ingredients and processes involved, attempts were made to imitate the flavours of butter. Initially this was because, for northern European consumers, butter was an aspirational food, but eventually eaters simply became accustomed to this taste mimicry.

Margarine might be made from cows, fish, sunflowers and more, yet ‘kind-of-buttery’ was what eaters came to expect margarine to taste like.  If product reformulations resulted in a shift in the balance of these flavours then brand loyalty could be threatened. Tastes are shaped by a complex interplay of material, sensory and symbolic factors, and entangled with social and cultural norms and belongings – tastes do not shift readily. Eating is an intimate experience, and eating-well is about much more-than nutrition. Thinking about these different elements of eating-well informed my second research objective, which was to investigate margarine as a model for foods which can help people to eat healthily and sustainably without having to make major changes in their food tastes or habits.

In 2016 I submitted my thesis. In my work I demonstrated that exploring, unpacking, and critiquing, the doing of margarine raises questions not only about what is good to eat, but also regarding the production, framing and narration of the possibilities on offer. Then in the years that followed, global temperatures took a sudden (if not unexpected) hike. Around the world, there was flooding, famine, condemnation, denunciation, fear, fighting and mass migration.  In Britain, food imports became unaffordable and inaccessible to all but a tiny minority.  Even British animal fats were too costly for the majority. Antimicrobial resistance decimated the populations of genetically similar farm animals, and the security arrangements to protect the livestock that remained from the attentions of poachers were extremely expensive. You will have heard of the Hunger Resistances, although you probably know them as the Insurgent Larcenies. Communities attempting to organise against starvation were condemned as divisive, elitist and unpatriotic. The TrueBrit government took control, and, under the strapline ‘nurturing our people’, redirected funds out of the health service and in to rewards for corporations who produced marketable fats from fully-hydrogenated oilseed rape.  Colloquially known as FARaGEarine*, we were assured that this TrueBrit product was not a substitute for all we had lost, but was a much improved option, trans-fat free and stuffed with heart-healthy omegas. But oilseed rape is a resource hungry crop, and the ensuing increased neonicotinoid use was soon followed by a crash in the bee population. FARaGEarine proved to be a disastrous, if short lived, distraction.

Fats though are essential to life, and despite the repression and demonisation of those who protested, the control the TrueBrit government held over an increasingly hungry population was slipping. Then, inspired by the margarine story, a competition was launched for a ‘nutritive fat’ that would sate disgruntled bellies: PFat™ won. Producing synthetic fats for human consumption was not a new idea.  In 1940’s Germany, margarine had been produced from coal, but the experiment proved costly and the trials were small-scale.  The TrueBrit government ‘incentivising’ the marginalised hungry to sift plastic waste from old landfill sites, which is then used to produce synthetic PFat™ to sell to the general population is quite an achievement.  PFats™ are not particularly nutritious, but not only are we are eating again, the illusion of choice persists.  For me, chewing the PFat™ has been a sticky lesson learned too late.  For research to make a difference, being important or timely is not enough. Further overwhelming individuals with ever more information can be counterproductive. We need stories that engage communities and policy makers in exploring and debating the outcomes of social, political and economic norms, structures and activities.

Best wishes, Suzanne

*made from Fully Albion Rape and Genetically Enhanced

2017 Conference announced

“Re-imagining sustainable food planning, building resourcefulness: Food movements, insurgent planning and heterodox economics”

Call for paper closing on 14 April 2017

AESOP 'Sustainable food planning' group

The 8th AESOP “Sustainable Food Planning” conference will be hosted by the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University (UK), on the 14-15 November 2017.
To see the call for papers, click here: Call for papers

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Call for abstracts – Digital Food Cultures symposium

Call for abstracts – Digital Food Cultures symposium

Please send abstracts (with your name, university affiliation and title of paper) of 150-200 words to me by 1 June 2017 at

This Sociological Life


I am convening a one-day symposium on Digital Food Cultures, to be held at the University of Canberra on Friday 20 October 2017. If you are interested in presenting at this symposium, the call for abstracts is now out.

This symposium is directed at the social, cultural, political and ethical dimensions of representations and practices related to using digital technologies for food production, consumption, preparation, eating out, promoting healthy diets or weight loss, marketing, ethical consumption, food activism and environmental and sustainability politics.

Topics may include, but are not limited to food-related apps, online videos, GIFs and memes, other platforms, digital food-related games, wearable devices, digital food data and 3D printed food technologies.

I plan to edit a special journal issue from selected symposium papers.

Please send abstracts (with your name, university affiliation and title of paper) of 150-200 words to me by 1 June 2017 at

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Join the MSc in Food, Space and Society, Cardiff University

~ Please circulate to any of your students who might be interested ~

Are you concerned with issues of justice, equity and wellbeing within agri-food?

Are you interested in promoting sustainable food systems?

Are you looking to engage critically in food governance?

We are currently recruiting for our MSc in Food, Space and Society and, if you answered ‘yes’ to any of the questions above, this is the masters for you.

This exciting Masters programme offers in-depth insights into:

· the opportunities for (and barriers to) food security, sustainability and justice;

· the implications of food policies on spatial and socio-economic relationships between different actors in the food system and between rural and urban areas; and

· the development effects of strategies that address the welfare and health needs of the human and animal population.

The MSc is designed and taught by staff from the Research Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Food (SURF), who have longstanding and world-renowned expertise on food geographies, politics and ethics. Led by Prof Roberta Sonnino and Dr Agatha Herman, the teaching team includes Dr Chris Bear, Prof Tim Lang, Dr Ana Moragues Faus, Prof Terry Marsden, Prof Mara Miele, Prof Paul Milbourne, Prof Kevin Morgan, Geoff Tansey and Dr Andrew Williams.

Our engagement in global agenda-setting research ensures that you will be exposed to the cutting-edge debates in food studies, and involved with an extensive network of policy and practitioner stakeholders. As part of the programme you will have the unique opportunity to work with a live food policy agenda, engaging with a real-world project to analyse challenges and offer solutions. The MSc in Food, Space and Society will therefore be of particular interest to those wishing to gain expertise in contemporary food politics and geographies, offering the knowledge and skills to develop a research career or take advantage of the increasing professionalization of food jobs in the private and public sectors.

The programme involves five bespoke modules, addressing key issues in contemporary global food systems, alongside a food-related dissertation on a topic selected by each student in consultation with members of staff. The core modules are: Sustainable Food Systems; Food Security and Justice; The Politics of Food; Food Debates; and Researching Sustainability. Optional modules allow a degree of personalisation to your MSc experience.

Further details, including how to apply:

If you have any questions, please contact Dr Agatha Herman ( or any member of the course team.

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