Congrats to Julian Agyeman, Caitlin Matthews, and Hannah Sobel for pulling together the great new edited volume called Food Trucks, Cultural Identity, and Social Justice: From Loncheras to Lobsta Love, published by MIT Press. Here's an overview from the publisher's page:
The food truck on the corner could be a brightly painted old-style lonchera offering tacos or an upscale mobile vendor serving lobster rolls. Customers range from gastro-tourists to construction workers, all eager for food that is delicious, authentic, and relatively inexpensive. Although some cities that host food trucks encourage their proliferation, others throw up regulatory roadblocks. This book examines the food truck phenomenon in North American cities from Los Angeles to Montreal, taking a novel perspective: social justice. It considers the motivating factors behind a city’s promotion or restriction of mobile food vending, and how these motivations might connect to or impede broad goals of social justice.
The contributors investigate the discriminatory implementation of rules, with gentrified hipsters often receiving preferential treatment over traditional immigrants; food trucks as part of community economic development; and food trucks’ role in cultural identity formation. They describe, among other things, mobile food vending in Portland, Oregon, where relaxed permitting encourages street food; the criminalization of food trucks by Los Angeles and New York City health codes; food as cultural currency in Montreal; social and spatial bifurcation of food trucks in Chicago and Durham, North Carolina; and food trucks as a part of Vancouver, Canada’s, self-branding as the “Greenest City.
I collaborated with my colleague Matthew Gebhardt and former Master's of Urban Studies student Alex Novie on a chapter in it called "Is it Local... or Authentic and Exotic? Ethnic Food Carts and Gastropolitian Habitus on Portland's Eastside", based on Alex's thesis research. Here's a post-print version of our chapter, but better yet, pick up a copy of the book to read about food trucks not just in Portland, but also in LA, NYC, Montreal, Vancouver, and beyond!
If you don't have institutional access to the journal, you can read the paper here for free or download a copy of the post-print here. The paper is built on a wider survey of UA organizations and businesses we conducted a couple of years ago when Mike was still a MURP student before heading to UBC (click here for the summary results of the overall survey).
Congrats to my PhD student Amy Coplen on a fantastic panel she organized here at PSU a few weeks ago. "Working for Food Justice: What does farm-to-table really mean?" brought together over 60 food workers, labor organizers, and members of the PSU community to discuss how we can advocate for food workers. Panelists included representatives of Piñeros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), Adelante Mujeres, the IWW, and UNITE HERE.
"Many of those who work to put food on our plates cannot afford to feed themselves. Food labor— including cultivating, harvesting, sorting, packaging, processing, transporting, marketing, retailing, preparing, and serving food—constitutes over half of all human labor. Yet, this work remains largely invisible to consumers. The city of Portland is rapidly gaining status as the foodie capital of the world. Local restaurants are praised for their dedication to local and organic sourcing, but little attention is paid to the work that goes into preparing these meals. In “farm-to-table” restaurants, food somehow magically and gracefully makes its way from the field to your plate. The term “farm-to-table” itself erases from the diners consciousness, all of the hands and bodies and minds that work so hard to feed us. More broadly, the alternative food movement is so focused on environmental sustainability and the health of those consuming food that the wellbeing of those who work in the food system is largely ignored."
Congratulations to Amy on this fantastic effort. Read more about the event and panel participants here.
Great new article: "The Elusive Inclusive: Black Food Geographies and Racialized Food Spaces" by Margaret Marietta Ramírez
I just read a new article in Antipode by a geography PhD student at the U of Washington, Margaret Marietta Ramirez. In it she pushes the boundaries of food justice scholarship by drawing on black geographies and critical race theory (notably as elaborated by McKittrick and Woods) to "de-center the white subject as the presumed actor within critical food studies". Here's the abstract:
North American food scholars, activists and policymakers often consider how to make a community food project more inclusive to “vulnerable populations” to increase participation in local food efforts. Drawing from qualitative research conducted with two community food organizations in Seattle, Washington, I argue that inclusive efforts are not addressing the power asymmetries present in organizations and within communities. Engaging with black geographies literature, I reveal how a black food justice organization grapples with violent histories of slavery and dispossession rooted in a black farming imaginary, and works to re-envision this imaginary to one of power and transformation. The spatial imaginaries and spaces of each food organization acknowledge racial histories differentially, informing their activism. Black geographies possess knowledge and spatial politics that can revitalize community food movements, and I consider how white food activists might reframe their work so that their efforts are not fueling the displacement of residents of color.
She makes an important claim that really speaks to something I've been mulling over, which is the relationship between food justice and food sovereignty. She writes: "Some food scholars have signaled that perhaps a shift in terminology to that of “food sovereignty” would be more appropriate for food movements that address injustices across scale. While the use of food sovereignty connects North American struggles to indigenous struggles for autonomy across the globe, signaling our interconnection in the colonial present, I worry that the loss of this genealogy would displace the critique of institutional racism central to food justice activism and use a broad brushstroke to encompass place-based movements rooted in black geographies. In addition, the loss of the “justice” genealogy that traces food justice activism to its social justice roots in black social movements would be lost, submerging generations of black struggles for equity that are often tied to the land."
Great reading and I'll definitely be assigning it in class!
Nathan McClintock is a geographer and professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University.