Bringing good food to others … summary of our recent discussion

During our previous meeting we have been discussing Julie Guthman’s “Bringing good food to others: investigating the subjects of alternative food practices” (Cultural Geographies 2008/ 15)

Guthman looks at various projects “focused on selling, donating, bringing or growing fresh fruits and vegetables in neighbourhoods inhabited by African Americans” (431). She is interested in the people working or volunteering for these projects and their values and perceptions. What she finds through the exchange with her students (who major in Community Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and volunteer in alternative food projects as part of their degree) is a strong idealism and feeling of being morally good by “bringing good food to others.” This, however, goes hand in hand with white desires and missionary practices that are reflected in these projects (433). What these projects define as good food and good food-related practices and what recipients want and need are quite disparate. In her article Guthman aims at is linking “common discourses of alternative food practices to whitened cultural histories” (443).

Three main points resulted from our discussion:

For some of us, there was a moment when we could identify with the experience of Guthman’s students – their idealism and their belief that they know exactly what is right and just need to give others the knowledge and access to improve their lives. We also pointed out that strong beliefs about good food and good food practices are common. It might be the nature of the subject, mainly the fact that it is so integral to all our lives, that leads to the formulation of strong beliefs and the feeling of knowing exactly what other people want and need. At the same time we realized that there are many discourse linked to food and indeed many contradictory beliefs about what good practices actually entail.

Going to the core of Guthman’s argument, we, from a British perspective, struggled with her emphasize on race. We suggested that class might be another factor and one that might be more applicable for a British context. But even that dividing line was seen as not quite capturing the differences in food practices.

Building on that, we discussed the idea that anther way of looking at the problem is by accepting that there are different communities of practice with regards to food. Being socialized into a certain community of practice leads us to recognize and associate with certain food practices. Guthman’s critique regarding the alternative food projects might also be approached by recognizing various community of practice instead of operating along race or class divides.

We will continue the discussion with our upcoming guest speakers:

Owain Williams on “The Political Economy of a Global Food Crisis: Science, Law, Development and Oligopoly,” 16th of May and

Jesscia Paddock on “Class, Food, Culture: Exploring ‘Alternative’ Food Consumption,” 24th of May (for details, please see under “events”)

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