AAG 2017 CFP: People-Centred Food Policy

Luke Craven (University of Sydney) and I will be organizing a series of paper sessions on people-centred food policy at the 2017 meeting of the American Association of Geographers in Boston. Please see the call for papers below, and do get in touch if you are interested in participating! 

CFP: People-Centred Food Policy — 2017 American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting — Boston, MA — April 5-9, 2017

Organizers: Luke Craven, University of Sydney, luke.craven@sydney.edu.auMichael Chrobok, University of Toronto, michael.chrobok@mail.utoronto.ca

Person-centred policy is a philosophical approach to governance increasingly popular in medical and health circles which seeks to place individuals at the heart of policymaking. In acknowledging the significance of lived encounters with the food system, this perspective aims to foreground and respect the idiosyncrasy of human experience and understanding in the way we design and ‘do’ food policy. Central to this viewpoint is a recognition of persons as whole and complex beings, whose engagements with food and entanglements with the food system may be inflected by such factors as personal beliefs and values, social and familial contexts, cultural backgrounds, physical health, housing, education, and employment.

The aim of these two paper sessions is to draw together diverse perspectives, experiences, and empirical research on food policy to explore where and how the lives of everyday people can be (re)centred in its development, implementation, and evaluation. How can we make people-centred approaches work in – or be amenable to – different geographic and policy contexts? What should our approaches to food and nutrition look like in the face of increasingly complexity? Crucially, how can we ensure that the preferences, needs, and values of food system stakeholders remain at the core of the work we do?

To participate in these sessions, please send a paper title, abstract (250 words maximum), five keywords, author(s), institutional affiliation, and contact information to Luke Craven (luke.craven@sydney.edu.au) and Michael Chrobok (michael.chrobok@mail.utoronto.ca) by September 30, 2016.

All accepted participants will be required to register and submit their abstracts to the AAG (http://www.aag.org/cs/annualmeeting/register) and send their abstract PIN number to the session organizers by October 27, 2016. Participants will also be asked to circulate a draft paper to the organizers by March 1, 2017.

On Discomfort & Whiteness

This is the second blog post in a series of reflections about our research team’s experiences at the Canadian Association of Food Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, June 2016.

Attending Scarborough Fare, the joint CAFS, ASFS & AFHVS academic conference was a new experience for me. As a first year masters student at my first conference, I expected to feel out of place as I learned my way around this particular space. However, the theme of the conference was also “Global Foodways and Local Foods in a Transnational City” so I was certain that considering my research focus was on local food work and immigrants in Ontario that I would find overlap with my work. What I did not expect was to encounter time and again throughout the conference a distinct lack of discussion around race or colonialism. As a scholar who works through the lenses of race, power, and difference, I took for granted that these issues would be addressed in panels throughout the conference. This is not to say these issues were never raised, as I did attend a few roundtables and panels that made an effort to discuss them. However, it often felt as if discussions would simply mention race or difference as a way to check a box on a list. Over the three full conference days of panels, I found myself growing increasingly frustrated in sessions that seemed to ignore race or simply gloss over it, particularly in sessions that focused on concepts like food justice or intersectionality.

Writing on the whiteness of university spaces, Carol Schick notes that, “…white places produce identities in which codes and expectations of proper white behaviour are vigorously enforced by reiterative, normative practices and designations of what is worth knowing” (2002).  What I was experiencing at the conference falls in line with Schick’s description of whiteness in university space. Whiteness, its practices and behaviours, influenced the focus and the thrust of the conference. The sessions demonstrated that to study immigrants, migrant foodways, and other varieties of marginalized and/or racialized people through the lens of food did not necessarily require scholars to seriously develop an understanding of systemic racism or colonialism.  While the food and culture of racialized people were celebrated, the realities of living in a racist system that disadvantages and targets certain parts of the population is not seen as worth knowing. Difference was celebrated without being problematized. Of course the option was mine (and other scholars who may have noticed) to interrupt this narrative, to ask difficult questions, to raise objections, but not only was the space not particularly conducive of critique, with little time left for meaningful discussion, but as one of few people of colour, a woman and a young student, it seemed out of turn to step in and offer a critique. Whiteness at the conference made me uncomfortable, but I hesitated to challenge or critique it, because I did not want to make others uncomfortable.

“Antiracist work could be described as a politics of discomfort.  This is not to say that we aim to make others uncomfortable but that discomfort might be a consequence of what we aim for:  after all to challenge whiteness is to get in the way of an occupation of space.” (Ahmed 2014).This discomfort is part of the labour of being an academic focused on unsettling whiteness — it is difficult, emotionally, mentally, to challenge these narratives and question these norms. It will be tense and awkward at best, and potentially combative at worst. At times this uncomfortable labour did take place, in my own presentations or alongside my colleagues at our roundtable, but these were spaces where I was scheduled to speak and therefore had a platform. Some tense and uncomfortable conversations were had, but they often stagnated around definitions of key terms (what exactly is racism? who is a settler?), suggesting that some participants were encountering these topics for the first time in a meaningful way.  In writing on the pedagogy of discomfort Boler and Zembylas suggest that, “if this takes place in an emotionally open and safe environment— that nurtures emotions of anger or guilt but challenges them with compassion and courage— there will be possibilities for mutual exploration that also nurture hope and a sense of community for initiating change” (2003, 125). As they suggest, our panel created a space where participants felt comfortable to ask foundational questions and explore feelings of guilt and frustration. It may not have allowed for far reaching discussions of more complicated questions, but it also reinforced that we must not shy away from the emotional labour of initiating uncomfortable conversations as they increase awareness and can lead to meaningful engagement.  To do this it may be necessary to change our viewpoints on discomfort.

I quote Sara Ahmed again as she writes, “Discomfort in other words, allows things to move. Every experience I have had of pleasure and excitement about a world opening up has begun with such ordinary feelings of discomfort, of not quite fitting in a chair, of becoming unseated, of being left holding onto the ground. So yes, if we start with the body that loses its chair, the world we describe will be quite different” (2014).  What if discomfort can be reframed as a positive signal of change, of a shifting of the narrative, of an opening to meaningful conversation? Perhaps if creating discomfort in ourselves and for others can be viewed not as a necessary evil, but as a progressive sign of successful activist work, it will become easier to speak up.


Ahmed, S. (2014, February 3). A Sinking Feeling. Retrieved from https://feministkilljoys.com/2014/02/03/a-sinking-feeling/

Boler, M., & Zembylas, M. (2003). Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change, 110-136.

Schick, C. (2002). “Keeping the Ivory Tower White: Discourses of Racial Domination” in Razack, S. (Ed.) Race, space, and the law: Unmapping a white settler society, p. 99-120. Toronto: Between the Lines.


TED Talks and Research Dissemination

My friend just shared this video and I felt it was worth passing on. In this insightful talk, Benjamin Bratton of UCSD managed to put into words a sentiment I’ve had for a while: that TED talks tend to gloss over complicated and difficult political issues with techno-utopian and naive ‘solutions.’  As he also points out, it is very important that the noble goal of academics trying to communicate their ideas in an engaging and straightforward way not slide into infotainment. This is a useful commitment to keep in mind as our research team thinks about ways to disseminate our research.

I wonder what Bratton would think about the 3MT project in comparison to TED? A Ph.D. student from UBC Geography – Craig Jonesrecently got 1st at the regional level and I was impressed with his ability to summarize his research in a pointed way. In my initial glances 3MT doesn’t seem to get as much attention from the social sciences and humanities as it should. Most people I know develop ‘elevator speech’ versions of their research, but this more structured and competitive format is an interesting one. Perhaps when my writing is further along I’ll give it a go!

Sam’s tips for graduate students at the AAG

At this year’s AAG in San Francisco I started to feel like I understood a bit better how to approach this giant conference as a graduate student. Here I’ll just provide a few tips that might be helpful for students attending their first AAG. I’m certainly no expert, but I am slowly learning how this thing works and thought I’d share a little bit.

  1. One major thing I’m learning is to not go overboard. Though if you look at my last post of the highlights you’ll see I’m still not great at that! Each year I go to fewer sessions though. I have a pretty wide range of interests and am a total nerd, so the desire to go to everything is there, but I’ve learned that there are only so many arguments you can absorb in one day. Try to pick your battles so that you don’t spend all day in a conference room.
  2. Related to the above point, try to escape the conference at least a few times during the week. I know many people probably don’t need someone to tell them to go do some exploring, but I have noticed that academic “fear of missing out” made it hard for me to do that. I got over it partially by planning out my week in advance so I could see when I had some dead zones in the schedule. This year I spent one half day just walking around the city and saw some great stuff: City Lights bookstore, the WPA murals at Coit Tower, etc.
  3. In terms of forming your schedule, I’d suggest being strategic and prioritizing a few different things:
    1. Try to see most of the sessions very closely related to your empirical area of study; it’s likely there will be a few. This is especially useful if you pick sessions with some scholars you have read, but haven’t met yet.
    2. Try to see some sessions in a related area you are interested in, but don’t know much about.
    3. Be very careful when picking sessions to attend just because there are some “big name” scholars presenting. I’ve seen that these can vary widely in quality and are usually packed and uncomfortable. The named lectures (IJURR, Antipode, Progress in Human Geography, Urban Geography, etc.) don’t always have a lot of public information out there, so try to get a sense of what you’re getting into before going.
  4. In case you weren’t aware, there are also lots of organized social events, many with free food and sometimes drinks – good for grad students. Most of the named lectures have a short reception afterwards. There are usually parties hosted by different departments occurring each night and if you have friends there they will often welcome guests.

I’ll keep this post short after the last one, but those are some initial thoughts on how to approach the AAG. I might come back and edit this later to put in some advice on choosing accommodation, but for now I think this is a good start.