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Shared Lunch: An Ethnography of Food Sovereignty in Whaingaroa and Beyond

Food presents complex interconnectedness between inner and outer; social and political; culture and biochemistry; values and practices; tradition and innovation; wealth and poverty; the global, local and highly personal. Amid this multifaceted intersection vast bodies of contemporary academic literature have emerged. This study is an ethnography of alternative food networks; of food sovereignty and social economics. More specifically it is an ethnography of a community of small-scale local food providers in Whaingaroa, a small coastal township in Aotearoa [New Zealand]. Through the lenses provided by perspectives of these food providers, the global corporate food system is critiqued. Through their everyday practices, alternatives have been developed which offer potential solutions to widely recognised problems associated with environmental and social exploitation. These problems are largely attributed to the current dominant global systems of corporate capitalism, including the dominant systems of food production, consumption and disposal. A theoretical framework has been woven together in order to aid understanding of participant world-views and values. This framework is constructed around ontologies of connectedness and the negotiation of paradox. Ethnographic participant observation was carried out as the primary research method alongside in-depth interviews with key participants. Further information was gathered from the internet, largely from websites and blogs, in order to further assist in locating the framework of food sovereignty within a New Zealand context. Much of the fieldwork was carried out in Whaingaroa. Several other sites were also included in order to gather understandings from a broader range of settings within the New Zealand context. The initiatives and groups of focus during participant observation included community gardens, small scale organic and permaculture farms, and other community groups and businesses focussed on producing and distributing local food, as well as minimising waste and environmental harm. Key participants were chosen to represent the diverse range of people involved in aspects of local food activities. This research suggests that these small-scale local food initiatives are often connected, especially as they are responses by people and community groups to the tensions of exploitation, struggle, and scarcity created by the perceived globalising corporate system. They present a rational response to the sense of powerlessness engendered by this system, whereby personal and community agency is channelled into ‘focussing on solutions’. In doing so, a range of alternative economic systems are implemented at a community level, largely based on relationships and trust. These relationships potentiate greater sharing of resources which result in greater agency for participants, particularly those who would otherwise lack access to land for food production. Strong similarities between participants are evidenced in the ethical values expressed, as well as in the tension they negotiate in their daily lives. These also resemble the values and tensions of focus in the global campaign for food sovereignty. Participants present a deliberate focus on solutions, and on what is possible and achievable by small groups of people with minimal resources, and they reflect a protest against the alienation experienced under the dominant power structures of the global corporate system.
Type of thesis
Ritchie, I. P. (2017). Shared Lunch: An Ethnography of Food Sovereignty in Whaingaroa and Beyond (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/11364
University of Waikato
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