When I first thought about my dissertation, I floundered around for ideas on a research topic. I waffled between different ideas such as water conservation, animal-human relationships, transition town creation, social justice, and sustainability. Qualities of my study had to be:
- Something I was passionate about (passion is key because I’d be stuck working on one idea for many years running).
- Something relevant to the world (I didn’t want my research to sit on the shelf collecting dust in a dark corner of the library).
- Something that contributes to the existing knowledge (Yes, I wanted to add another spoke to the wheel of knowledge).
I discovered that urban food policy had all these qualities. But my real challenge was to answer the questions “So what? Who cares?”
Hidden In Plain Site
Food is something that is everywhere – it’s hidden in plain site.
If food is so ubiquitous, how could I make people take notice? How could I make them care about food?
The “So What” Who Cares?” (SWWC) questions continued to haunt me during my dissertation. At the same time, the questions helped be focus on a common theme or the main idea of my study.
My job was to find a way to answer some key questions: What are the problems in today’s food systems? Who cares and why should they care? What are the main challenges in feeding people in the future?
The “So What?” question was relatively easy to answer: If we don’t find new policies to change today’s food systems, there can be food shortages in the future. The “So What?” question made me think about why my research was worth doing.
So What? might look something like this – a food policy study was worth doing because:
- Conventional agriculture is large-scale food production and is harmful to nature.
- Today’s food supply chain is centralized, complex and part of a global food network.
- Local food alone is not enough to feed growing urban population.
- Food policies include land conservation, animal welfare, and social justice.
Protecting agriculture and food systems is a national security concern.
This short list is an example of how the “So What?” question becomes complicated. While food remains invisible, our lives depend on it.
This was the big question for me. The challenge was to help people care about something we take for granted: our food system. It is an evolving food system in need of repair.
Some people call it a broken food system – I call it a system in need of a retrofit. Our food system needs new or modified practices that can update or change the entire systems.
Alternative agriculture including urban agriculture, community gardens, organic farming, and backyard gardens are a few examples. Conserving public spaces to grow food, and partnerships with private landowners are other examples.
Who Cares? Think about this: On any given day, there are approximately 842 million (12% of the world’s population) people suffer from hunger worldwide.
This number is overwhelming for most people. And this 12% of the world’s population live in developing countries.
And 60 percent of the world’s hungry are women, who have limited access to resources because of the patriarchal societies in which they live. I talked about this problem in my blog about women farmers.
Do 842 million people touch our lives? Do we really care about world hunger? Sometimes I wonder…
But we can care about global food systems and make a difference in our own ways.
Every time you eat, it is an opportunity to nourish your body.