My research explores grassroots efforts to address inequalities in the food system, especially within urban America. I employ a political economic framework and qualitative participatory methods to critically examine the gap between what we know to be the need for food system reform with the extant focus on individual change. I currently have five intersecting lines of research:
Food System Planning and Policy
I am currently completing a regional food system assessment with my colleague Matthew Potteiger, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Foresty (SUNY ESF). This research, funded by the Onondaga County Agricultural Council, aims to develop a framework for coordinating food and agricultural system planning in Syracuse and Onondaga County, New York. We engaged in participatory mixed methods to develop a baseline understanding of the strengths, gaps, and opportunities of the current Central New York food system. Food system planning and policy research is currently my focus and is an extension and expansion of my research to date. This focus allows me to situate my research at the cutting edge of food studies scholarship and clearly integrate emerging expertise with publicly engaged scholarship with my teaching and service in ways that are innovative and supportive of social change efforts.
Food Justice Activist-Scholarship
In the summer of 2014, I began a project that engaged youth in a photovoice project to document the impacts of a food system intervention. Photovoice is a method whereby community members use cameras to document and discuss issues of concern. This project seeks to understand how young people in a low-income neighborhood identify food system problems. Findings indicate that although interested in questions of food justice, youth identify more immediate problems encountered in their everyday lives, suggesting that food activists might do more to consider the intersectionality of inequalities in their effort to advance food justice. This project is directly engaging the tension between food system interventions as alternative or oppositional, working to understand possibilities for food system interventions to be cognizant of limitations in traditional approaches that seek to create better individual consumers. The research findings, then, suggest that well-intended food justice efforts may often fail to start with necessary community input and problem identification. I continue to theorize food justice in all of my research projects.
Urban Food Production
My dissertation, “Cultivating the City: Urban Agriculture and Agrarian Questions in Brooklyn, New York” investigated urban agriculture as part of the emerging efforts to address disparities in food access and the costly human and environmental health impacts of the food system. My findings indicate a problematic gap exists between the intended goals of (Brooklyn’s) urban agriculture movement and the explicit political work necessary to realize food justice. I continue to conduct research on urban food production in Brooklyn and Syracuse, NY.
Mobile markets are broadly described as farm stands on wheels, bringing fresh fruits, vegetables and other food staples into neighborhoods, especially those lacking traditional, full service grocery stores, or where a significant proportion of the population lacks transportation to grocery stores (i.e.,“food deserts”). A group of colleagues and I conducted a comparative case study that critically examined mobile markets in Syracuse, NY. Our findings suggest that although Syracuse’s mobile markets play a positive role in alleviating geographic, economic, and social barriers to fresh food access experienced by elderly, immobile and low income residents living in Syracuse’s urban neighborhoods, their impacts are dampened by both operational constraints and larger political and economic forces. We recently completed a national survey of mobile markets with the goal of understanding the feasibility of mobile markets as a model to address disparities in food access and to develop baseline understanding of the structure and function of the some 50 mobile markets operating throughout North America.
Food Studies is one of the fastest-growing fields of study in North America, encompassing the study of food systems, politics and policy, public health, identity and culture, history, ecological sustainability, inequality, social justice, and urban/regional design and planning. I conduct research on the emergence, development, and pedagogy of food studies within higher education institutions throughout the United States in ways that directly helps build the new field of Food Studies and supports my teaching.