Hats off to Dr. Alexandra Rodney, who successfully defended her dissertation! Entitled “Healthy is the New Thin: The Discursive Production of Women’s Healthy Living Media,” Ali’s dissertation is an analysis of healthy living blogs and other media. It asks, “how do these media shape people’s ideas about gender, health, food and the body?” Her research provides fascinating insights on how healthy living bloggers are changing the conversation about which foods are defined as healthy, and on who gets to be considered a health ‘expert.’ It was an honour to work with Ali on this research, and I learned so much from the process.
Ali recently landed a full-time postdoc at the University of Guelph as part of an initiative to advance gender equity in leadership on campus. The two-year project focuses not only on research to better understand the problem, but also on designing and prototyping short- and long-term solutions; this approach parallels Ali’s work with the Innovation Hub at UofT.
Although we’ll greatly miss her wisdom and sense of humour in the halls at UofT, we are looking forward to witnessing the new ways Ali is advancing social justice through her feminist research expertise.
Model, Paloma Eslesser, posing for Glossier (as part of their “body hero” product campaign).
I have teamed up with my friend and colleague, Judith Taylor to write a commentary on the legacy of Hugh Hefner. Definitions of feminine beauty are being broadened and contested (as we see in the Glossier model depicted here). Still, it seems important to continue to interrogate gendered double-standards that persist around physical appearance, sex, and the body.
The article is called “Small-p politics: how pleasurable, convivial and pragmatic political ideals influence engagement in eat-local initiatives”.
In the realm of local food, it’s often important to emphasize how food can be pleasurable and convivial. This is a pragmatic strategy for many reasons, and forces scholars to think carefully about what we mean by “politics”. Interviewing and observing food actors located in civil, state and market spheres in three Canadian cities, we describe a set of commonly articulated political ideals that inform and shape an engagement approach that we call “small-p politics”. We analyze why small-p politics is such an attractive option for food movement actors, but caution that narrowing the scope of tools and topics available for civic participation may compromise the ability for collective action to tackle barriers to justice and sustainability.
Here is Tyler’s description of his exciting project, entitled Who cares about nature? The environmental sociology of perception.
With increasing urbanization, urban parks may play an important role in the ability of urban dwellers to develop an affective appreciation of wild organisms and their natural habitats. This research investigates the social processes that support and derive from the awe-inspiring discovery of animals, plants, and other organisms in urban parks. The thrill of discovering wild nature may be an important root of public discussions about conserving nature.
Anelyse Weiler, one of the PhD candidates I’m supervising, is the lead author of a new article in International Migration: “Food Security at Whose Expense? A Critique of the Canadian Temporary Farm Labour Migration Regime and Proposals for Change.” Co-authored by Janet McLaughlin and Donald Cole , the article focuses on linkages between food security, food sovereignty, and Canada’s migrant farm worker regime. One of their core arguments is that pitting food security for Canadians against the rights of migrant farm workers is a false moral choice. They propose a range of policy options to advance dignity alongside migrant farm workers. These include granting migrant farm workers full immigration status on arrival, supporting worker-owned farms, and rethinking regulations that underpin concentrated corporate power in the food system.
Anelyse is currently conducting her dissertation fieldwork in BC and Washington state. Last year, the BC Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives acknowledged her efforts to inform more just and sustainable food systems through the Power of Youth Leadership Award for Research, Analysis and Solutions.
Although much is known about how affluent ‘‘foodies’’ use food as a marker of status and distinction, what are the food tastes of people with a lower socioeconomic status?
In a new article in the Journal of Consumer Culture, Shyon Baumann, Michelle Szabo and I investigate this question. We analyze interview data from 254 individuals from 105 families across Canada to explore the cultural repertoires that guide low-socioeconomic-status consumer tastes in food. We asked respondents across socioeconomic status groups which foods they prefer, and for what reasons.
We argue that low socioeconomic- status respondents show aesthetic preferences that operate according to four cultural repertoires. These repertoires are notably different from people with a high socioeconomic status who practice “cultural omnivorousness” (i.e. eating a wide range of high-status and low-status foods). Our respondents display tastes for foods from corporate brands, familiar ‘‘ethnic’’ foods, and foods they perceive as healthy.
Even though low-socioeconomic-status taste preferences in food are shaped by everyday economic constraints – what Bourdieu called ‘‘tastes of necessity’’ – we show how cultural repertoires guiding low-socioeconomic-status tastes relate to both material circumstances and broader socio-temporal contexts. Our findings shed light on the underlying meanings and justifications behind food ideals among people with low socioeconomic status.
The intention to buy organic food tends to be associated with parents who have children under the age of five. Health and taste concerns are top of mind in informing their purchases.
The intention to buy local food tends to be associated with educated, white women consumers. For these shoppers, collectivist concerns like the environment and supporting the local economy are a key motivator.
We argue that the predominant ‘individualist’ vs. ‘collectivist’ framing in the scholarly literature should be reformulated to accommodate an intermediate motivation.
Organic food consumption is often motivated by a desire to consume for others (e.g. children) in ways that aren’t straightforwardly individualist or collectivist, but that instead exemplify a caring motivation that falls somewhere between the two.
Professor Kate Cairns and I are always happy to hear when our recent book, Food and Femininity, has struck a chord with readers. Here is a compilation of the thoughtful reviews the book has received so far. We hope our contribution continues to push forward critical conversations about gender, feminism, food and inequality.
Academic conference season is underway! I’m looking forward to sharing my newest research at upcoming events, and several of the students I supervise will be speaking about their own exciting work. Here are some of the conferences where we will be presenting (or have recently presented):
Kelly, Heather, David Newman, Julia Smeed, Jacquie Beaulieu and Alexandra Rodney. “(Re)Designing the student experience: What happens when we stop surveying students and start talking to them?” (14 June)
Congrats to Alexandra Rodney, who has been awarded a SAGE Teaching Innovations & Professional Development Award! The award is from the American Sociological Association Section on Teaching and Learning. As part of the award, she is heading to Montreal in August to take part in a pre-conference workshop on teaching and learning.
Alongside her dissertation research on healthy living blogs, which I supervise, Alexandra has been committed to strengthening student learning experiences both inside the classroom and with UofT’s Innovation Hub. This month, she’ll be presenting a paper at the Canadian Association of Food Studies assembly in Toronto on an experiential learning activity she designed to help students learn about the lived experience of food insecurity. Specifically, students in her Canadian Foodways class had the option of living on a social assistance food budget for one week (similar to BC’s Welfare Food Challenge). The assignment served as a powerful way of helping students connect their individual experiences with the broader context of inequality and food politics.