i know few people read this blog, my stats tell me so. no, not boo-hoo. i think this space may be perfectly public enough for me to write, see if anyone stumbles upon it, get some feedback, and possibly publish. call it a public control mechanism, whatever. at least it’s not stuck in my head as ‘maybe i should…”

The involvement of local communities in developing projects, and somewhat in evaluations, is increasingly recognized as a necessity; to garner support and commitment to engage in creating change for public policy and programming that satisfies the needs and wants from the bottom up. Yet, it seems that like all great things that become mainstream, popular, and institutionalized, participatory has become plastic. We see the term spouted and sprinkled in programming with underlying individualistic lifestyle approaches to weight loss (I blame participACTION for flouncing its logo, starting in the 1980s, for the onset of victim blaming discourse aimed at promoting fixes (for everything) if people would just participate! and act! As if there is little more to mending problems, such as preventing them in the first place, and understanding why and how (body)breaks! happen.

fast forward to slow food. or rather, the gamut of food stuffs related to abundance and shortages. odd isn’t it, that the one hand, abundance begets obesity but somehow does not fit within the realm of politics since the resource is not limited. on the other hand, shortages imply stakeholders all trying to get a piece of that sweet, sweet pie. so which is it? certainly the availability of food is political (not enough) and resource-full. – i want to come back to this, since, on a more romantically theoretical level, i see all this jazz in cultural hermeneutics. i digress (only sort of, since in a mash-up way, it’s all related).

i still haven’t gotten to the point (do you see why i need to write it down?).

in relation to food stuffs availabilities, there’s a (history of and current) tendency to underestimate and undermine the role of social relations and the factors that jeopardise successful (hmm, actual?) participatory communications between all those for whom food stuffs are intended to be inclusive for, i.e. “local people”, “communities”, farm labour, whatever you want. From a marxist perspective – those who don’t have the means to production. In participatory food costing, it’s just this… The conditions under which “participants” may decide to ‘disclose’ their ‘knowledge’ and make their needs explicit, while supported by “covering childcare, travel, etc.”, are very difficult to create. Their disclosure is in the form of a form, literally. Filling out a food basket form with figures created by those who hold the purse strings to support (university researchers) and service and program providers (community organizations), who are in bed together, rolling around in government supported funding. Maybe that’s a stretch, OK, nah.

Let us consider who “participates”, how, and why:

a) who: government funders and policy-makers

– how: provide funding to projects  (based on information from the projects)

– why: esteem in the community (of voters and project workers) for funding “feel good, helping” work and excusing themselves from making decisions to ensure more equality by disrupting status quo, by offending the rich (e.g. higher taxes and stringent regulations for wealthy individuals and large multinationals)

b) who: universities and researchers

– how: provide expertise and do research, and access to resources (based on connection to the projects)

– why: funding- and tenure-dependent, esteem in self and in the community (of academics/universities and funders) for new, feel-good, tough helping” publishable work

c) who: service and program providers

– how: provide more stable access to “unstable community members”

– why: increase base of decision-making evidence (based on concepts purported mostly by gov’t & university researchers), connections to gain/support requests for more funding, feel-good stuff

d) who: services and program users/clients

– how: provide the man-power, with “support” of honorariums and childcare

– why: honorariums, “action”, feel-good stuff

Using the term “participatory” in food costing is bastardized for the purist. Interaction between community members (users of services) and project managers (for example, non-profit leads and researchers on striving for tenure) seldom leads to mutual comprehension.  Frequently, negotiation builds upon a number of misunderstandings that may be fostered intentionally or (without regard to assumptions) spontaneously due to differences in… namely, power and the need for power among all, but due to social structure and governance of space and place (I don’t know how more ‘cool’ local can be!?) the powerful stay that way, powerful and hungry, despite claiming to work for the more objectively hungry. the middle (wo)men (i.e. service providers) may participate but, yeh, purist thinking here.


my latest task is to figure out how to include “the excluded” in food security actions. namely, ethnic and racial minorities in a Canadian context.

within this overarching query, the quotation marks represent two underlying issues of utmost concern (and others that i hope to bring to light):

a) those ethnic and racial minorities who are excluded, are faced with multiple social, economic, and political challenges n their day-to-day lives; barriers to food security, as well as overall health and well-being. as such, a large majority of initiatives to improve food security have values and objectives aiming toward inclusivity

b) yet, (and i have to start searching for literature to support for this), there has been little attention paid in the form of outreach to recruit allies with ethnic and racial communities, and where/when it has been attempted, what has been gained (lost?), what was the process, etc?

“a” is fairly well established. “b” encompasses my next task to pursue. as i see it, the doors are open and the food security (mostly white, upper-middle class) are waving in “the excluded”, but few are crossing the threshold.

how then? asking how to involve the excluded in food security actions is to jump the gun and make assumptions that “food”, “security”, and “food security” carry the same meaning for all.

my interest in “how” depends greatly on what i find about “why”.

why then? i have strong hunches that need to be assessed in the existing literature, and examined explicitly in the particular context in which i am working.

if you happen upon this posting and have some good resources or know of doctoral supervisor/funder that would support this work, please post as a comment.