Last year I had a very interesting time reading and engaging with Isa Ritchie's masters thesis on Weston A Price style food movements. Now she's back, with a PhD project on no less than the 'democratisation of nourishment,' a phrase redolent with academic speak which actually translates to looking at very interesting movements of freeganism, free foraging and community gardening.
Today, Isa is thinking out loud about defining the parameters of her study (something I was never good at. Like Isa, I fancied looking at everything). She writes:
"I want to focus on practices that either generate food (largely) outside
of the corporate food system and aren't bought or sold using
conventional currency or that glean food that would otherwise be wasted,
and, therefore, do not contribute to the corporate food system. I'm
interested in concepts such as abundance, scarcity, freedom, community
and participation - and I'm interested in what people involved in this
sort of thing think and their lived experiences."
I have some thoughts. I cannot promise you Isa that they are the slightest bit helpful in terms of narrowing your focus. Food isn't just a system in itself. Food is what makes everything else possible. Even if you define the terms of your focus on explicit movements, publicly accessible organisations with names, I think it's worth acknowledging and considering the silent and largely invisibile free food people. I'd wager that they are mostly, though not exclusively, women. A long time ago, when reading about conscientious objectors like Archibald Baxter, one of the things I noticed was about the food. Despite the ban on supporting conscientious objectors, families of objectors would sometimes find food at their doorstep in the morning. To me, this is an important gesture of silent and valuable support, one which has no tangible reward.
Then there is food for financial survival. Whereas taking a bag of supermarket groceries around to a friend or acquaintance or neighbour in need seems to bear the neon label of "charity", sharing home grown garden produce is much more acceptable. The sharing of glut produce can take place in a mutually beneficial web of reciprocity, but it can also be a means of redistribution for the financially vulnerable.
Then there is community fundraising outside of the corporate model. Otherwise known as a cake stall. Our school gala is not far away now and the newsletters requesting help flow in each week. I'll be collecting money and marshalling children on the facepainting stall on the day, but before then I will be pulling out my cake and loaf tins (gifted by Mary K, my elderly cousin who is now unable to bake herself) and whipping up cakes and loaves using the recipes my mother gave me, one of which comes from her grandmother. My Mum is the queen of cake stall baking in my opinion. I expect she has earnt thousands for local community groups over her lifetime. I know this isn't free food precisely, but it is food outside of a corporate model.
Free food movements are an interesting phenomenon. They are edgy and often radical. Dumpster diving wasn't cool when it was the elderly homeless, but when relatively affluent, university educated food activists starting doing it, ... well suddenly we had an actual movement. Free food as a lubricant which enables vulnerable people to function is sometimes semi-institutionalised, as in the case of food banks, and sometimes it happens through the quiet efforts of unfashionable matrons.