Ethnography of the University / Ethnography of the University: Focus on Politics 2018 / Undergraduate Ethnography

Student bio: Nil Alt (Ethnography of the University 2018: Focus on Politics)

My project looks at food politics on campus. The questions I am interested in are why and how students’ enduring interest in food has yet to generate more assertive political action. Although we hear the term ‘food politics’ often, it is quite a challenge to pin down what ‘politics’ actually signify in the context of campus food initiatives and student movements. My interest in the topic has been percolating for a few years now. As a master’s student in human geography at Concordia University, I researched how the university’s food sustainability discourses and practices positioned institutional food procurement as a means of regional food systems transformation. The kind of student politics or student initiatives (e.g. cooperatives) that emerged from ideas of shortening the food chain and building local food systems have since attracted my attention. Despite my familiarity with campus food initiatives, I realized how little I knew on campus food banks and their recent emergence at Canadian universities. Some preliminary research demonstrated that while for some, food banks signalled a dire and structural student poverty problem, for others they were spaces of care and community-building.  Therefore, to understand the quotidian structures of campus food politics in relation to student poverty and food insecurity, I conducted participant observation at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) food bank. My ethnography generated new ways for critical reflection on campus food spaces and on the contradicting meanings of student food insecurity. Throughout my project at the food bank, ethnographic inquiry helped me anchor a nuanced and embodied understanding of cross-cutting themes ranging from nutrition to social change.

Blog posts by Nil:

At the gates of ethnographic knowledge

The Food Insecure Student

Politics of Need Interpretation at the UTSU food bank

Ethnography of the University Collaborative Writing Theme 3: Who is the imagined university student

Collaborative Ethnography

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