My work broadly explores the role of food in social inequalities. I am passionate about how food connects us, whether that be to each other, our histories, or our communities, but also how it often works to differentiate, exclude or disparage, often those who are socially marginalized. While it’s true that there is no better way to unite people than by breaking bread together, there is still lots of work to be done to make sure that the table is welcome and accessible to everyone.
I’ve always been “a big eater”, but my foray into food scholarship began in my MA program in Anthropology at the University of Alberta. There, I combined my interests in migration, gender and food in an ethnographic study of the role of food in gendered, ethnic identity for a group of Southern Sudanese women living in the meatpacking town of Brooks, Alberta. I had incredible support at the UofA, from both my supervisor, Dr. Helen Vallianatos, and the Prairie Metropolis Centre, an interdisciplinary research centred devoted to connecting research, policy and programming related to immigration and integration. I turned this study into my MA thesis and published a piece about it in 2012 in Anthropologica.
These pursuits allowed me the space to think through why we do research, who it should be “for”, and how best to work to create projects that are impactful and relevant to the communities we study, or the policies and programs developed to assist them. Still grappling with these questions, I took a year between my MA and my PhD studies to work on a brilliantly successful Community Based Research Project, Families First Edmonton, while also working as a research consultant to support a supply chain analysis of the local food sector for the Government of Alberta. These experiences taught me about the value and challenges encompassed in community-based work, while also reaffirmed my love of research which ultimately compelled me to embark in a PhD program in Sociology.
In 2012, I moved from Alberta to the University of Toronto and embarked on the next stage of my development as a food scholar and sociologist. In the first three years, I benefited from the wealth of course offerings at UofT and honed my methodological skills. Now that I am beginning my dissertation work, I am grateful for the support and guidance I have both from my supervisor, Dr. Josée Johnston, and from my colleagues at Culinaria, the multidisciplinary Food Research Centre at UofT. I have benefited from funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and also from the Culinaria where I was one of their 2016 Connaught Doctoral Fellows.
My doctoral research will is currently leading me into the kitchens of families in Toronto (as well as into newspaper articles and national level statistics) to learn about how people negotiate their values and practices around home cooking. Many Canadians feel an intense pressure to revive “the family meal” in the wake of perceived social and bodily disruption (the “obesity crisis”, the dissolution of family life etc.). I am particularly curious to learn how this pressure affects the ways that families make their food decisions. Mostly, I am incredibly excited that my work has taken me down a path where I get to think about and talk to people about food, while sharing their kitchens and their tables.
As I look forward to my career as a food and inequality scholar, I remain committed to excellence in research and teaching, and in making my work accessible to the people most affected by it.