Critical Perspectives And Marginalized Issues

By Cory Rodgers

On May 4th, the Oxford Food Security Forum hosted its third annual conference at St. Antony’s College, featuring three panels organised around the theme “Critical Perspectives and Marginalised Issues.”

To open the event, Principal of Jesus College Lord John Krebs provided an overview of key concerns in food security research. From the challenge of feeding a planet of 9 billion in 2050 to the entangled tasks of increasing productivity while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, his address was both technical and political. In particular, he drew from his experience as head of the Food Standards Agency to discuss the difficulties that encumber communication between decision-makers and researchers, an interaction complicated by differences in knowledge and divergent priorities. He raised the importance of creating and maintaining trust among those involved, an issue that resurfaced throughout the day's conversations.

The first panel tackled broad issues in food security discourse, such as the biases inherent in a state-centric definitions of food security problems as well as the politics of blame that underlie nutritional education programmes targeting low-income mothers.

The second panel focused specifically upon seldom-discussed food production methods, including minor crops traditionally grown in the UK, innovative honey-production techniques employed by former pastoralists in western Kenya, and the collection of wasps for food in rural Japan.

The final panel brought issues of power and political economy into focus with discussions of state-citizen relationships in Tanzania and Haiti, as well as corporate influence on food security in Russia.

We thank Dr. Angela Raven-Roberts, Dr. Neil Carrier and Dr. Barbara Harriss-White for contributing their time and energy as moderators and using their knowledge and experiences to enrich our discussions.

The day concluded with a talk titled “Agriculture, Food Systems and Health: Interdisciplinary Ferment and Friction” by Professor Bhavani Shankar from SOAS, whose message was one of both frustration and optimism. On the one hand, a number of recent meta-reviews on nutritional health interventions are ultimately inconclusive on the efficacy and effectiveness of current strategies, casting much of our accumulated knowledge into question. On the other hand, the growth in funding for food security issues from governments and other institutions signals a broad recognition of the need for further research and analysis.

In light of the days conversations, insights and reflections, the hope of the Food Security Forum is that researchers come to practice an increasingly critical reflexivity in their own work, ensuring that future analyses are informed by past mistakes and and awareness of existing biases and theoretical assumptions.

The conversation from this year's conference is continuing on the Oxford Food Security Forum's blog. If you have a related critique of current methods, theories or paradigms in food security research and would like to share, we would look forward to receiving contributions of 250-500 words at oxford.food.forum.2014@gmail.com.
 

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