Graduate Theses & Dissertations

“At least I can feel like I’ve done my job as a mom”
This study examines the household foodwork of low-income mothers in Peterborough, Ontario and considers how community food initiatives (CFIs) such as community gardens and good food box programs can support these women in their efforts to feed their families adequately. I draw on multiple data sources: interviews with representatives from Peterborough CFIs; interviews with and illustrations by 21 local low-income mothers; debrief sessions following participants’ tours of CFIs; and my ongoing involvement with two local food networks. The mothers’ extensive foodwork considerations, strategies, and struggles reflect an engagement with three main ideals that are placed further out of reach through poverty and food insecurity. Women experienced pressure through these ideals: the “good mother,” to take primary responsibility for their children’s well-being through food; the “good consumer,” to participate in society as individual consumers; and the “good food program participant,” to avoid indications of over-reliance on food programs. Each ideal reflects the neoliberal exaltation of self-sufficiency and its flipside, the vilification of dependence. The research results highlight the need for CFIs to focus on the broader, systemic discursive and material challenges that can hamper the foodwork of all low-income mothers, in addition to addressing the immediate needs of their own participants. Towards this goal, Peterborough CFIs employ principles of universality, social inclusion, democratic processes, and broadening of social imaginaries. In their efforts, CFIs must navigate between cultivating collectivity and interdependence on the one hand, and engaging with this familiar, individualizing neoliberal ethos on the other hand. This study provides insights about the subjectivities of low-income mothers that may be useful for CFI programming as well as more analytic examinations of the role and impact of CFIs. It also reveals the common feminization, devaluation, and under resourcing of the food-related work of both mothers and CFIs. In doing so, the study points to the urgent need for broad dialogue and political action regarding poverty, dependence, caring labour, and the roles of citizens and the state in ensuring that households can adequately feed themselves. Author Keywords: Community Food Initiatives, Community Food Programs, Domestic Labour, Food Insecurity, Gendering of Caring Labour, Household Food Work

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