An Alternative Approach to Food Justice: A Gendered

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Oct 22, 2013 (3 years and 7 months ago)



An Alternative

Approach to Food Justice: A Gendered
Analysis of Transition Towns in the UK

Kirsti Susanna Barrineau


Word Count:


This dissertation

is submitted as part of a MA/MS
c degree in Environment, Politics and
Globalisation at King’s College London.






I, ........................................................................ hereby declare (a) that this Dissertation is
own original work and that all source material used is acknowledged therein; (b) that it has been
specially prepared for a degree of the University of London; and (c) that it does not contain any
material that has been or will be submitted to the Examin
ers of this or any other university, or
any material that has been or will be submitted for any other examination.

This Dissertation is ..........................................words.


: ......................................................................





: Transition Towns

and Gendered
Food Practices

Literature Review

Gendered Food Practices



The Female ‘Mora
l Voice’ and an Ethic of Care



Food Justice


The Transition Movement







Participant Observation


Discourse Analysis







Power Relations

Analysis and Discussion


Moving Beyond Gender Myths


The Woman/Nature C

4.3 Creating Empowering Spaces


Creating New ‘Visceral Imaginaries’


Food Projects as Practical and Accessible Sites of Care

: What D
oes Transition Mean
for Food Justice?…………………………………..34



Appendix 1: Ethical Approval


Appendix 2: Locations and Interviewees




First, I would like to extend a special thanks to Kate Maclean for her encouragement and
support throughout the research process. I would further like to thank all Transition
participants for sharing their food, gardens, and thoughts with me. A final thank

you goes
out to my course mates who helped me sort through my ideas.


An Alternative Approach to Food Justice: A Gendered
Analysis of Transition Towns in the UK

The Transition movement is an initiative that aims to develop resilient communities in the
face of the twin challenges of peak oil and climate change. Local food growth is at the heart of
the movement. Using an ethic of care framework, I find that Transiti
on food groups create

spaces for a more relational food praxis that complicates ‘geographical binaries’

and revalues the largely feminine role of care labour. I further observe the potential of
Transition food initiatives to break down gender b
arriers within these new spaces for care,
creating the foundations for a socially just food system.

: Transition Towns and Gendered Food Practices

The relatively young Transition movement aims ‘
[t]o support community
responses to peak o
il and climate change, bu
ilding resilience and happiness’

(Hopkins and
Lipman 2009:7).

Central to this movement is developing local resilience based on ‘practical,
positive solutions’
(Haxeltine and Seyfang 2009:6)

which are founded

upon the concept of
permaculture, ‘a design system for the creation of sustainable human settlements’
(Hopkins 2008:136). Founded in 2006 by Rob Hopkins, there are currently 453 official
Transition Initiatives and 377 ‘muller’ initiatives in 34 countries
around the world,
attracting mostly ‘post
materialist’ members
‘who eschew high
status jobs and
consumption in favour of personal fulfilment and (in particular environmental) activism

(Seyfang and Haxeltine 2010:8). While each initiative is unique to its
locality, common
themes exist across the

movement, such as food growth,

local currencies,
and eco

to name a
few (Haxeltine and Seyfang 2009). These form the basis for a variety of groups
such as the Heart and Soul, Energy, and Art groups
In fact,

each initiative is encouraged to
identify issues most relevant to that community
,’ for example, developing a waste initiative
in response to local landfill problems

et al

. Seyfang and Haxeltine
(2010:5) maintain that
the grassroots natu
re and mantra of the movement creates a ‘niche’


that challenges the ‘dominant socio
technical regime.’

Thus far, analysis of the movement
is relatively limited.

Seyfang (

notes that

ood and gardening projects are far and away the
most popular
practical ways for Transition initiatives to start enga
ging people in hands

Food projects also tend to be the starting point for most initiatives and include
activities such as ‘
t and nut tree
planting schemes,

share projects encoura
s to use land more productively…seed and plant swapping,

and allotment
,’ though these tend to be somewhat less radical than the broader ambitions of
et al


Many authors have already pointed out the
significance of sustainable food systems
in reaction to the disempowering and environmentally destructive global food system.
Within the alternative food movement, however, Allen (2010:296) hi
ghlights the lack of
scrutiny of

social justice issues, somethin
g which Guthman (2008

as cited by Allen 2010
notes is absent in the organics movement and to which she credits the prominence of local
food in food politics.
Allen employs a definition of food justice ‘
in which power and material
resources are shared equi
tably so that people and communities can meet their needs, and
live with security and di
gnity, now and into the future’

Activist Researcher Consortium


as cited by Allen 2010:
Food Ethics Council
declares that only a
socially just
food system can address the challenges of producing food sustainably
Alongside, and related to, social justice issues, is the markedly insufficient
scrutiny of the gendered nature of the global food system

et al
. 2009)

et al
9:215) demonstrate that

gender identities are fundamental to the choices we make
around food
’ by connecting ideas on gender identity, the body and choices around food
consumption and health.

Moreover, Allen and Sachs (2007:1) establish the disadvantaged
osition of women within the food system and, crucially, label food provision as ‘the most
basic labor of care.’ As such,
I approach the interlinked topics of food justice and gender in
the Transition movement from the framework of an ethic of care.

Lawson (2009:210) synthesises the basis of a feminist ethic of care:

Feminist care ethics assert the absolute centrality of care to our human lives: we are

all in need of care and of emotional connection to others. We all receive care, and
throughout our
lives, many of us will also give care. In short, care is society’s work in


the sense that care is absolutely central to our individual and collective survival

Scholarship on care ethics has focused on the debates surrounding the dismissal of care as
an a
ctivity confined to the private sphere and the subsequent marginalisation of care
labour. Morgan (2010:22) reminds us of Tronto’s powerful argument

“the disdain of
'others' who do caring (women, slaves, servants) h
as been virulent in our culture” and
is dismissal is inextricably bound up with an attempt to deny the importance of care”
(Tronto 1994:174).
Furthermore, Lawson (2009:210) points out the deeply political nature
of this dismissal, contending that ‘
it bolsters relations of gender/rac
e/ethnic inequality and
restricts human flourishing.

‘Marginalizing care,’ she argues, ‘
furthers the myth that our
successes are achieved as autonomous individuals, and as such, we have no responsibility
to share the fruits of our success with others or t
o dedicate public resources to the work of

(Lawson 2009:210).
Recent research on food, however, sheds light on the turn that
practicing care has taken. In her research on alternative food systems, Cox (2010:128)
notices that
‘care is situated in broa
d frameworks of environmental and community
concern which reveal its importance in structuring relationships beyond the immediate
family and also offer opportunities for connec
tion and fulfillment.’ By offering us a way to
escape the hierarchical capitalis
t food system, alternative food networks may thus be seen
as new spaces for care and a glimpse of what an economy organised around care may look
like (Cox 2010).
A focus on care
understood as a practice

forces us to think about real
needs and to consider
how these needs should be met
’ (Cox 2010:116)

My goal is to provide insight into Transition food initiatives using an ethic of care
I use data collected from interviews and participant observation undertaken
with different food groups in Lond
on, as well as discourse analysis of materials on the web
and Transition publications.
I propose that using care as a lens to analyse food initiatives
sheds light on social justice issues as well as the gendered nature of these schemes.
My aim
is not to ma
ke claims about the Transition movement as a whole, as initiatives are highly
localized, but to paint a picture of the possibilities for a transgressive alternative food
movement from the perspectives of care and gender.
Food production is a


way to

the Transition movement’s e
thical culture because food ‘
is the ultimate index of our
capacity to care for ourselves and for others, be they our 'nearest and d
earest' or 'distant

(Morgan 2010:2).


This study will proceed in the following ma
nner: First, I will introduce the
background for this study by elaborating on the gendered nature of food systems, an ethic
of care, food justice, and previous research on the Transition movement. Next, I expound
upon the methodology of my study. I follow
up with the analysis and discussion of the
Transition participants I spoke to, tying it back to preceding literature. I conclude by
linking the study back to food justice.

2.0 Literature Review

Gendered Food Practices

Recent work in food studies
ognizes that food practices are gendered

and Haber 2005)

yet a number of authors
(Lockie and Kitto 2000; Allen and Sachs 2007
et al
. 2009

have acknowledged that gender is a crucial, but overlooked aspect within
local food networks. Established material and cultural practices configure the contexts of
local food networks (Allen 2010:296), and are also central in defining gender identity
nihan 1998). The realm of food is largely considered women’s territory due to the
cultural myths that have fused women to the role of nurturer and caregiver. Allen and
Sachs (2007:1) maintain that, ‘
in most societies women continue to carry the responsibil
for the mental and manual labor of food provision

e most basic labor of care.’

association of women with food, feeding others, and cooking
represents a cultural
construction, ‘not a ‘natural’ division of labour’ (Van Esterik 1999:160). Th
ese food
practices are thus ‘more than material or physiological processes…
they are ways in which
people socially create and construct boundaries
’ (Julier 2005:164).

With a focus on agrifood systems, Allen and Sachs (2007:1
2) call for critical
analysis o

the connections between women's food work in the labor market (material),
their responsibility for food
related work in the home (socio
cultural), and their
relationship with eating (corpor
eal),’ where they have established that women remain

Women also typically take the lead in urban agricultural projects in low
income, diverse communities, as well as community
supported agriculture projects and
broader efforts to bring sustainability and social justice back into food networks. Yet these
movements are not ne
cessarily consciously feminist ‘
in the sense of resisting the
oppressive nature of gender rela
tions’ (Allen and Sachs 2007:
However, as women


work to reshape food networks, they build opportunities ‘for women to gain control of
r bodies and their lives’ (Allen and Sachs 2007:15). Little
et al.

(2009) have further
noted the gendered nature of local food consumption which, when placed in the context of
meal preparation, becomes particularly evident.

Given the above, Van Esterik
(1999:160) calls for ‘an examination of women’s power
in relation to the food system,’ establishing several reasons for adopting a mindset
changing ‘feminist food praxis.’ Furthermore,
‘[c]ooking, feeding others, and eating are
based acts that create
relationships between people’ which warrants scrutiny of the
cultural constructions of the body (Van Esterik 1999:160
161). One of the focuses of this
research is thus to determine the gendered nature of Transition food groups, if indeed it
exists, by adop
ting feminist food praxis as a tool for analysis. Discovering if women’s
reasons for participation in a local food movement stem more from local concerns, such as
meal preparation or community, or in the greater global political economy is therefore an

of this project. I also examine what challenges and opportunities food groups present
to its participants and to what extent Transition food groups provide a platform to
challenge gender norms.

2.2 The Female ‘Moral Voice’ and an Ethic of Care

Carol Gil
ligan (1982) identified the values that are normally associated with women
as the female moral voice, in which there is ‘
something inherent in women that associates
them with moral sentiments rather than with reason, with the parti
cular rather than the
versal’ (Tronto 1993:
In other words, ‘
women have different ethical voice to that
nalized in conventional justice’

(Whatmore 2002
. Friedman, however,
extends these assumptions, stating that

Gilligan has discerned the


moral voice from the


male moral voice. The moralization of gender is more a matter of how we
reason than of how we actually reason, more a matter of moral concerns we

to women and men than of true statistical differences be
tween men’s and
women’s moral reasoning…thus both women and men in our culture

and men to exhibit this mor
al dichotomy (Friedman 1987:

Yet these characteristics of so
called women’s morality

the values of care and nurturing


and the privileging of human relationships

are ‘traditionally excluded from public
consideration’ (Tronto 1993:3; see also Robinson 2006, Cox 2010). These values are
herefore relegated to the private sphere, deemed incompatible with the world of justice
and politics (Robinson 2006). Tronto (1993:3) thus argues that in order to escape from
‘women’s morality,’ we need to ‘start talking instead about a care ethic that inc
ludes the
values traditionally associated with women.’ This entails thinking about care as something
that includes everyone, not simply ‘the work that supports vulnerable others,’ so as to
redraw the ‘moral
boundaries which currently preserve inequalities
of power and privilege
whilst ‘‘degrading ‘others’

who currently do the caring work in our society’

Tronto 1993:
101 as cited by Cox 2010:115).

Care provides a radically different way to look at moral and
political life. Although the analysis of care
began with women's work and lives, I have
argued that we make a mistake if we fail to generalize our analysis of care

beyond gender’
(Tronto 1995:

Fisher and
Tronto define care


a species activity that includes
everything that we do to maintain, c
ontinue, and repair
our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible
. That world includes our bodies,
our selves and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in

a complex, life
sustaining web

(Tronto 1993:103 original emphasis).

icantly, this definition of care goes beyond humanity to include all our ‘life
sustaining’ networks. Through an ethic of care, the needs of others, and not necessarily
human others, are the basis for action, disrupting the presiding pattern of individualis
competition, and environmental degradation (Mann 2002 as cited by Cox 2010:116

According to Morgan (2010:20
21), in addition to implying that care should function
outside the private realm, this outlook on care also extends caring beyond the tradition
local to the global. An ethic of care seeks to disassemble notions of the autonomous
individual and to create a moral ontology that is fully relational, where ‘
the notion of the
self is incoherent unless it is understood as constructed and existing th
rough a series of
complex and ever
changing networ
ks of relations with others’ (Robinson 2006:

As an
ethic of care ‘has the potential to transcend self interest’ (Conradson 2011:454), care is of
particular importance as a potentially transformative eth
ic and an approach to ‘foster new
ways of being together’ (466; see also Lawson 2007, 2009). Indeed, Cox (2010:119)


suggests that it is possible to organize economic activity based on an ethic of care and that
this is already happening in some food network

Gendered divisions of caring labour persist (Conradson 2011:466) owing to the
highly individualistic ideology that disregards our ‘profound interdependence on other
humans and the non
human world’ and which marginalises caring (Cox 2010:127). The
caring’ food movements
(Cox 2010:128) combat these patterns of unsustainable
behaviour by embracing the values associated with a critical feminist ethic of care,
specifically that ‘all persons need care and are, in principle capable of care giving’ and

ring takes place in specific personal and social
contexts with particular others’
(Robinson 2006:15). Robinson proposes that this is integral to the belief system of a
democratic society because not only does it challenge the gender imbalance that endures
care labour (2006:15), it may further lead to greater social justice because it ‘opens up new
ways of seeing human beings’ (Hankivsky 2004 as cited by Robinson 2006:8). Reimaging
this feminist political ethic of care as such,
'requires that we think abo
ut care in its broadest
framework,’ extending care to proximate and distant others, and demanding
a commitment to democratic processes according to Morgan (2010:
where care is the
‘key to social accountability and responsible

(McEwan and Goodman

Hybrid Geographies

(2002), Whatmore voices her reservations with the ‘humanist
presumptions’ of feminist and environmental conceptions of care ethics (147). She
specifically addresses the spatial conditions t
hat ‘feminist and environmental care ethics
have tended in practice to map…simplistically on to the geographical binaries of
distance/proximity, global/local, outside/inside’ (158), and argues for a relational ethical
praxis that grasps the ‘fleshy currenc
y…of being
relation with and through
heterogeneous others’ (159). Maintaining that ‘corporeality and hybridity [are] the key
modalities’ for this reconfiguration of ethics away from the autonomous individual (165),
Whatmore uses the ‘inter
corporeal pra
ctices’ surrounding the ‘growing, provisioning,
cooking and eating’ of food to illustrate her point (162). In recognising the intimacy with
which food practices entangle human lives with the lives of numerous others (163),
Whatmore declares that ‘conventio
nal cartographies of distance and proximity, and local
and global scales’ are confounded (162). Whatmore thus finds it necessary to release ‘the


spatial imaginaries of ethical community from both the geo
metrics of universalism and the
confines of propinqu
ity and genealogy’ so they may ‘disturb the territorializations of self,
kinship, neighbourhood and nation and invite other ‘languages of attachment’’ (Ignatieff
1984:139 as cited by Whatmore 2002:167).

I argue that the framework of a radically relationa
l ethic of care is necessary in
analysing local food movements, and use this framework in my investigation of Transition’s
food relocalisation projects.

I propose that by adopting Whatmore’s notion of a relational
ethic that we transcend the debate on ‘ge
ographical binaries’ and focus instead on how
‘[e]ating scrambles neat demarcations and points to the messy interconnection of the local
and the global, the inside and the outside’ and how ‘food compels us to think about…the
social as a surface composed of

relations of proximity (Probyn 1998:161 as cited by
Whatmore 2002:120).

Food Justice

‘Theoretically, the food justice frame opens up linkages to a wider range of
conceptual frameworks drawn from the literature on democracy, citizenship, social
ents, and social and environmental justice’ (Wekerle 2004:379).

Sustainable food
literature has established major themes through the analysis of food systems, namely that
‘the organization of food networks according to principles of capitalist accumulation

(Kneafsey 2010:185) and the focus on people as consumers rather than citizens (Levkoe
2006:89) has led to the antidemocratic, unjust, and environmentally destructive
development of the global food system. Identifying people as consumers and, consequently

with the market, implies a relationship ‘
in which profit becomes the most important factor
in economic, pol
itical, and social activity’ (Levkoe 2006:

According to Allen (2010:300),

While individual choices based on an ethic of care for others (see
Tronto, 1993)

certainly be part of working toward justice, a concatenation of individual choices to
improve social equity does not address the basic political economic structures, resource
allocations and cultural conditions that have creat
ed inequity
in the first place

exploring food justice, ergo food democracy, as a characteristic of an ethic of care, I expand
on local food movement literature through an investigation of Transition food
(re)localisation movements.


As it stands, scholars have st
arted exploring ‘local’ food movements as points of
resistance against the ‘democratic deficit’ imposed by the neoliberal food system (Kneafsey
Hadjimichalis and Hudson (2007:100 as cited by Kneafsey 2010:185

that local development proje
cts, rooted in place, can provide spaces in which people can be

producers of progressive, ‘
even radical transformations of their local and regional
cultural, economic and social worlds.

Local spaces further provide the best conditions for
the part
icipation of the citizenry (‘in the broad denizen sense of the word’), which is
necessary for developing socially just food networks at local and global levels (Hassanein
2003:79). Hassanein (2003) advances the concept of food democracy as a ‘pragmatic’
proach to food sustainability, at the heart of which is active ‘participation in shaping the
food system’ (79). It thus ‘challenge[s] the anti
democratic forces of control’ by
‘contest[ing] the commodification of food’
(Hassanein 2003:83)
in order to trans
‘people from passive consumers into active, educated citizens’
(Hassanein 2003:
Participatory democracy is necessary for social equity in a food system (Allen 2010).
Anderson (2008 as cited in Allen 2010)

emphasises the correlation between the geo
e and the efficacy of a system.

In short, he puts forth the idea that wh
en the food system
is regional,

interaction and interrelation between a subject and the food systems
strengthens their commitment to the cause.

However, as Allen (2010:301)

points out, the
notion of community action in favor of the common good through local food movements is
a ‘beautiful vision,’ yet we must remember the ‘wide demographic ranges and social
relationships of power and privilege embedded within the place itself
At both global and
local scales, those who benefit

and those who do not

are arranged along already
familiar lines of class, ethnicity and gender

Still, local food networks play a key role in the creation of new spaces that facilitate
social change (Al
len and Kovach 2000 as cited by Allen 2010:305) by disturbing ‘traditional
practices, routines
, habits, thought or reflection
’ and enabling

‘possibilities for social
change through ‘enacted conduct’

(Giddens 1987 as cited in Allen 2010:305).

Precisely this
creation of spaces to explore different social structures and reflect upon alternative ways of
living is what Allen (2010) asserts is the great potential value of localised food systems.

Thus, some commentators point to the emergence of ‘a
lternative’ food networks such as
CSAs, local delivery schemes and farmers’ markets as consumer and producer expressions


of an ‘ethic of care’ for the people, communities, soils, animals and ecosyst
ems involved in
food production’
(Kneafsey 2010:185).

l food movements arguably possess favourable
conditions for food democracies (Allen 2010) and as such, I analyse the localisation efforts
of Transition food groups from the perspective of food justice movements

Analysing the
Transition movement through a
feminist ethic of care framework allows us to see the
extent to which Transition is incorporating a care ethic and valuing care labour. By also
using the lens of food justice literature, we can hone in closer to scrutinize the scale of
democratic activity
and extent to which gender divisions are embedded in their food
networks, which arguably are the spaces for the ‘most basic labour of care.’

2.4 The
Transition Movement

Studies on the Transition movement are beginning to burgeon, yet there has been

mention of gender and food groups specifically. I will therefore briefly mention a few
relevant studies that speak to the characteristics of

Transition and offer
their constructive
criticism. As
et al
. (2010:600) advise: ‘The Transition Network is still an embryonic
movement and it would be unfair to judge its record or prospects at the present time.’
Transition Culture is compelling for a number of reasons. First, it forgoes an individual
behaviour ch
ange approach for a systems
based one that seeks to establish alternative
social institutions and social norms
Haxeltine and Seyfang 2009).
Mason and Whitehead
(2011:4) further ‘contend that the originality of Transition Culture is not to be found in the
newness of any of its associated ideas, but in the novel ways it weaves together
interconnected strands from a range of philosophical traditions and alternative knowledge

rks.’ In fact, it is more of a ‘convergence space’ for current interests and pra
(Mason and Whitehead 2011:6). Seyfang and Haxeltine (2009, 2010) approach the
movement through of framework of transition literature to analyse how grassroots
movements may grow to eventually challenge the ‘dominant socio
technical regime.’

ne and Seyfang (2009:2) discuss the

rigins, development, and character and
activities of the

to address the

growing interest in socio
transitions in the context of debates about how modern industrial societies can achieve a
sustainable developm
ent.’ Citing Smith
et al.

(2010), they remark upon the difference
between change within the regime, which is inclined to be slow and path
dependent, and


change within ‘niches’, which incites ‘revolutionary’
change (2010:4). The Transiti
movement is an example of a ‘strategic green niche’
(Seyfang and Haxeltine 2010:8).

usefulness of these niches is found in their capacity to create spaces

for the development of new ideas and practices, for experimenting with new systems
provision, and for enabling people to express their ‘alternative’ green and socially
progressive values, and from the tangible achievement of environmental and social
sustainability improvements
, albeit on a small scale

(Seyfang and Smith 2007 as cited
Seyfang and Haxeltine 2010:5).

In recognising that the greatest impediment to action on climate change and peak oil are
cultural rather than technical (Bailey
et al.

2010:598), Transition seeks to put forward new
cultural stories, which Ambrosii (2010) n
otes is essential to the success of the movement.

Transition Initiatives are based on a dedication to the creation of tangible, clearly
expressed and practical visions of the community in question beyond its present
dependence on fossil fuels... The g
eneration of new stories and myths are
central to this
visioning work’
(Hopkins and Lipman, 2009
:7). ‘Given that the Transition m
addresses system
transformation…it needs to encourage members to question the current
systems and frames of reference,
in order to radically shift patterns of thinking and action
towards creating new systems (rather than reforming current ones)

(Seyfang and
Haxeltine 2010:13). Transition has received some criticism, notably from
Trapese, which
critiques Transition’s resol
utely apolitical stance, which they argue does not address the
capitalist consumerist economies that are the root causes of climate change and peak oil.

So, rather than contesting or contending with the regime, the movement seems to assume
the existing re
gime will wither away and leave an agency vacuum, into which Transition
initiatives can move, offering a more positive future scenario than the societal collapse or
authoritarian green state that might otherwise emerge’ (Seyfang and Haxeltine 2010:9

he Trapese Collective additionally notes Transition’s failure ‘to problematize either the
disempowering processes of the state or associated scales of government’
(Mason and
Whitehead 2011:13).

They claim that
‘[Transition Towns] are ultimately subject to
same order of oppression, class structure, entrenched power, and vested interests as
everything else in the UK’ (Trapese 2008:33).

Seyfang and Haxeltine (2010:15) further
comment upon the ‘lack of realistic and achievable expectations both among member


(internally) and in relation to the wider public (externally), which hampers
development and growth,

arguing that Transition’s strategy of raising public
awareness as
a prerequisite for action is relatively ineffective. My analysis expands on t
his literature in
addressing the reasons people participate in Transition food groups and I find that Seyfang
and Haxeltine’s assumptions do not necessarily extend to food groups.

Mason and Whitehead (2011) put forth a convincing analysis of Transition Culture’s
conception of ‘relational space.’ The Network is ‘inherently geographical in a normative and
a practical sense’
et al

), and as such ‘constructs a moral
within which it questions the ‘obligation’ to spatial relations (Mason and Whitehead
2011:15). In other words, Transition’s ‘preferred ethical response to a distant socio
economic relation’ is one of disconnection (Mason and Whitehead 2011:15).
this ‘moral abstention at the border’s edge’ reflects Transition’s view of spatial relations in
terms of oil use and the negative impacts of international trade on the environment (Mason
and Whitehead 2011:16 & 18). My investigation into Transiti
on extends Mason and
Whitehead’s arguments on the movement’s ethical stance.


This study took place in London in the spring and summer of 2011 using a mixture
of qualitative research methods. Employing methodological triangulation arguably
enriches the knowledge obtained, providing multi
levels of da
ta, and overcoming the
limited ‘
epistemological pote
ntials of the individual method’ (Flick 2009:
444). Utilizing
structured interviews, participant observation, and discourse analysis provid
es a rich,
descriptive basis for a gendered analysis. Of particular interest was

the extent to which
food and gardening

groups in the Transition Movement
(hence forth referred to as ‘food
provide a platform to challenge gender norms and also how t
he food groups cater
to individual needs and motives. Recently, Gildemeister (2004
:123) argued that ‘
gender is a

category, and that it is always, in some fundamental way, a question of social
’ (
emphasis original). Thus, following the a
rgument that gender is a social
construct, the exploration of the role of gender within Transition food gr
oups warrants an
approach that ‘
describe[s] and understand[s] social phenomena in terms of t
he meaning
people bring to them’ (Hennie 2010:


interpretivism, this study is


concerned with understanding the social world people have produced and which they
reproduce thro
ugh their continuing activities’ using ‘
the meanings and interpretations
given by the social actors to their actions, other p
eople’s actions, social situations, and
ral and humanly created objects’

as the prima
ry data source (Blaikie 2000:115 as cited
by Mason 2002:

I take an approach highly attuned to the specificity of the data, and do not claim that
this data is univ
ersally applicable to all women or men (Rose 1997). By engaging in
research that appreciates the variety of meanings that people give to their experience in
Transition, I construct an analysis that is highly localized. While the nongeneralisability of

studies is criticised for ‘lack of scientific rigour and reliability’ (Noor 2008:1603),
Transition is a spatially diverse movement that varies by community and thus an approach
that attempts to create a comprehensive theory of the movement is inappropriat




Interviews are the most appropriate way to solicit meanings and feelings attached
to people’s experiences (Cloke
et al
. 2004). This appro
ach has the advantage of being

sensitive and people
oriented, allowing interviewees to

construct their own accounts of
their experiences by describing and explaining their lives in thei
r own words’ (Valentine
111). Cloke
et al.

(2004:150) argue that ‘
the strengths of using interviews lie in the
very acknowledgement of intersubjectivity

which permits a deeper understanding of the
whos, hows, wheres and whats of many aspe
cts of human geography research.’

Interviewing participants allowed me to ask open
ended questions about thei
r personal
motives for joining

food group
s and their ideas

norms with
in Transition

. I considered asking men
different questions than women due to my uncertainty at
the beginning of the research process on how I should distinguish between men’s and
women’s responses, in the end deciding it to a
sk the same questions but make note of the
sex of the interviewee. However, there is an inadvertent gender bias in the responses. The
replies I my initial emails were all from women and the number of men participating in
these projects was significantly sm
aller than the number of women participants (see
Appendix 2 for groups and interviewees included in the study).


Audio recording was not used in these interviews. While there are several
limitations to copious note taking during an interview versus recordi
ng the conversation,
the use of an audio recording device has its weaknesses as well. The settings of these
interviews were all public locations due to the nature of the Transition Movement not
having offices or the like. Background noise, especially in th
e pubs where I met up with
members, would have been close to impossible to overcome. Taking notes during
interviews did sometimes interrupt the flow of the conversation, however, and
remembering ‘exact linguistic formulations’ and selective filtering of wh
at I wrote down
were also limiting factors (Kvale 2007:94). While the study took place in London, I
collected data via email from the first Transition group in Totnes as well as Leicester. I
interviewed six people by email, and found these responses were r
ich in detail, more so
indeed than many of the face
face encounters. As Meho (2006:1291) points out though,
this is not unusual considering that both researcher and interviewee have more time to
give thoughtful and careful responses than during natural
conversation. These responses,
unlike a free flowing conversation, did not lead to conversation down any tangential alleys
and as such were slightly more structured.

3.3 Participant Observation

Participant observation adds a new perspective to

an intervi
ew because it ‘
on practices and in
teractions at a specific moment’ (Flick 2009:
448). Participant
bservation allowed me to witness ‘
what people

they do and why, and what they are
seen to

do and say to others about this’

et al
. 2004:
I also gave
me a sense
of group dynamics and hierarchy (or lack thereof) within the group. While these were
useful occasions to

the interactions and discussions between Transition members,
jotting down notes proved to be awkward at times and made

me more conspicuous as an
er and less of a participant. By

integrating myself into the various settings by
participating in
conversation and gardening I aim
ed to make participants more
comfortable with my presence so they could be more candid.


4 Discourse Analysis

Engaging in discourse analysis provides a different level
of information. Transition
ovement literature and

the vast amount of information the Transition Network keeps on
web, including their
official website, different group
s’ w
ebsites, and blogs provided
further insight into the ideals that Transition support. The founder of the movement wrote
The Transition Handbook,

which describes the rationale behind the movement, in a sense
viding the official manifesto. Online resources

are further

useful in finding out what
transition groups are discussing, the problems or successes different projects, and so on.
Discourse analysis is thus a useful complement to interviews and participant observation
acting ‘as a method to cross
te information gathered from interview and observation
given that sometimes what people say maybe different from what people do’



The focus on Transition groups in London who have specific food growth projects
meant that my acc
ess strategy started with the internet and searching the official
Transition Network web page for groups in London. These were relatively easy to locate as
the Transition Movement in general is active on the web and uses the internet as one of
their chief
networking tools (via blogs, project web pages, facebook, twitter, etc.).
Transition groups (at least rhetorically) are incredibly open to newcomers and people who
are interested in what they do, and my email requests had a fairly decent response rate

of 14 groups, eight replied). Frequent public events provided a ready
made excuse to
turn up and talk to group members.


While it was easy to arrange consent from the people I was in immediate contact
with, there were times when, as part of a
larger group, there were several people who were
not aware of my presence as a researcher. This raises ethical issues because had the entire
group been fully conscious of my actual role they may not have spoken as liberally or could
have had other objectio
ns to my presence. Further ethical issues were raised in my use of
information available online without the consent of the author. The interpretation of an


online discussion forum is carries ethical implications because it could be
, for example,

the a
rchive is incomplete and
that my interpretation

results from a partial version of the
original post (Sixsmith and Murray 2001). Furthermore, the ownership of the
comes into question because though it is in the public domain, it is unclear if th
e post
should belong to the author, the community, or the researcher (Sixsmith and Murray
2001). Finally, giving credit to the author would compromise his or her anonymity
(Sixsmith and Murray 2001).

3.7 Power R

knowledging the respective positionalities of the researcher and the researchered
is a deeply complex issue that Rose (1997) addresses, but to which she does not reach a
definitive conclusion. She thus recommends that researchers appreciate that

power and

knowledge are inextricably connected’ (318)
, while keeping their worries about what their
research might erase or exclude.

As a researcher, I have total control over the
interpretation of my data, yet I do not feel that power relations are very central to

project because I identify with Transition participants.
The interactive relationships that I
formed with many of the participants were shaped by mutual knowledge that both
interviewer and interviewee had higher than average knowledge
about and care fo

environmental issues.
Yet as an outsider food groups welcomed my questions and
participation in their activities.

4.0 Analysis and Discussion

4.1 Moving Beyond Gender Myths

“The emerging voice of women in the Peak Oil/Energy Descent movements is very
and symbolic of the issue moving away from a focus on graphs, statistics and depletion
profiles, towards communities, families and a more
solutions focused and inclusive approach”
(Hopkins 2006).

In introducing the Transition movement, Hopkins
references Tom Atlee who writes
about creating an ‘‘alternative story field’ [by] creating new myths and stories that begin to


formulate what a desirable sustainable world might look like” (Hopkins 2008:94). Stories
shape the way we act and, as Haxeltine a
nd Seyfang (2009:3) have established, Transition
literature advances the idea of ‘protected spaces where new social and technical practices
can develop’: spaces for rewriting stories about the way we live.
Allen and Sachs (2007)
have pointed out that in th
e current world, women carry out the majority of care labour
and Armstrong and Armstrong (2002) have remarked upon how ‘care, as both an
emotional and physical labour, falls disproportionately on women’ (as cited in Milligan and
Wiles 2010:742). This inclu
des ‘the most basic labor of care’: food provision
(Allen and
Sachs 2007:1). Western culture expects women and men to fit certain traits and
dispositions (Friedman 1993) where the assumption is that caring is private and feminine.
Transition culture aims t
o create new stories about the way we should live, yet still clings
to old stories concerning gendered norms. The whole idea of the Transition movement as

caring about the world and being in touch with your feelings” is “hippie and un

as Inter
viewee 1C [male] put it, yet with undertones of a “slight blokiness”
[Interviewee 4A, female]. Members of both sexes felt that the Transition movement as a
whole was only “subtly” or “not explicitly” challenging gender norms at this stage.
Considering that

certain gender stereotypes still exist within Transition culture, its
ambition to create new stories remains latent, and does not change the gendered way
people behave.

The association of women with gardening and cooking (basic care activities) would
d us to expect that food groups are more heavily female. Indeed, Hopkins (2009) also
notes that the majority of people who come forward to take allotments are women. Though
most food group participants did say outright that they felt there were more women
involved, and indeed this was evident from my contact with the groups, others felt that
their groups were more equally divided, though usually noting that there was a gendered
division of labour, where women sign up for planting and men sign up for the mor
physically demanding tasks. One male participant gave especially detailed insight of his
views of gender within Transition food groups. According to Interviewee 1C [male],
“Gardening can be masculine…four guys came out to clear the garden and break the
round. [One woman] came out, too, but just physically could not break the ground
wasn’t intentional that it was just guys that came out for the digging.” He went on to say


that to get some men to come out to the garden to work, he had to “sell it
” in
a manly way

as “cheaper than g
oing to the gym” and that upon reflection it was “funny that [he had]

use that line to get guys to come out.”
In this sense, gender stereotypes linger on, and are
perhaps inhibiting (whether consciously or not) participants

from partaking in the various
Transition activities. Furthermore, Interviewee 1C [male] felt there was an “o
dd stigma to
food group”
and does not speak to his male friends about his Transition activities “because
they might think I’m gay,”
though no one had ever actually called him a “pansy” about going
out to the community garden.
This “stigma” is possibly a result of the cultural myths that
we have built around food and it’s traditional association with women.
As such, old societal

through to an extent, yet at the same time
breaking down, as is
apparent by some
men taking pa
rt in gardening and food groups

Following the same line of thought,
Interviewee 7A
[female] elaborated on

splits in
the movement between p
ractical do
ers and 'heart & soul
ers' which often
also means
'men' and 'women'.”

She speculated that the Transition paradigm itself is partially to blame
because it is a movement that “grew up out of permaculture values and culture” and which
is “
very ori
ented to 'doing things' practically and is quite abstractly reflective with a focus
on how things 'could be'

a focus on the future which is a bit of an intellectual abstraction.”

Similarly, Interviewee 6B [female] speculates that the challenge for Transi
tion does not lie
so much in achieving gender balance per se,

“but around how we as a society learn to recognise the equal, but different value, of
the two ways of working…[which] could quite easily be recognised as being
traditionally female and male rol
es, and in some places this is strongly the case and
has led to a tangible splitting off of those that value “doing” from those that value
“being”. It is not exclusively, though, the terrain of men and women to hold these
polarities. More and more the posi
tions are held by people of both gender.

Mason and Whitehead (2011:6) also recognise such

internal diversity
’ and refer to it as

source of latent tension in relation to the geographical
form and ideals of the movement.’

Yet this conflict does not seem to emerge along physically gendered lines, but along lines of
typically male cerebral course of action and the feminine intuitive course of action. Several
women commented on the relative gender balance in the movement:


some ways,
Transition is the most gender balanced activity I've been a part of


you can find plenty of groups and initiatives that have women leading in many
different styles. Others with men leading, also with many different styles, or with a
very share
d system for making decisions and moving forward

I would say that
what you see reflected are in some ways the culture's norms

because of course we
exist within that

but also the people who are interested in Transition are already in
some way challengin
g the existing culture, and many have a history in social
movements for change including the women's movement, peace movement,
organisations for social justice and so on. But also there are people who are very

[Interviewee 6A, female]

ewee 5B [female]
commented: “
I imagine that individuals allow simila
r levels of
gender roles
forces to operate on them during their participation in this community as they
do elsewhere in their lives.
” Furthermore,
Interviewee 4A [female]

commented that mo
men are leaders, but that Transition is more balanced than a ‘regular business.’ Still, she
that the Transition movement on whole had a “slight blokie

The division of ‘labour’, both within the food groups and the broader Transition
ement, alludes to a deeper chasm, but not necessarily between genders.
re has addressed the idea of a ‘division of moral labor’

tween genders (Friedman
259). We thus

a difference in the ways th
at men and women reason morally

Milligan and Wiles (2010:738) argue that care is culturally constructed, ‘shaped by social
and political
economic contexts operating at the level of the individual or wider society,
and in public and private spheres.’ To quote Friedman (1993:261) at lengt

Our very conceptions of femininity and masculinity, female and male, incorporate
norms about appropriate behavior, characteristic virtues, and typical vices…To say
that the genders are moralized is to say that specific moral ideals, values, virtues,
d practices are culturally conceived as the special projects or domains of specific

Transition participants noticed a divergence between “practical do
ers” and “heart
ers,” or the traditional boundary between male and female ways of doin
g things, but
did not believe that gender was necessarily relevant to this boundary.
Interviewee 6B
[female] explained “
many of the issues that are faced, not only within the Transition
movement but also at large in our society, are around the way in which

we do things; that


traditionally would have fitted very neatly into gender specific categories, male, left
brained, logical ways, and female right brained intuitive ways. I would argue that nowadays
it is no longer such an issue of gender balance we face
(in this country at any rate), but a
strong bias towards recognising and valuing left brained ways of doing things above right
brained ways.”

On the other hand, Interviewee 1C [male] felt that the food group “has less of a
problem challenging gender stereo
types than the main Transition movement”: “
It’s quite
manly to be down at your allotment.”
Others, too, alluded to the fact that food groups
are a
place where the ‘right’ and ‘left’ brained thinkers meet in the middle.
In Interviewee 6B’s
[female] experien

not only is this a group that feels gender neutral, it is also the group where least
conflict arises, this is an area that allows for both gender stereotypes…to have space,
and very often these are the most successful groups in terms of output, tangi
results, and also where most fun is had, celebration of harvest, forming relationships
as people work together, and understanding the importance of patience; no one
expects nature to perform to deadlines, and yet being thrilled when results normally
ach far beyond our expectations

This recognition that food and gardening are bringing together men and women is
That some men are confronting this “stigma” with their participation in caring
activities may not be indicative of the onset of a

full scale upheaval of gender stereotypes,
but reflective of the fact that both men and women are able to see the benefits to our
wellbeing of a way of working that is both physical and emotional [Interviewee 6B, female].
The central role accorded to food

relocalisation in Transition is indicative of the birth of
new stories around this most basic component of caring.

The femininity associated with the ‘

female moral voice’ is obscured to
an extent by visioning sustainable food systems as the heart of the community and
essential to our physical and emotional health (Pinkerton and Hopkins 2009). The idea that
food (re)localisation is acknowledged and treat
ed as essential to a post peak
oil future
gives value to this type of care that is usually disregarded. Though this is still a heavily
female activity,
I argue that within Transition food groups men and women are not
‘defin[ing] their masculinity and femin
inity, their similarity and difference’ (Counihan


, but embracing the inherent value in food growing

Friedman (1993:262) argues
that even though men and women may not ‘fit the traits and dispositions expected of them,
this might not necessarily und
ermine the myths and symbols, since perception could be
selective and disconfirming experience reduced to the status of “occasional exceptions” and
“abnormal, deviant cases.’’ But I would argue that gender may not be a serious obstacle for
Transition food
groups specifically.

Reclamation of care

within food groups (Cuomo

is rather the affirmation of the centrality of a series of vital activities to the
everyday ‘sustainability of life’ that have been historically associated with women”

2001 as cited by

Puig de la Bellacasa


4.2 The Woman/Nature Connection

The underlying division of Transitioners into gendered camps is telling: ‘gender
differences are alive and well at the level of popular perception’ (Friedman 1993:2
will avoid a long explanation of the historic myths that have tied women and nature
inextricably together in our culture
; suffice it to say that ‘Father Nature’

has no cultural
resonance whatsoever (Roach 2003
:9) [For a more thorough account see Plu
mwood 1993,
Chapter 1]. A common theme that emerged was the idea that women have inherently
different traits from men, namely that they are more nurturing. One discussion among
Transition members revealed that the entire group rejected the idea of people (
both male
and female) being separate from nature, though Interviewee 2D [male] expressed the
opinion that “women are closer to nature than men.” The discussion laboured over
Interviewee 2C’s [female] statement that, “
our physical being is nature! It’s a ba
sic fact of
life so why don’t people see that?
,” with other group members struggling to come to a
satisfying conclusion though suggesting ideas such as:
“we’ve just become cu
ltured into a
consumer society”
and mentioning the “mainstream things that we are
supposed to be
obsessed with”

[Interviewee 2E, female].

Though such statements as “women are closer to nature” are clearly provoking, I
heard elements of this mentioned throughout my research. The idea that women are more
nurturing than men was cited as a

reason for female
heavy food and gardening groups on
more than one occasion. This would suggest that the reason that there are more women
involved in food groups is the cultural myth that associates women with nurturing tasks


and thus the stigma for men a
ccompanying food production. The literature has already
pointed out that “
clear gender concerns have arisen historically in the production,
preparation and co
nsumption of food generally” (Little
et al


Interviewee 6B
[female] took a slightly dif
ferent approach to the link between women and nurturing:

be that women are more prepared to see the value of working in both ways,
but I feel that to say that devalues those men who clearly value this way of working,
and who are very much part of the transition food growing groups…It might be true
to say that be
cause women have been involved with food in their role as nurturer
they are more drawn to these groups, but I have a sense it is more related to the fact
that because of the nature of the patriarchal society we have been part of where
women could not hold
the same roles as men,

women have been left to develop the
right side of the brain more fully, and this faculty more immediately identifies with
the inherent patterns of nature and its seasons, and therefore food growing.”

Suggesting that women are possi
bly more developed as nurturers due to the oppressions of
a patriarchal society draws attention to the culturally constructed nature of gender norms.
In Transition groups
gender norms are essentially cut and pasted from a domestic space
onto a public space
. However, there is still resistance to cultural constructions, although
perhaps not deliberate. Recognising that the system we exist in is “based on that belief set
that there is not enough in the world, that we need more, that we’re separate from each
her, that we’re separate from nature, that we are either disempowered or need to grab as
much power as we can” [Interviewee 6A, female] illustrates that there are those in the
Transition movement who aim to deconstruct the hubris of humanity, including the

that women are closer to nature.

Creating Empowering Spaces?

Within the groups that are included in this study, some people were keenly aware of
gender politics and others only had eyes for gardening. Two particularly politically active
ts [Interviewee 1A, female and Interviewee 1B, male] expressed the view that
perhaps “women feel more comfortable taking this kind of action” because “they are
underrepresented in politics and this is a way for them to have their voices heard.” It is
er “more appealing” for women and “easy to be involved in grassroots movements”


and may be women’s way of “seizing power” that “doesn’t intrude on family life.” However,
these perceptions betray the presence of a gendered construction of social relations,
above. Seeing Transition as a space where women can feel empowered

mean that
Transition creates spaces that are transformative for the role of women. Several women
claimed feeling empowered by growing food, but for a variety of reasons. Interview
ee 4B
[female] said her freedom to choose how she wanted to participate with the support of the
movement at large gave her a sense of empowerment. Interviewee 5A [female] claimed
that, “
Food growing does empower in the sense that it gives you the choice o
f saying yes or
no to shopping at supermarkets or relying o
n international supply chains.

This is because
of having other food sources.
” Her fellow community member, Interviewee 5B [female],
said her sense of empowerment stems from the number of successful

projects with which
she has worked. Interviewee 5C [female] engaged me in a discussion about what it really
means to be empowered:

depends what you mean by empowered…is it motivating yes, and do I feel a
sense of progress accomplishment, yes…do oth
er things seem more possible

no…do I feel more powerful

no…am I more powerful

not really, BUT I have
developed/ will develop new relationships so through that possibly yes I am more
powerful, but its all circumstantial
I generally believe if we use t
he phrase
'empower', we fail to recognise / underestimate people's existing power/ potential,
or people's sense of their own power/potential. I think it is a cynical term and a
cynical view of others…I feel this term is commonly used in unhelpful ways


doubt accidentally

but its common use who would tend to disempower people by
suggesting that they need to be empowered or can so simply be 'empowered'.”

These responses emphasise the multitude of meanings that women give to feeling
‘empowered,’ and thus

underlines the complexity of judging the transformative potential of
Transition in the realm of gender and whether or not there is more than just ‘formal’
gender equality within the alternative structure that Transitioners have created and
defined for the
mselves. It is worth citing Allen and Sachs (2007:15) at length here to
remind us what is at stake in these emancipatory spaces Transition creates:

Women’s subordination is locked into food, but their resistance in the material,
cultural, and corpore
al domains of food challenges global capitalism and male


privilege. As women work to reshape the food system in the interest of better
health, social justice, and environmental soundness, they are also creating
possibilities for women to gain control o
f th
eir bodies and their lives.

Perhaps, given the cultural association of women with nurturing, women ‘instinctually’ feel
more comfortable participating in a food group, but we cannot ignore the women who
garden for reasons such as sustainability and local
food security. Though not overtly
feminist, Transition as a movement is about building emancipatory spaces where people
can feel empowered in their own way and therefore, it is not for me to define what, indeed,
it is to feel empowered. However, in looking

at food groups through the lens Allen and
Sachs provide, these are spaces where community members practice their shared interests
in working to reshape the food system and as such, create possibilities for women to be

4.3 Creating New ‘Viscera
l Imaginaries”

Transition food projects and activities take a variety of forms: grow food locally, buy
food locally, gather wild/unused harvest, local processing and provisioning, local food
mapping, and food related courses, such as permaculture (Pinker
ton and Hopkins 2009).
Hopkins talks of ‘[t]he wonder of reconnecting with food’ (2009:18) and also how ‘[f]ood
shapes and is shaped by…our physical and emotional health’ (Pinkerton and Hopkins
None of the groups that I met with aspired to feed all of London with their
growing projects and, while initiatives varied, the common factor tended to be inspiring
and educating people both outside and inside the immediate Transition group. In order to
ace food group activities within the framework of a relational ethic of care, I turn to the
idea of ‘alternative visceral imaginaries’ or

ability for individuals and groups to
sense/imagine/taste different bodily futures
” (Cook
et al.

and Hayes
Conroy (2010:2957
) define ‘visceral’ as ‘
the bodily realm in/through which
feelings, sensations, moods, and so on are experienced seek to rework concepts of identity/

difference to include both bodily sensation and mental conceptualiz
’ which necessarily
includes the cognitive mind. To expand upon this description, they write: ‘
Importantly, we
understand bodily feeling to result not from purely individual sensations or intrinsic
qualities of the self, but rather from different(ly sit
uated) bodies' capacities to affect and be


affected by other bodies [including non
human bodies, like food

or music]’ (Hayes
and Hayes
Conroy 2010:

By engaging in food group analysis as though we are
‘alimentary assemblages’ we can understand
how we are ‘
bodies that eat with vigorous
class, ethnic and gendered appetites, mouth machines that ingest and regurgitate,
articulating what we are
, what we eat and what eats us’ (Probyn 2000:32 as cited by Cook
et al.

2011:113). Entering ‘the visceral re
alm’ means linking foods

up with ideas,
memories, sounds, visions, beliefs, past experiences, moods, worries and so on, all of which
combine to become material

to become bodily, physical sensation” (
Probyn 2000:

cited by
et al
. 2011:

Transition’s (re)localisation ethos attempts to change people’s relationship to food.
Hosting community events featuring “
Frankenstein fr
uits” and “comedy vegetables” i
s seen
as an innovative way to show people that even though produce can be weird looking

perfectly edible and “that is the w
hole point!” Transition members express a desire to
change the

outlook on produce from immaculate, store bought or frozen to fresh, local and
These food growth projects are
more to


ple to start their
own gardens by
ing people it is

, a decidedly “unpreachy” way of making a
difference, according to Interviewee 1A [female].
The mantra of one food group in
particular is,
“Less focus on sales, more on propagation” in order
to create a garden from
which people can taste and learn.
Appreciating the taste of a “wonky” carrot grown in
Tooting may indeed be the start of a way ‘for people
gain the capacity to feel food (and eat
food) in other (ie, alternative/transgres
sive) ways’
et al
. 2011:

Crucially though,

n emphasizing a visceral politics we are not advocating a move towards individualistic
forms of being
political; rather we move towards a radically relational view of the world”
Conroy and Hayes
Conroy 2
As people experience

locally grown
in community settings

this could create an association of tasty
, local food with that of
community spirit and care.
Part of the idea of Transition includes “harnessing the power of
a positive vision”
where ‘[b]eing able to associate images and a clear vision with how a
down future might be is essential’ (Hopkins 2008:94
). ‘
,’ observe
Seyfang and Haxeltine (2009:9),

is intended to psychologically predispose participants to
making effec
tive changes

Participants confirm the wild success of food projects as well as
how good they feel about participating in them. I argue that by associating the development


of a taste for local food in the context of positive emotions and community spirit,

groups not only generate alternative visceral imaginaries but also build a new relational
ethic around food.

Furthermore, the goal to instill a sense of ownership and responsibility within
people of the produce they grow also works to create new exp
eriences around food with
the potential to produce transgressive visceral imaginaries. As Interviewee 1C [male] put it,
their food group, “

people to plant their own plants and have a vested interest in
seeing them grow.

Interviewee 5B [female] all
uded to the less tangible results of building
emotional/ caring connections while engaging in food growth projects: “
I visited one of the
projects on an estate and the guy who set it up talked to us about how people who never
talked to each other on the es
tate were now socialising together, sharing their cultures,
educating their children about food growing so the knock
on effects are really touching.”
Cox (2010:118) suggests, participants in local alternative food schemes

care for
their familie
s, communities, natural environment (both in general and its particular local
expressions) and for unknown others to whom they felt conn
ected through their food.’ As
such, the transformative potential lies in the positive emotions surrounding food activiti
in Transition.

In trying to educate and inspire, and build a relationship of care and a sense of
ownership over a garden, food groups are making people think of food in a different way;
they are hoping to create “a mindset change” according to Intervie
wee 5A [female].

In the
to create different bodily and emotional relations with food, Transition food

endeavour to normalise/familiarise


’ In this way groups are
“communicating the choices and the dialogue and how yo
can change the way you live”
[Interivewee 2A, female]
As argued earlier, food localisation projects create new visceral
imaginaries, linking food to community via the association of tasty, local food with
community. Groups also strive to make this type of

food more accessible to others by
showing people how to do it, educating and inspiring.
In moving towards a more relational
view of the world through food, Transition food groups embody an ethic of care.

McEwan and Goodman (2010:109) point out:

is fundamentally geographical in its production, development, reception and,
now, consumption. It is about ‘feeling’ as much as ‘doing’, it is about ‘doing to’


much as ‘feelings from’…
e connects diverse communities…
and it is best
understood as a sear
ch for an ethos, rather than a universal ethics

Food groups are about people seeing a “wonky” carrot and knowing that it is tasty, wanting
people to reconnect with their communities, and wanting kids to know that peas do not
come from the supermarket but from the earth [Interviewee 1C, male]. It is also

thinking about where your food comes from and what you can make at home, like learning
how to bake your own bread [Interviewee 5A, female].

In creating a new connection with food, people may reevaluate their relationship
with food.
The aspiration
of food projects, as Pinkerton and Hopkins (2009:29) note, is
‘revaluing of place’:

A number of food
project participants have found that a focus on local produce
through community
engaged action has reconnected them with the place in which
they live, its

nature and its seasons, so that it is now not only their home but also the
source of their food and where new friendships and networks are nurtured. This
revaluing of place and the people living and growing within it helps to put a ‘face’
back on the food

produced, and trust back in the supply chain.

We can thus begin to see an acknowledgement of the importance of care for place and in
relations with others (both human and non
human). ‘
Acknowledging the necessity of care
in every relation is to be aware o
f how all beings depend on each other

de la


if care
a form of relationship it also

de la Bellacasa
. As such, food ‘complicates the fabric of ‘our
social lives’…by extending the register of ‘bodies’ that count beyond the human and

things and their traces (not restricted to the visible) into this vital
topography’ (Whatmore 2002:124).

4.4 Food Projects as Practical and Accessible Sites of Care

Similar to Allen (2010:305), I found that

people engage in the projects they do, not because they are not fully aware of the
teratogenic effects of history and political economic structures, but

because it is what
they see they can do to make a difference in measurable time and space and (not
incidentally) for which

they can get support.


Furthermore, ‘‘[r]econnection’ with the production of their food’ allows for and encourages
practices that em
brace caring on multiple levels (McEwan and Goodman 2010:107).
Physically gardening affects the way that people think about responsibility as a member of
a community. In this way, Transition food projects create new possibilities for
responsibility and car
e in public spaces.

As the principle providers of food (Allen and Sachs 2007, Little
et al
. 2009), women’s
involvement in these alternative spaces of care denotes some change in their identity as a
As a consumer, a person can care

at a distance

by buying something which
resents, but is not, the issue he or she

s about

, perhaps,


that food
for people you care for is part of a material manifestation of care
). As a gardener,
a person

can care directly for the issue because the act of growing and consuming is transformative
in itself.

Cox (2010 as cited by McEwan and Goodman 2010:109) argues


care in food is easier to ‘see’ and ‘appreciate’ given that it is transmitted not
only th
rough the relations of care set up by the alternative food networks (‘seeing’
the cow, farmer, and landscape that the food is coming from), but it is tied to
something very material and embodied in this food, which then is incorporated (in
multiple senses)

into one’s consuming body.

Thus, as McEwan and Goodman (2010:109) put it, ‘
the materialities of care in action, as
very often embedded in ‘alternative’ foods, are easy to see

and thus easier to appreciate.’
The caring that takes place in private spaces, s
uch as food provisioning, and that is typically
undervalued by society (Lawson 2009) is thus moved into a more visible and accessible
public space. Tying back to visceral imaginaries, these caring spaces may be transformative
for the way that people view c
aring work, because they are more attuned to the bodily
sensations and emotions tied to food labour and its origins.

Whether this care manifests itself more as feeling of responsibility towards the non
human environment or from a desire for community bet
terment is difficult to define. Some
saw Transition as an opportunity to vent their frustrations about inaction at a higher level
with regard to the problem of climate change. Others still came into Transition from the
perspective of a “frustrated gardener
” [Interviewee 3A, female] in need of a place to grow
and also for the practicalities Transition community gardens offer for participating in
something you care about [Interviewee 4A, female]. Naturally, participants had overlapping


Several respon
dents felt that participation at the local level was important for
change on a global level. Others, while expressing concern for global problems like climate
change, specifically indicated that participating at a local level was more relevant to their
rent position in life. While acknowledging that
this is not a “complete solution”
[Interviewee 5A, female], participants also realize that, at this stage, this is not the point

building local community is an important factor for many respondents and a big
that they wanted to participate in the movement. As one respondent stated: “
People who
enjoy gardening come out here, people come along because they know each other because
they want to do things together
” [Interviewee 4B, female]. Despite how small

these efforts
are, people feel that it is important to engage with the community and see these initiatives
as a way to address bigger problems. As Interviewee 1C [male] phrased it: “It’s a drop in
the ocean, but without any drops there would be no ocean i
n the first place.”

These responses illustrate the multiple functions that the community venue serves,
and the multiple meanings that people attribute to their food projects and the spaces that
these projects create. This is part of what Williams (2002)
recognizes in his discussion on
the ‘rapidly changing geographies of care’ (as cited by Milligan and Wiles 2010:748).
Transition embodies an ethic of care by enabling the creation of spaces where people can
care for their community, environment, and family
, at the same time as lessening their
impact on distant others. That this new caring space still has a relative “stigma” attached to
it potentially means that it is less accessible to men, and more women are involved because
they are more comfortable with
their roles to care than men. Moreover, these responses
portray a messiness of boundaries of care between proximate and distant others, humans
and nature, and private and public spaces
The joy these people feel by gardening and
engaging with people in the
ir community displays what Whatmore (1997:49) describes as

intimate ethical connections between people a
nd places, bodies and meanings…
make sense only through an acknowledgement of the

material properties of nature.’
However, as Mason and Whitehead

(2011) point out, they find the ‘disconnection’ solution
to caring for distant others slightly problematic. Yet I find that the understanding of
responsibility and care within Transition food culture harbors a material approach to care
that does not diffe
rentiate between caring at a local level and caring at a global level
because it is, in essence, the same thing. There is an awareness that the actions of


gardening local food and sharing it with the community garners

resilience with the
purpose of betterment for proximate others yet that benefits also extend to distant others.
These movements transfer care from their marginalised, private realm into a new space
where ‘[t]
he skills and (dis)comforts of growing, p
oning, cooking and eating

confound conventional cartographies of distance and proximi
ty, and local and global
scales’ (Whatmore 2002:162).

5.0 Conclusion: What does Transition mean for Food Justice?

This analysis of Transition food initiatives documents the existing gender myths and
the creation of alternative spaces that radically redraw conventional topographical scales
and allow for the formation of a new relationship with food. This in turn lays t
foundations for a socially just alternative food system. As Allen (2010) notes, a series of
individual actions are not enough to counter the inequalities within the current global food
system; only a social solution can solve a social problem. The commu
nity approach of
Transition addresses this ‘democratic deficit’ (Kneafsey 2010:185) within the capitalist
food system, marking a transformation towards sustainability via the ‘pragmatic’ efficiency
of ‘food democracy’ (Hassanein 2003). Following Cox (2010:
I find that this ‘
suggests that it is

not only possible to act

and to organize economic activity on the basis of
care ethics, but also that this is taking place and providin
g fulfillment to those involved.’ I
further found that my research d
eveloped in the field in discovering the relevance of
visceral imaginaries literature to Transition food groups. The significance of engaging more
reflexively with how ‘we ‘make ourselves’ as persons’ comes in forming a ‘more significant
bodily awareness’
within ‘our performance of the social,

heightening the sense of shared
existential vulnerability and finitude as a modality of political association and ethical
recognition’ (Whatmore 2002:151).

The more visceral recognition of interdependence and
y unity is potent within Transition communities.

While I find that Transition food groups are more ‘gender neutral’ than other
Transition groups, the continuation of symbolic gendered roles complicates this scene of
gender neutrality. Despite this, food i
nitiatives offer women a space within which to
reshape the food system while ‘

global capitalism and male privilege
.’ I also
argue that while food initiatives may be female dominated, the recognition of food


(re)localisation as integral to su
stainable, resilient communities formally, at least, aims to
arrange communities around caring activities, bringing care forward out of its marginalised
place in society. Food initiatives do not pose a direct challenge to prevailing gender norms,
however t
he formation of alternative food networks itself challenges the hierarchical and
oppressive global food system, and therefore empowers women.

I fear, however, that it is much more complicated than this rather ‘beautiful vision’
of a radical new space for
care. There is a concern that this movement is not reaching the
‘unconverted’ and as such that this type of caring will have trouble extending beyond the
belt’ (Seyfang and Haxeltine 2010). Moreover, signs of unreflexive localism threaten
to alienat
e local food groups from those who do not identify with the ‘white, middle
brand. While the Transition Network has recognised these burgeoning issues, I suggest
them as avenues for future research.


Appendix 1: Ethical Approval

Dear Kirsti Susanna Barrineau,

11_685 Environment, Politics and Globalisation

I am pleased to inform you that full approval for your project has been granted by the GGS
Research Ethics Panel. Any specific conditions of approval are laid out at the

end of this
email which should be followed in addition to the standard ter
ms and conditions of


Ethical approval is granted for a period of one year from the date of this email. You will
not receive a reminder that your approval is about to
lapse so it is your responsibility to
apply for an extension prior to the project lapsing if you need one (see below for


You should report any untoward events or unforeseen ethical problems arising from the
project to the panel Chairman
within a week of the occurrence. Information about the panel
may be accessed at:


If you wish to change your project or request an extension of approval you will need to
submit a new application with an attachment indicating the changes you want to make (a
forma document to help you with this is available at:


All research should be conducted in accordance with the King's College London
Guidelines on Good Practice in Academic Research available at:

If you require signed confirmation of your approval please forward this ema
il to indicating why it is required and the address you would like it to be sent to.

Please would you also note that we may, for the purposes of audit, contact you from time to
time to ascertain the status of your research.

We wish you eve
ry success wit
h this work.

With best wishes

Yours Sincerely,

GGS Reviewer


Appendix 2: Locations and Participants


Tooting: Interviewee 1A, female; Interviewee 1B, male; Interviewee 1C, male


Crouch End: Interviewee 2A, female; Interviewee 2B, male;
Interviewee 2C, female;
Interviewee 2D, male; Interviewee 2E, female


Ealing: Interviewee 3A, female


Finsbury Park: Interviewee 4A, female; Interviewee 4B, female


Wimbledon: Interviewee 5A, female; Interviewee 5B, female; Interviewee 5C,
female; Interviewee

5D, male; Interviewee 5E, female; Interviewee 5F, female;
Interviewee 5G, female


Totnes: Interviewee 6A, female; Interviewee 6B, female


Leicester: Interviewee 7A, female



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