Over the past few weeks I have been focusing on my project from a journalistic angle. I have been looking at how school gardens are impacting food security in lower income areas of Cape Town. Many schools have vegetables gardens, of which many were, at one time or another, created by the assistance of an NGO. In these schools, vegetable gardens were designed with two goals in mind, as place for environmental education, and to assist the school feeding programs. In most of these schools, over half of the students receive free lunches through an NGO named Peninsula School Feeding Association, who is contracted by the Dept of Education.
Before setting out this summer, I had big goals. I wanted to put together a solid enough project that I could have something of publishable quality by the time I got home. However, in the world of academia, one must craft a research design without major holes. For me this has been my major battle. It’s not that I haven’t put my head to the task- oh, I have! But putting together something solid without consistent guidance and advice from someone with experience has proven to be too tough for me. Over the past 6 weeks, I have interviewed over 60 NGO directors, teachers, principals, and gardeners. I have learned immensely about the role of school gardens in the food security problem in Cape Town. However, where I have failed is putting this all together for an academically sound project. Learning about school gardens has taken me all over the place- to a fault. What I have desperately needed is someone who knows about this situation in Cape Town to advise me through my project, telling me where I should focus and what tangents to ignore. While I am very happy that I have learned greatly about this topic, I am sad to say I have circled it, like a vulture, yet, have lacked the ability to go in for the kill. I now have so much data yet no idea how to use. With only 4 weeks left here, I no longer have the time (or motivation) to restart my project from the drawing board. But, I am not down or pessimistic at all. In fact, I now have a really great opportunity. This past spring I was nominated to be in W&M’s new journalism course where students work with a Pulitzer journalist to publish a story on an underdeveloped issue. Bingo! What I need is not to change my topic, but rather change my perspective. Instead of trying to approach school gardens from an academic researcher perspective, I will transform myself into Max The Journalist. Or maybe even Max The Journalist The Great— or maybe not. As a previous research vulture, I have gotten a very clear picture on what’s going on and who are the actors. This places me in a good position to start trying to tell the story of school gardens in Cape Town. And with this new project, I have an advisor who will hold my hand and coach me through this one! Yes!
Wow, where do I start? I have now been in Cape Town for just over 4 weeks now. My research got off to a pretty rough start. Initially, as indicated in my last post, I was hoping to correlate culture to food insecurity. However, once I looked deeper into this, I realized that to objectively identify culture is virtually impossible. This made my research question very challenging since there are no good, reliable ways of measuring cultural variation without projecting my culture into picture. In other words, my culture inherently influences how I interpret other individuals’ culture. Another challenge I faced was how to separate food insecurity due to cultural factors, rather than sheer poverty. If people are extremely poor, does culture even matter in determining what they eat or where they get it from? I feared that observations I made about their culture would merely be projections of their poverty, disguised as being “culture.”
This summer I will be going to South Africa to do research in a township on how people connect to food. In South Africa, over 2 of 3 people are ‘food insecure,’ meaning they lack regular access to safe and nutritious food. I want to understand how one’s culture, ideology, and background influences their decisions about where, when, and how they get food, ultimately, determining their food security. Food security is largely determined by one’s class. However, there are are parts to the equation as well. To unravel another layer of the puzzle, I will be interviewing residents and recent immigrants about how they are able to connect to their local food sources. By this, I am interested in seeing what ideological and cultural factors affect how one is able to access and use food sources in their area. That is to say, what determines one’s capability of acquiring food beyond their financial means alone. Given that townships in South Africa have a very limited number of food suppliers, I want understand the mental process people go through when deciding how to get food. This is particularly important when deciding whether to use food-aid. Many food-aid programs exists in townships, but not everyone uses them, for various reasons. I want to investigate the critical factors which determine how South Africans decide to get food, and for what reasons. I want to see how the food suppliers in townships, including food aid programs, are either being culturally sensitive to the people they serve or not. This is a important part of solving the crisis of endemic food insecurity in South Africa today.