Academic journal article Australian Journal of Environmental Education

Pedagogies That Explore Food Practices: Resetting the Table for Improved Eco-Justice

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Environmental Education

Pedagogies That Explore Food Practices: Resetting the Table for Improved Eco-Justice

Article excerpt

Food practices--hunting, fishing, preparing soils for planting, harvesting, storing crops, gathering berries, preparing and presenting meals--are intimately entwined with public health and the economy, with sustainability and the physical environment, and with social events and the vibrancy of community life (Parrish, Turner, & Solberg, 2008). Many formerly self-sufficient Canadian communities, however, have become increasingly dependent over the past 50 years on industrialised food systems and less familiar with home-grown, sustainable foods. We consider these characteristics of change, as evidenced in threats both to the physical environment and human health, to be issues of eco-justice and worthy of a holistic approach to school and community research, teaching and learning.

Although the effects of poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles among both rural and urban children and youth are noted widely in health and popular literature (e.g., Canning, Courage, & Frizzell, 2004; Pollan, 2007), food studies receive only tangential and generic attention within most school curricula. At present, as part of urban-based curriculum development, most units on the topic deal with factual information about health and consumer choice. Although such information provides an important pedagogical resource, we believe that effective teaching and learning must involve the direct input of students and other members of society as they reflect upon, and make choices about, their own communities and circumstances. Our research aims to unearth historical food practices that may soon disappear, advance awareness of when and how change took place, and stimulate collective action to enhance food self-sufficiency. We focus attention on rural communities in the belief that they will assume an increasingly important role in production as food crises deepen worldwide (Brown, 2012; Patel, 2007). While not wishing to romanticise the historical record, we contend that many of the changes that have occurred over the past 5 decades signal rural marginalisation, environmental abuse (e.g., of the fishery), and an absence of corporate responsibility.

Our objectives in this research are to test pedagogies that address change in the physical environment--in this case, to the land and sea once used for agriculture, livestock farming, and fishing--and both the historical and contemporary human activities of food production and consumption. Although the research is specific to a rural context, aspects of our critical place-based pedagogies will apply to other locations where readers see a fit between the details we provide and their own situations. In the classroom and community, we test the effectiveness of three overlapping pedagogical approaches as students and adults revisit their own community history, reflect upon present-day food practices, and imagine the food future they desire.

In this article we describe the community of study, followed by equity frameworks and research methods. We present the three pedagogies, each with its own rationale, illustrations from the study, and discussion (or assessment) of findings. The article concludes with plans for extending the ecological landscape and a brief summary of research implications.

Community Context

The research was undertaken in a semi-isolated coastal community of Canada's most eastern province, Newfoundland and Labrador (NL). Change Islands, chosen because of its relatively recent history of food sovereignty and because we were told by the regional director of schools that 'interesting things seem to be happening there', is located on two, closely spaced islands off the northeast coast of Newfoundland. The community was built around the fishery that began in the latter half of the 18th century when the Labrador fishery rose to prominence ( By the beginning of the 20th century, this was a prosperous settlement with a population of over 1,000 people who either fished the North Atlantic waters or worked in one of the island's three large merchant premises. …

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