Sustainable Food Cities: More-than-localised food movements

Thanks to The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience at Coventry University, and in particular Dr. Luke Owen, for inviting me to present a seminar on initial findings on working with Food Exeter. The presentation investigates how Sustainable Food Cities are comprised of ‘networks within networks’ which at times creates tensions and contested agendas. However commitment to working group activity and campaigns can bring divergent groups together to take unified action.

Please click on the image below to watch the live recorded presentation:




Feeding Exeter Workshop Link

In April 2017 Myself, colleagues from The University of Exeter and from organicArts ran a collaborative workshop at West Town Farm to discuss the process of creating a strategy for Food Exeter. Follow the link to Feeding Exeter‘s blog site for more information including reflections, photo gallery and results of discussions.

Feeding Exeter blog page



RGS-IBG Pre-conference event 1st September 2015 -‘Food Matters Symposium’

Organised In collaboration with Love Local Food, West Town Farm, OrganicARTS, Ashclyst & Shillingford Farm

Panellists – Prof. Mike Goodman, University of Reading, Dr. Emma Roe, University of Southampton and Dr. Matt Reed, The Countryside and Community Research Institute, Andy Bragg –West Town Farm, Martyn Bragg –Shillingford Organics and Ashclyst Farm

With support from the Nature, Materialities & Biopolitics (NaMBIO) research group of the Department of Geography in the University of Exeter, the Social & Cultural Geography Research Group of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers (SCGRG RGS-IBG), the South-West Doctoral Centre of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC SWDTC), and the Catalyst Project at the University of Exeter.


Although food waste is beginning to appear on academic and political agendas there has been a tendency to frame the problem around individual food practices, and much less work has been done on how food becomes framed as waste at other nodes within food systems. Through employing a mixture of panel sessions, provocations, hands on sessions and group work, this symposium will bring together academics, food producers, food retailers and food activists in order to approach the problem of food waste. We hope this symposium will enable a collaborative process of agenda setting for future research into food waste, food knowledge and food practices.


Food matters are increasingly contested as lively materials that shape issues around human health and wellbeing as well as impacting on ecosystems through their production, consumption and disposal. Food materials decay rendering food inedible. Food material can be seen as unknown, unfamiliar and undesirable for consumption. Food matters can contain anxieties over provenance, authenticity and wider material impacts into our ecosystems and our bodies. However solutions to knowing food, addressing food waste and increasing access to fresh food are contested. Examples of this include the use of waste food to address issues of food poverty, processing technologies precluding edible food from reaching the consumer, or food labelling inhibiting edible food from being consumed. Through this participatory event we seek to explore these issues by not only generating debate for academic research, but by also getting our hands on food matters, and engaging with local producers’ food stories and food knowledges. By incorporating practical hands- on sessions to produce our lunch with ‘waste’ food and hearing on-the-ground experiences of producers and activists, we seek to ground academic debate in production- consumption-waste pathways with the matter of food itself, and to co-create knowledges for ongoing research collaboration.

Limited tickets -Follow the link below for more information and to register-

Social Media and the Internet – All in this together?

Image from Sanjay Sharma's presentation
Image from Sanjay Sharma’s presentation

The Association of Research Ethics brought together expert presenters to explore the practice and problems of using social media in academic research. This event effectively brought to the fore key issues for ethics committee members and researchers. This post will give an over view of the key messages and points of debate. Below is a link to a storify of the tweets shared under the hashtag #AfREethics.

Academic research projects are exploring the activity of users on social media platforms. The speed of updating posts and responding to live events means that large volumes of data can be generated. This data contains metrics that can shape the focus of analysis and results can be published to ensure user anonymity. However the recent emergence of these techniques and the fast pace of change in this field have prevented a clear consensus on academic approaches to ethical issues around consent and privacy. For University ethics committees the implications and impact of social media research are largely only beginning to be considered. The speakers invited to present on these themes provided insight into this field of research as well as highlighting specific issues of concern.

Carl Miller, from Demos began the day with an overview of social media research into the UK general election campaign 2015. Social media research, he contends, is based on the belief that social media offers a window into political and social processes. Understandings of the impact of social media are developing, as illustrated by how political parties are using social media platforms in #GE2015. Posts from politicians join a crowded space on these platforms and can be responded to in unexpected ways (eg with the rise of photoshopped images). Carl and colleagues are using a variety of tools including social network analysis to explore networks emerging through Twitter posts. Computational analysis via machine learning is at the forefront of their methods and Carl highlighted how algorithms are ‘trained’ to detect sentiment. However Carl insists that issues of demography etc. mean that Twitter is not an alternative polling tool. The question of ethics in such work is complex and frameworks are regularly updated. Questions around individual harm and the effects of aggregating data need greater attention.

Farida Vis from The Visual Social Media Lab pointed to the near saturation of smartphone use that is increasing the widespread sharing of images. It is these acts of sharing that intensify ethical issues of social media data and breakdown boundaries between the production and consumption of information online. Farida urged that as researchers, we need to talk about the ethical frameworks that we want to see in place. By sharing and reflecting on practices we can help shape this debate. In particular Farida and later Anne Burns underscored the point that just because data is available doesn’t mean that we should use it. However as research analyses are often interested in broad trends rather than individual users, privacy can be protected.

Sanjay Sharma from Brunel University uses his own research of ambient race talk on Twitter to foreground issues that ethics committees need attending to. He pointed out that even recently research ethics statements often did not mention the internet. Research committees are, he stated, struggling to catch up with the implications of social media research. Whilst core issues have to be addressed, ‘ethics creep’ can result in prescriptive and regulatory approaches. Instead a position of open-ended dialogue can best serve research needs. The norms of platforms are commonly translated into what is seen as possible in research. Sanjay’s work exploring the #notracist Twitter stream highlights the power of the researcher in judging what is or is not racist posts. This interpretative element highlights the importance of qualitative approaches to understanding meaning behind users’ posts.

Some of these themes were echoed in Anne Burns presentation. Anne stated that personal information is the oil of the digital economy with the sharing aspect of social media platforms inciting a confessional approach. Anne claimed that privacy concerns are commonly seen either as a responsibility for individuals or as an uncontrollable matter. However researchers need to consider the implications of their actions when online material is repurposed as this can create new relations of visibility. Therefore as with research, ethics need to be seen as a process that needs regular attending, not simply as a matter agreed at the outset of a project.

Please follow the link below to see a collection of tweets posted on this event

Storify: SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE INTERNET – ALL IN THIS TOGETHER? #AfREethics (with images, tweets) · sandysom · Storify.

Bean and Kale Cobbler with Seagreens

I haven’t posted about food for a while but was inspired to create this recipe after browsing the Jack Monroe cook book and on ordering some Cornish Seagreens. It’s tasty, nourishing and reminded me how satisfying it is to play with recipes

Bean & Kale Cobbler with Sea greens
serves 4

This is an adaption of Jack Monroe’s Leafy Scones that are cooked on top of a bean & veg stew. It has added (and optional) seaweed leaves to boost mineral and fibre content-

For the scones-


70g finely shredded kale, cabbage or other leafy greens (I used kale)
200g self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon (5g) baking powder
optional: a pinch of salt,
50ml milk
2 eggs, 25g butter/margarine

Toss the shredded cabbage or greens into a mixing bowl. Pour over the flour, add the baking powder, rub in the butter and make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients.
Pour the milk into the well and break the eggs on top. Mix together with a wooden spoon until it forms a pliable – but not too sticky – dough. Briefly knead the dough. Leave to one side until ready to use as a cobbler top. Then on a heavily floured work surface flatten to around 2.5cm thick. Using a large cookie cutter (approximately 8cm), cut individual scones from the dough.

Bean & Veg Stew-
1⁄2 a tin of kidney beans (or chick pea, borlotti etc.)
1⁄2 a tin of chopped plum tomatoes
1 large carrot- chopped
1 medium onion- chopped
1 clove garlic
Handful peas
Tbsp of sea greens or seaweed sea salad- soaked in cold water Olive oil
Oregano, marjoram
Veg stock – bouillon powder
2 tbsp grated cheese

– Using a heavy bottomed saucepan that can transfer to oven- sauté onions and garlic in tbsp olive oil. Sauté uncovered with a pinch of salt for 5 mins
– Add chopped carrots, beans, herbs & black pepper and continue to sauté for 5 mins
– Add a cup of water, veg stock, peas and seagreens and cook for a further 5 mins – Add the tinned tomatoes, simmer and taste

Pre-heat oven to Gas Mark 6

– Arrange scones on top of stew and cover with grated cheese
– place in centre of oven and cook 20-25 mins
– Check scones are cooked ( especially in centre) with a sharp knife

Serve with steamed broccoli or salad leaves


Discovering the Geo in Social Media data

This blog is based on research undertaken for The Contagion project at  The University of Exeter

This week Scraperwiki announced that their scraping service would now carry the functionality to include user location information in Twitter datasets. For non-programming geographers and others wanting to explore the geographic origins of social media postings, this opened up an important dimension of digital data. Of course there are many projects and users who have been successfully geolocating Twitter data by accessing the API, developing bespoke tools, such as Floating Sheep, Tweet Map or through using paid-for platforms such as GNIP. However researchers using open source tools and with limited coding capabilities have been not been able to access Twitter’s geolocating potential.

As Scraperwiki’s announcement came on Monday 16th June, it seemed an obvious call to explore the global origins of #worldcup2014 tweets. A quick scrape harvested just under 20,000 tweets that included the additional metadata columns–user_time_zone and user_location. On cleaning in OpenRefine the dataset was reduced to 10,957. This significant reduction of the dataset was due to the number of blanks in the geolocated columns. As expected when using data scraped from users’ profiles, not every entry contained useful information. User location is based on the stated location from a user’s profile. This could be helpfully accurate, such as London, UK, or creatively inaccurate such as ‘Middle-Earth’ or vague, such as ‘Worldwide’ or ‘everywhere’. The information in the time zone column hopefully would be accurate. However one anomaly in this column stood out –the official FIFA 2014 profile -@2014_FIFA was given the time zone of Chennai (which is in India) and the user location of Brazil. This does not fit with their profile or their expected current activity. An SQL query in Open Office revealed some of the most popular timezone results, giving London, UK 10.4% of time zone entries. However results with ‘null’ were 32% of entries pointing again to the limitations of this time zone information.

This dataset was then uploaded to a Google Fusion table that created a map based on the results for user location


This quick and dirty geolocation exercise based on a trending hashtag provides a window into the global spread of #worldcup2014 Twitter activity. This dataset provides an antidote to the dominance of Twitter analysis based on English speaking countries. Clusters are seen not only in the UK and the USA, but are also visible in India, Japan, East Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia.

It is, however limited -32% of the cleaned dataset is shown to have a ‘null’ entry. If this number was combined with the 9,031 blanks removed on cleaning, this figure would significantly rise.


Sandbagging with #FLAG on the Somerset Levels

I’ve just returned from sandbagging near the swollen River Parrett at Langport, a town next to the unfolding flooding disasters on the Somerset levels. From the media you may have heard about Muchelney and Moorland on the levels who have been suffering since Christmas. However, an area of 65km2[1] is under water covering numerous farms and affecting 150 homes. This means that many villages, hamlets and isolated properties and farms are under water, resulting in a very large area being affected by flooded homes, closed roads and long term disruption.

This extraordinary and effective community response is exploiting the potential of web 2:0 to draw in increasingly widely offered support. Yesterday FLAG’s Twitter stream (@dredgetherivers) showed photos of an HGV loaded with straw heading off from Rutland and animal feed from Crediton, amongst others. It also saw the arrival of the Khalsa Aid group, a British-based international relief group who helped desperate householders move furniture upstairs, make sandbags and more.


As I return to the warm and dry I’m hooked again by the endless support pouring in from around the county and beyond on the FLAG Facebook page[2]. In this area communities are being inundated by water but also overwhelmed by the support not only offered locally but from across the country. This mass community response is a story not being told about in this disaster. There are rest centres for people flooded out of their homes, drop off points across the county for supplies to be donated to those in need. Blankets, food, clothing, toiletries etc are pouring in. Charities such as PetAid have donated pet food. This is being matched by tonnes of sand, sand bags not to mention the Dutch pumps that have been warmly welcomed by local folk.


Photo credit B Roskell

However donations only tell one half of the story. The operations of FLAG, who began as a local pro-dredging pressure group, have become the go-to community resource for help as the waters rose and more and more houses and farms have been overwhelmed. On their Facebook page a shout out is posted and very quickly people pull on their wellies and head out to help. Earlier this week, through this group farmers’ and smallholders’ livestock have been moved, feed has been sourced and sandbags have been made and distributed. Now the group has organised a central list of contacts, emergency numbers and posted places to drop off donations.


Photo Credit -C Larkins

These activities, widely shared through Facebook and Twitter, are going unreported as the media focus on high level visits and the endless debate about how best to manage such landscapes. What this community does not appreciate is those pronouncing their demise. Those who have not been here to see the people digging in to support not only each other, but also the continuation of their communities, have not seen the full picture of this flooding disaster story.

Through FLAG this inundated area of Somerset is drawing in grassroots knowledge to respond to reports from experts, as well as unappreciated comments from others. The group came up with a 7 point plan for future flood management[3]. This plan acknowledges the complexity of managing such a low-lying area and not only calls for dredging and a tidal barrage on the River Parrett, but also points to the importance of increasing infiltration and creating attenuation ponds upstream.

This response not only highlights enormous community resilience within this rural locale but the online tools that make this response possible. However it should be said that this response is taking people out of their everyday lives. Whilst community ties are being strengthened through this disaster, some lives are on hold whilst others are ripped apart as farms and homes are inundated, roads closed and responses coordinated.

Any financial assistance can be made through –



Photo credits -R Sandover


[1] BBC Somerset ‘What are the Somerset Levels?’ -