Published by SHARECITY on the 11th February 2021.
Source: Ankit Verma personal photography
Hi everyone! My name is Jane and I’m the new Research Assistant with SHARECITY. I’ve been following the fantastic work of SHARECITY over the past few years, and I’m delighted to join the team to support the delivery of this phase of the project and communicate the results and impact.
As a human geographer, I am curious about the relationships between humans and the rest of nature and my work examines the social and political dimensions of urgent environmental challenges. My PhD research at the Geography Department at Trinity College Dublin investigated environmental offsetting in policy and practice in Colombia. Drawing on Latin American political ecology and peace and conflict studies, the research examines socio-ecological conflicts arising from a megaproject and its offsets, while drawing attention to the threats facing human rights and environmental defenders. I explore what biodiversity means to different people and how it is measured, as well as the practical and ethical challenges of attempting to offset environmental harm, challenging “no net loss” narratives.
I have had the opportunity to live, work and study in many places over the years, all of which have shaped my relationship with nature and food, from rural to urban. I grew up on Donegal’s Atlantic coast, with Mountcharles beach as my pre-school. After completing my BA in Dublin, I left Ireland and spent a decade in different cities – London, Brighton, Barcelona and Bhubaneswar, India. Starting out my career in the private sector, I learned about the power of digital communications while working as an account manager with creative agencies in London. Following a few years in “adland” and wanting to put my skills to use in the international development sector, I spent one year as a VSO Volunteer with NGO Aaina in India. During this time, that I got a glimpse of the long-lasting impacts of a changing climate and extreme weather events on communities like those in Odisha, an area vulnerable to cyclones, as well as the multiple social challenges in this context.
Returning to Europe, I discovered a passion for research and writing on environmental issues during an MA in Environment, Development and Policy at the University of Sussex. I also got involved in my first food sharing initiative – ‘Growing a Feast’ – co-organised with fellow postgrad students with the aim to promote sustainability in a simple way by connecting people with the food they eat. We recruited a network of people to grow or make a single food ingredient over the summer – from planting vegetables and growing herbs to baking bread or ageing cheese -, culminating in a final event when a chef prepared the ingredients into a shared feast. In between my MA and PhD, I spent three years living in Barcelona, first within the Research Institute for Sustainability Science and Technology at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia as part of the EU Leonardo da Vinci Programme, and later, with Vision Communications as a project manager delivering communications projects for international organisations, including UNDP, Eurocities and United Cities and Local Governments.
I have observed how traditions and practices around food vary from place to place, and how my own relationship with food has changed over time. Growing up in Donegal, early experiences of fishing with my family and home deliveries of live lobster from the local fisherman gave me an appreciation and respect for animal life and for the farmers and fishers who have such a close relationship with the ecosystem. This exposure directly influenced my decision to become vegetarian at age twelve (I’ve never looked back!). However, reflecting on my food consumption today, I recognise how often I feel disconnected from and vaguely guilty about the food I eat. This is why farmers markets, community gardens and food sharing initiatives are so important in bridging the gap between urban and rural, in reconnecting us with the source of our food, and a way of taking back control amidst the industrialisation of the food system.
I have come to appreciate the universal power of food in connecting people across cultures and breaking down barriers. In India, “Have you eaten? What did you have for breakfast?” is a greeting almost as common as “How are you?”, an expression of care and an insight into how deeply food is ingrained into the culture. Cooking lessons formed part of volunteer training and I have fond memories of the communal lunches at the NGO, when staff would get together in the kitchen to eat a freshly cooked meal prepared by the resident chef.
In Colombia, the diversity of food is as astounding as its biological and cultural diversity. Visiting rural communities while on fieldwork in Santander and seeing the level of self-sufficiency of campesinos, who produce a range of home-grown crops, was inspiring. At the same time, small farmers in rural areas that have experienced generations of marginalisation and exploitation face increasing pressures linked to an unsustainable global food system, as well as increasing vulnerability to the effects of climate change and extractive development.
This highlights the importance of valuing and empowering local experts and sharing knowledge across social groups and generations, where technology can play a fundamental role. A recent example of this is Nubia e Hijos. Nubia, a Colombian farmer and her sons became a YouTube sensation after they uploaded videos during the pandemic to teach others how to grow their own food and to sell seed-and-soil starter packs.
I’m looking forward to contributing to the work of SHARECITY, while exploring new research opportunities, such as the interconnections between food sharing, seed sovereignty and biodiversity conservation. On a personal level, after being buried in my thesis for much of last year, I now hope to direct more energy to building networks and serving at the community level, whether rooted in one place or, for the moment at least, through virtual spaces!
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